Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ February 2013

In My Humble Opinion

A Matter of Perspective

By Carole Barth

Many of us in Montgomery County feel like our communities are under attack from the County’s push to massively increase densities while failing to maintain basic infrastructure and services for existing developed areas.  In turn, planners and public officials criticize citizens for being resistant to change.  We are admonished to give up our outmoded ideas of neighborhood and embrace the current one-size-fits-all “vision” of the future.

To me, however, it seems that civic activists are constantly fighting for change.  I think these efforts are not recognized, however, because it is grass roots change (what we want to strengthen and support our communities) versus top-down imposed change (what they think we need).  This is especially frustrating when communities are fighting for changes that cost very little money (or that actually save money) while at the same time having to fight boondoggles that cost mega-millions of taxpayer dollars.

Our community lobbied to hav a Trader Joe’s grocery store in our area.  The store in Burnt Mills is one of the chain’s most successful.

So, here are some examples of grass-roots inspired change advocacy from our neighborhood.  I’m using our neighborhood as the example because I am most familiar with our causes; however, there are associations and organizations across the county that are fighting for changes.

I would also note that many of the campaigns listed include a strong volunteer component.  In other words, we didn’t just advocate for tree plantings; we also bought some trees, planted those as well as ones provided by the County, and have fought to keep them free from invasive vines since.

One of our most successful campaigns took place during the development of the Burnt Mills Shopping Center.  We surveyed the residents as to which business they would most like to see at the new center, and Trader Joe’s was the hands-down favorite.  We then began to lobby both the shopping center owners and Trader Joe’s.  This was not only a success for us; that particular Trader Joe’s was recently the chain’s “store of the year.”  (Note to any entrepreneurs reading this, our number two desired business was a premium ice cream parlor, and we’re still waiting for one.)

Here is a partial list of our other efforts:

The point of all this is that most communities do have ideas for changes they’d like to see, even if they don’t have a fully articulated vision for the future.  Planners, elected officials, and businesses could gain a lot by consulting residents before bringing proposals for public comment.  Once upon a time, the master plan process partially served that function with a process built around strong stakeholder groups.  Now master plans are rushed through approval containing new zoning codes which haven’t even been promulgated.  In my opinion, this needs to change.   ■

   © 2013 NFCCA  [Source:]