Montgomery County Parks Under Siege

(First appeared in The Equiery May 2011)

by Ron MacNab


MNCPPC Montgomery County Parks are under siege from the County Executive and a few Council members on the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee (PHED). Currently, the park systems in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County are managed under the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission, which was established by law by the state. Each county funds its own portion of MNCPPC.

In February and March, County Executive Ike Leggett attempted to push through state legislation that would have enabled the county to take control of MNCPPC’s Park funds and merge the MNCPPC Park Police into the Montgomery County Police. Fortunately, the rest of the County Council did not endorse this. Not able to obtain support from the County Council, he withdrew the proposal from the Montgomery County Delegation in Annapolis. The attempt failed, but is expected to come back next year in a modified form.

Now Leggett, with the help of the County Council’s PHED committee, is seeking to move various MNCPPC Park programs into Montgomery County government, leaving just the nature centers, park stewardship and operations under MNCPPC Parks program. Initially, this was proposed as a cost-saving budget matter. When it was easily shown that it did not save money, the PHED committee suggested funding a study that would investigate the feasibility of moving the MNCPPC programs into County Government, on the premise that there would be management efficiencies and better service to the community.

As of this writing, a consultant has not been named to conduct the study, much less has a recommendation been given. However, I feel inspired and willing to enter the territory of the great eastern mystic and psychic, “Carnac the Magnificent,” from the old Johnny Carson Show. As wild as it may sound, I predict that…(drum roll, please) the study will agree with whoever funds the study! In this case, Isiah Leggett and the PHED Committee. (Thank you, it is a special gift I have.)

In its overeagerness to take control of MNCPPC Parks, the PHED committee displayed its hand, illustrating that this is merely a power grab and empire building for the purpose of selling off so-called underused park properties in order to develop moderate and low-income housing.

Below is how the statement read, and how they proposed to change it.

In the original General Plan for Montgomery County, there is the following statement regarding acquisition of land for the county’s “Housing Element:”
“Designate government-owned land, other than parkland, that meets appropriate housing site selection criteria for future housing development.

The PHED has proposed to replace that language with the following:

“Provide underused and strategically located surplus public properties for housing that includes housing affordable to low- and moderate-income households at a higher percentage than required in the MPDU program.”

So, the strategy is very clear:
1) Transfer power over the Montgomery County Parks to the Montgomery County government control (and away from the bi-county, state-established MNCPPC);
2) Eliminate the prohibition against using parkland for housing development
3) Convert parkland deemed to be “underused” and “strategically located” into public housing.

Fortunately, the attempt to revise the Housing Element criteria was thwarted when the proposed revised statement was noted by few alert citizens attending the hearing; they then sent out an alarm, which resulted in a tremendous public outcry, and within a day or two, the Housing Element statement was revised again, and the exemption of public parkland for the consideration of housing was reinstated.

Without continued public involvement, however, our parks are in jeopardy. If you are a citizen of Montgomery County, please frequent the following websites to keep posted on threats to our parks and open space.

http://www.saveourparksmontgomery.blogspot.com/

http://www.parksmatter.org

In the meantime, according to the Montgomery County Gazette, County Executive Leggett is still working hard to transfer the MNCPPC Montgomery County Park Police to the regular Montgomery County Police Force. An excellent April 6, 2011 article explains why this would not be in the best interest of our Park Police: http://www.gazette.net/stories/04062011/damanew221426_32547.php

©TheEquiery2011