Archive for the ‘Country Club’ Category

Council work session details CCT plans

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Update: On July 27 the Council approved the Purple Line Functional Master Plan by a unanimous vote with little discussion. The plan stands as described below.

July 15, 2010

The Montgomery County Council T&E Committee took up the proposed Purple Line Functional Master Plan on July 15. In general, the Committee followed the guidance given by the analysis in the staff packet. I’ll touch on some of the high points here, and add some information that arose from the Committee discussion with the MTA project staff that was not in the staff packet.

The Committee agreed with the recommendation to not have a single-track section in Chevy Chase. There was a long discussion on this issue and the decision was difficult for Committee members, but in the end the Committee agreed that even a short single-track section would harm the operational capabilities of the system too much. I have posted earlier at Off track on one track why a single-track section would have little, if any, benefit to the Trail.

The Committee agreed to Master Plan language that MTA should use wireless technology as much as is practical to minimize the interference of overhead wires with restoring the tree canopy after construction. MTA agreed some promising technologies are being studied, and this might be feasible for short sections in a few more years.

The Committee endorsed the plan to hold the trail on the north side of the tracks through the Chevy Chase and East Bethesda neighborhoods. As for the discussion of single-track, this was a difficult decision for the Council Members. But in the end they agreed with the MTA finding that this would allow for a trail with better vertical separation. I have posted earlier at Flipping the trail south on why the trail is better on the north side overall.

The Committee did welcome news that MTA and the Town of Chevy Chase were having continuing discussions on how to make the at-grade crossing at Lynn Drive safe, and also were having discussions on possibly building a local neighborhood trail along the south side of the transitway between the Lynn Drive path and Elm Street Park.

The Committee agreed to strengthen language on the trail width – to make the 12’ width the standard wherever possible, instead of having a 10’ width be the standard with 12’ only listed as desirable. Councilmember Leventhal shared that the County is negotiating with the Columbia Country Club for an agreement that would have the Club drop its opposition to the Purple Line in exchange for shifting the Purple Line alignment shift a few feet north at the Club, to minimize the impact on the greens on the south side. A 10′ trail width through the Club may be a part of that agreement. My own view is that if 2′ is a deal breaker, surely there is another place to find 2′, say by reducing the width of the planted buffer between trail and rail. We need all of the trail width we can get!

July 16 update: Councilmember Leventhal has received clarification from Mike Madden of MTA that the trail width is NOT a sticking point in negotiations with the Club, and the Trail can be a consistent 12′ width through this area.

Committee discussions with MTA showed that the newest plans have two alignment shifts for the future Trail from that shown in previous plans:
1) The trail will shift from the north side of the tracks to the south side of the tracks at Rock Creek, instead of just west of Jones Mill Road. MTA did not present any sketches showing how the trail would shift sides, but I’m guessing that the Trail would cross from north to south underneath the Purple Line transit bridge span right at Rock Creek. A sketch of the older plan is at Access to a real park and shows the trail bridge could clear beneath the transit bridge at Rock Creek. In my opinion, this can be an improvement over the older plan if designed right – it eliminates the need for an up and over crossing west of Jones Mill Road for less elevation change on the CCT, while still giving good access to the Rock Creek Trail.
2) The Trail will cross over CSX west of the Rosemary Hills Elementary School, instead of just east of the Talbot Avenue Bridge.. This change is believed necessary to avoid increasing the height of the retaining wall that is close behind the school now. This change requires taking several feet from the yards of five homes along Talbot Ave. between Michigan Ave. and Lanier Drive, and making Talbot Ave. one-way on this block. I consider this as roughly an even trade-off for the Trail if done right – it eliminates at-grade crossings of Michigan Ave. and Lanier Drive, but creates an at-grade crossing at the east end of the Talbot Ave. Bridge.

map of new CSX crossing location

The approximate location of the new
proposed trail crossing of CSX.
See the gmap-pedometer interactive map.

The Committee supported new access points for the Trail. The most significant new access might be by building a new access trail along a stream valley that leads into Coquelin Run, from Jones Bridge to Jones Mill Road. Depending upon the length of the access trail, new access can be: 1) just from Jones Bridge Road at Manor Drive; 2) or also from the east end of Chevy Chase Lake Drive; 3) or also from Jones Mill Road near East-West Highway. As the staff packet notes, this is a new idea and it is much too early to know if this will have acceptable environmental and neighborhood impacts. I hope this access trail can be built – it would give good access from many homes in this area.

map of Coquelin access trail

The approximate location of a new access path
in the Coquelin stream valley.
See the gmap-pedometer interactive map.

MTA now estimates the cost of rebuilding/completing the CCT alongside the Purple Line at $65M for a 10’ wide trail. Much of that cost is in the cost of structures such as retaining walls to keep the trail higher than the rail, and the cost of lowering the railbed in the Bethesda Tunnel to make room for the trail to be overhead. Cost for a 12’ wide trail will be higher. By prior agreement between the County and MTA the cost to build the Trail is to come from sources other than transit funding, so as not to burden the Purple Line proposal with the cost of the trail when the Purple Line competes at FTA against other projects. But as Council members pointed out to MTA staff, this does not mean that all of the cost of the Trail must come from County funding. Other state funding sources such as Transportation Enhancement funds can be used. The County also intends to negotiate with MTA on how the cost sharing is determined where trail and transit share structures and grading. The County will also press MTA for full credit for the County contribution of the right-of-way when the final cost share between County and State is negotiated.

I believe the MTA may be taking a too restrictive view of Trail use in calculating cost sharing. In many places the Trail will be a major pathway for transit users to reach the Purple Line stations from the neighborhoods, and where significant numbers of trail users are really transit users the cost of the trail should be proportionately assigned as a necessary part of the transit system. Scarce County funds for trails should not be used to build the Purple Line’s pedestrian access system – that part of the cost is a legitimate transit budget item. MTA may be viewing the trail as a separate system, instead of seeing it as an integral and necessary part of the Purple Line system.

Overall I think the T&E Committee reached thoughtful, even courageous, decisions. The Master Plan now goes to the full Council at a July 20 work session. After the Council has approved the plan, it returns to the M-NCPPC for final confirmation. Most of the ‘heavy lifting’ is done now, I doubt that any major changes will come on the path to final confirmation.

Time to remove the fence!

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

The State of Maryland has announced that it will build the Purple Line as light rail alongside the trail in the Georgetown Branch corridor. It is now time to tear down the trail fence at the Columbia Country Club.

looking though the trail fence toward the clubhouse

The public is pinched into a 16′ wide path between the fences here, while the Club has free use of the remaining 84′ width of the public’s land.

I presented a brief history of the fence at Chain link fences are historic?. The fence was constructed under an Interim CCT legal agreement (a pdf)
between Montgomery County and the Club that was intended to be a temporary measure, to allow the County to proceed with construction of the interim trail while the Columbia Country Club continued to pursue a lawsuit to challenge the public ownership of the corridor. That lawsuit was decided in court a few years after the fence went up, in favor of the public..

Now that the lawsuit is settled and building the Purple Line light rail and trail is the decided policy of both the County and State, there is nothing in the interim trail legal agreement to prevent the County from removing the fence today. Yet the public continues to be pinched between high chain link fences on the Interim CCT while the Club continues to have free, exclusive use of the bulk of the public’s land. And all the while the Club may bring future litigation to stop the Purple Line, litigation that would cost the public millions of dollars in litigation costs and project delays.

It is in the strong public interest for the County to move to take the fence down now:

  • The public should enjoy the use of the land that it owns while the Purple Line Final EIS and detailed design are underway and we wait for construction to begin.
  • If the public can establish physical use of the full 100′ corridor now, the issue of disturbing the Club’s greens will become moot before the Club can cause expensive delays in the Purple Line project through litigation.

One question that will arise if the fences come down is the safety of the public from errant golf balls. This can be addressed:

  • Require the Club to move its tees and greens outside of the 100′ corridor the public owns. The Interim CCT can remain where it is, and there would then be a 40+’ wide buffer between the interim trail and any greens or tees.
  • Plant an approx. 30′ wide swath along the south side of the public corridor with trees and shrubs in those extensive areas that do not already have trees. The MTA concept plan calls for rebuilding the trail along the north side of the Purple Line tracks. A planted buffer that is established now along the south side could remain undisturbed by the later Purple Line construction. This planted buffer would enhance the interim trail and would give some protection from golf balls.
  • If independent safety experts judge that some additional protection is needed in the few exposed areas, then short sections of the fence can remain. But the fence should remain only on the side where protection is needed, only for the length needed. The great majority of fence can be removed so trail users do not have to feel as though they are in a narrow chute.

If a buffer space on the south side of the public land were planted now, it could remain undisturbed by future transit/trail construction.
(sketch source: MTA April 2008 briefing to Bethesda focus group.)

If the County acts now to remove the fence and establish its full use of the public land, the Club would have to defend against moving its tees and greens now. Any litigation they could bring to stop the County would be centered on who owns the land. The Club has already lost that issue in the courts. If the Club is forced to move its greens now, future litigation the Club is planning to delay the Purple Line would be severely undercut because the impact of the Purple Line upon the Club’s greens would then be moot.

It is in the public interest to bring the fight at a time and on legal issues favorable to the public rather than to wait for the Club to litigate at a time and on issues of the Club’s choosing. If we wait for the Club to act, then the costs to the public to mount a legal defense against the Club’s litigation and the costs of Purple Line project delays will be much greater.

It is time to remove the fence!

Chain link fences are historic?

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

They’re back…

The Columbia Country Club

I posted at A natural trail for golf on the irony of the Columbia Country Club President writing to the Council on January 13, 2008 to assert that the Purple Line would disturb the natural setting of the trail.  His Club continues to assault the natural setting of the trail with an ugly pair of 8 foot high chain link fences. Now exactly one year later the Club has submitted written comments to the MTA on the Purple Line AA/DEIS to assert that the Purple Line will seriously damage the historic setting of their golf course. The Club claims the Purple Line would, among other things, build unsightly fences and retaining walls across the beautiful and historic club grounds. The Club asserts that defacing part of the historic property irreparably injures the historic character of the entire property.

The Club did not appear to be concerned about defacing historic property with fences in 1996, when the Club demanded that fences be erected to enclose the Interim CCT. According to the agreement with the County, the Club insisted on the fences as a condition to not present a legal challenge to the construction of the Interim CCT. Under the agreement the Club designed the fence, subject to County approval of the design. The Club erected the fence with the County providing $100K toward the construction cost. The Club selected black chain link for the fence material and erected the fence across the entire width of its property. According to the agreement, the Greater Bethesda – Chevy Chase Coalition (a.k.a. “Save the Trail”) supported the deal. In contrast the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) wrote in its Crescent Newsletter protesting that CCCT had been excluded from the discussions, and that CCCT considered the deal be against the interests of trail users and of the public. The CCCT was dismayed that public funds were used to help the Club pinch the trail into a narrow 16′ wide passage, while the Club continued to have exclusive and free use of the remainder of the 100′ wide public right-of-way.

The fence looks no more “historic” from the Club side
than it does from the trail side.

The Purple Line will not deface the Club property as much as does the existing chain link fence. The photo at right, from an Oct. 21, 2008 MTA presentation to the County Council, shows an example of light rail transit on grass tracks with a sensible fence alongside. An 8 foot high chain link fence is not needed. Rail transit routinely operates safely in many urban areas with no fences at all. The Club, not the Purple Line designers, appears to be fixated on mega-fences.

Another assertion the Club raised in its letter to MTA was that the course arrangement was historic, being one of the oldest unchanged course layouts in the country that is still in existence today. Several greens lie in or near the public right-of-way and must be altered or moved if the Purple Line is built. The Club argues that altering any of the tees and greens will cause unacceptable harm to this historic course.

It is easy to see from the trail side of the fence that several greens are on or near the 100′ right-of-way. I have some sympathy for the Club members on this issue, although that sympathy is limited by the observation that the Club was very foolish to build greens on land it never owned. Moving private greens off public land for the public good will not be as devastating to this “historic” course as the Club asserts in its letter.

 The Pebble Beach Golf Links is considered to be among the several most historic golf courses in the country, with the course designed in 1919. Experience at Pebble Beach shows that even a very historic golf course can, and does, make changes to the course alignment. According to Wikipedia, the Pebble Beach course was modified in 1922 (200 yards added to the 18th hole), in 1998 (moving the 5th to use newly purchased land), and again in 2008 (new bunkers added to the fairways of the 3rd and 6th holes to change the dynamics of play). Rigid historic accuracy was voluntarily sacrificed for these changes to improve the quality of play. Pebble Beach Golf Links appears to have survived these changes quite well, can charge $495 for a single round of play (golf cart fee not included), and still is acclaimed as “historic”. The Columbia Country Club can survive adjustments to several of its greens too.

The Purple Line can look like this at the Country Club
if appropriate fences and landscaping screens are used.
Source: Purple Line AA/DEIS

MTA announced at an October 21, 2008 briefing to the County Council a> that it is trying to negotiate with the Club about modest Purple Line realignments and a property swap that could minimize the impact of the Purple Line on the several affected tees and greens. Trail users likely would support reasonable efforts to minimize impacts on the Club greens, provided the Trail design is not adversely impacted. But the Club comments recently submitted to MTA imply the Club will oppose any changes to its “historic” property (and apparently also the right-of-way that the public owns) and calls into question whether the Club will accept any compromise. If the Club is headed to the courts anyway, it is time for the County to stop deferring to the Club and start putting the public interest first instead.

The County can and should tear down the unsightly trail fence and return the fence materials to the Club. Under the terms of the agreement the County can remove the fence when the County begins to build the permanent trail. The Club lost any claim to the 100 foot right-of-way in the courts shortly after the agreement was signed. The County Council and Executive have just sent a joint letter to MTA to recommend that the Locally Preferred Alternative for the Purple Line be Light Rail Transit in the Georgetown Branch Corridor. The County should remove the fence now as the first step to begin construction of the permanent CCT that will be alongside the Purple Line.

Tear down that fence

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Casey Anderson writes in a July 9 Gazette letter:

“Why doesn’t County Executive Ike Leggett take steps to remove the fences that allow the country club and its members the exclusive use of this public property free of charge. Alternatively, I would like to see Mr. Leggett start charging the club rent for the use of the right-of-way. The money generated from renting the land could be used to extend the trail to Silver Spring, where we have waited 20 years for it as part of the Purple Line project.”

The public owns a 100′ wide right-of-way
but fences pinch the trail into a 16′ wide cage.

This could be a win situation for the trail and the public. If the fence is taken down, then the trail could be widened for a safer, more pleasant trail. If, alternatively, the Columbia Country Club pays a fair price to use the public land it is now encrouching upon, then the money could be used to maintain and extend the trail.

The trail section through the Club is approx. 1/4 mile long.

We’re talking about approx. 120,000 square feet, or nearly 3 acres, of prime public land that the Country Club is now using for free. Fair market value rent for this land would be more than pocket change for a County that is facing tight budgets for maintaining trails. Has this idea never occured to our County Executive or Council?

Since the Club President can take time to write County Officials to tell them how much he loves the trail, maybe he will take time to write another letter to announce that his Club will start to compensate the public fairly for using the trail right-of-way for golf.

A "natural Trail" for Golf

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Can playing too much golf can make you think a “natural Trail” looks like this?

The Interim CCT at the Columbia Country Club. Trail users are confined in a 16′ wide linear cage even though the public owns a 100′ wide right-of-way here.

Mr. J. Paul McNamara, President of the Columbia Country Club, wrote to the Montgomery County Council in a January 13 letter: “I, along with thousands of other Trail users, would be distressed to see this natural Trail degraded and the surrounding mature forest destroyed for a light rail Purple Line.”

The text of Mr. McNamara’s letter is cut-and-paste directly from Chevy Chase neighborhood activist Pam Browning’s call for emails to stop the Purple Line. Mr. McNamara presents himself as a trail user and does not disclose his affiliation with the Country Club in his letter. Perhaps Mr. McNamara feels this is necessary to preserve the “grass roots” appearance of the new club grass roots campaign to stop the Purple Line.

One wonders how Mr. McNamara can see the trail at his Country Club as it exists, narrowly confined between high black fences and treeless near the putting greens, and still believe it is “natural”. But maybe if you play a lot of golf at the Columbia Country Club, in time you begin to feel it is “natural” to play golf in the 100′ wide right-of-way that the public owns while the public is confined to a 16′ wide cage. Many of us who are not members of the Club would feel the Trail is more natural if, say, the fences were removed and trees were planted to replace the golf cart paths and putting greens now in the 100′ wide right-of-way. With 100′ to work with, we could widen the trail, share the corridor with the Purple Line, and still have more trees in the remaining right-of-way.

Transit on grass tracks alongside a trail.

If trees and grass tracks replace the golf cart paths and putting greens now within the Georgetown Branch right-of-way at the Columbia Country Club, we would have a more natural trail setting than exists there now.