The man challenging two Town of Chevy Chase Council incumbents didn’t hold back at a candidate’s forum on Thursday, saying he doesn’t think the Council has done enough to stop the Purple Line or stem surrounding development.
John Bickerman, a professional mediator, said the Town’s current leadership has been ineffective at influencing development at nearby Chevy Chase Lake and in downtown Bethesda. He said he would take a more agressive approach, perhaps by hiring a political consultant to lobby against the Purple Line.
Mayor Pat Burda and treasurer Linna Barnes are seeking reelection on May 7.
“If you want to get it done, you have to organize. You have to tell them, if you don’t support us, we’re going to find a way to defeat you,” Bickerman said, referring to developers and county and state officials in favor of the Purple Line.
“I’ll take a bet with you right now,” Bickerman told Burda.
“You don’t have the [County Council] votes on Chevy Chase Lake,” Bickerman said. “You’re not going to win this issue and it’s because you haven’t been effective.”
Burda helped organize the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee, a group of more than 20 civic organizations in Chevy Chase that is arguing for less density in the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan before the County Council. The group’s main concern is the additional traffic it says would come to already clogged Connecticut Avenue.
Burda defended the work the CACC has done so far, saying it was instrumental in getting the Planning Board to approve two separate sectional map amendments in the Plan, a rare arrangement that will limit development in the area until a Purple Line station is finalized for Chevy Chase Lake.
Burda, the CACC and surrounding residents are still fighting for less density in the post-Purple Line phase of the Sector Plan.
“No. 1, the county hasn’t voted yet on what the final proposal is going to be,” Burda said. “We want post-Purple Line numbers reduced. One of the critical things was to get two sectional map amendments to make sure we had a legal remedy. It would be incredibly ridiculous for the county to move forward there with no transit.”
Barnes mostly aligned herself with Burda, saying her relationships with county and state officials will be of good use in Chevy Chase Lake discussions and the coming rewrite of the Bethesda Central Business District Sector Plan.
Barnes said she hopes the Town can make the county maintain the step-down effect of density from the Wisconsin Avenue corridor to the edge of the Town, which is made up of tree-lined streets and single-family homes.
On the Purple Line, which has been unpopular for a long time in the Town, Bickerman took a combative tone.
“The character of our neighborhood is changing. I don’t think we’re effective. The biggest issue we’re trying to accomplish is a reduction in density. As soon as the Purple Line goes in, we didn’t change it one iota,” Bickerman said. “I think we can do better because I think we can exercise our political power more effectively, not testifying in front of a board, not paying for a study to show us something we already know. I know how to do it.”
The 16-mile light rail system would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton with stops in Chevy Chase, Silver Spring and College Park, among others. The roughly $2.2 billion project has long been a “check-box issue” for political leaders and smart-growth advocates, Burda said.
It would also run near some Town of Chevy Chase homes and along the existing Capital Crescent Trail. Despite what seemed to be a softening opinion of the project from the Town, all three Council candidates said the best case scenario would be if the Federal Transit Administration decided not to help fund it and it was never built.
Many in the half-square mile Town of about 2,000 people worry the transit system will lead to more development.
“I believe in many of the tenets of smart growth but I think we have to recognize that having yards is still a good thing,” Burda said. “Having housing stock with a variety of homes is a good thing. Taking kids to their soccer game or to other places in cars is OK.”
Burda said hiring a consultant to lobby the feds against the Purple Line would be a waste of money. She suggested the Town maintain its current course of trying to mitigate certain aspects of the system, such as noise, as best as it can.