To Whom it May Concern,
As a resident of Ashton, MD, I write to raise a concern about the extensive development plan that is proposed for the southeast quadrant at the Ashton intersection of Route 108 and New Hampshire Avenue.
In my view, County planners are yielding to the objectives of the developer and violating the established policies and principles for limiting development at this village crossroads. In my view, the height of the buildings is the most objectionable feature of the proposed plan. And is it not obvious that the affordability of the residential units suffers as the County gives in to the developer's wish to build more spacious residential homes?
My home is just off New Hampshire Avenue, a quarter-mile to the north of the intersection. Quite frequently I walk to the CVS, to the Sandy Spring Bank, or to Demsey's diner. Crossing the intersection as a pedestrian is a challenge, but I feel sympathy for traffic planners who are attempting to manage vehicular flows that become very heavy morning and evening. How can you get all those cars through that intersection AND make a provision for pedestrians? I do not have an answer to that conundrum.
But the development density standards that have been established for the Ashton village should be honored, and the height restrictions should be inviolable.
I am aware that planners compromised with the developer on the project now under construction on the southwest quadrant in Ashton. Here too, the scale of a rural village will be violated. The benefits of greater density and larger homes go entirely to the developer and to the County in the form of future property-tax revenues. But the residents of our neighborhood, and those who take comfort in the familiarity that comes from daily passage through a village crossroads will experience a collective sense of loss as village scale is replaced by development excess... driven, of course, by the urge to maximize profit, on one hand, and tax revenue on the other.
In my childhood, I lived in Ashton. My uncle was the Ashton postmaster for many decades. I went to Sherwood Elementary (then in Ashton), Sherwood Jr. High (there was no Middle School) and graduated from Sherwood High School. After-school snacking at Dameron's Store was a regular thing. Kimball's Service Station and Beacraft's Barber Shop were meaningful community places. Despite the profound physical changes that have occurred to the village center during my lifetime, the Cricket Bookshop, Dempsey's Diner, El Andariega, the Post Office, and the CVS all play a role in preserving a sense of place, a sense of community in Ashton.
As this newest phase of development comes to Ashton, how I wish that the message, in architecture, was something more respectful of the scale, in height, of what this village has meant and can mean. Here it's not about the number of square feet in your residence; it's not about how much you can pay for your new home; it's not about the massive revenue to the developer as the offices are leased and the residences sold; it's not all about the model of your car.
Instead, there's a chance to suggest, in buildings, that saving material and energy resources out of respect for the future of our planet is a worthy value. It's about a reasonable return on investment to the developer over time. It's about showing a bit of modesty, humility, and grace, in scale with your surroundings and with your community. These virtues, believe it or not, are subtly communicated in buildings that fit the scale of the village, as opposed to looming over the road and seeming to say, "we're here, we are taking over with our wealth and our ambition... it's our village now!"
No doubt this line of reasoning will be ridiculed by the developer and County planners alike. But the time, attention, and expense that both those actors are putting into the designs for construction point to a deep awareness that there are messages in the medium of buildings. My point is simply that some messages are more a suitable fit for this area given the historical character and spirit of the extended Sandy Spring Community.
Despite all of the above, I look forward to a bright future for Ashton and will welcome the new residences and businesses in the new developments on the two southern corners.
With appreciation for their good work on behalf of County residents, I have shared these concerns with the members of the Montgomery County Council.
Thomas Brooke Farquhar
Farquhar's father was the editor at The Sentinel and is a featured figure in The Human Rights Hall of Fame in Montgomery County.