Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Taking away a park ... is not only an incalculable loss but a serious breach of public trust."

[Testimony by Ms. Ginny Barnes, Vice-Chair, Conservation Montgomery, at the April 9th meeting of the Montgomery County Planning Board]

Conservation Montgomery’s commitment to the environment in Montgomery County is based in large part on preserving and protecting public parkland. We have one of the most extensive and diverse park systems in the region. They are no accident but the result of real vision and careful, long term planning. It is disheartening to realize our much admired public school system is not engaged in the same approach to their future needs. How can it be when it assumes parkland is simply ‘vacant’ land, ‘free,’ theirs for the taking. Parks are not undeveloped land just waiting to be used. No parkland is ‘free,’ and no park is completely undeveloped. Taking away a park from a neighborhood or community is not only an incalculable loss but a serious breach of public trust.

Parks are our community schools of the outdoors. Our family classrooms where we play; where we learn to get along with each other through games, and touch the natural world beneath leafy canopies of trees. We exercise our imaginations as Robin Hood’s merry men or princesses of rural kingdoms and when we have children of our own, we bring them to do the same in the parks we loved when young. This is a rightful legacy. It should be inviolate. We should never have to make a choice between a school and a park. We don’t have to now.

From the beginning of this site selection process, there have been flaws piled one upon the other. First, in assuming the ‘right of recall’ was a given without need of justification. Then in holding the belief parkland is ‘vacant.’ The Board of Education has prioritized parkland because they don’t have to buy it. But what do they intend to give in exchange for taking it back after 20+ years? Anything? Serious process flaws in the second act of this drama are just as numerous as the first time. Why not include available private land in the site consideration? Failure to do so only makes parkland continue to be seen as the obvious priority. How can any valid choice be made without a principal component on the table?

Though resource atlas generated maps were available to the Site Selection Advisory Committee, Parks staff was not asked to give an evaluation of sites using the resource atlas tool. This is where science really serves establishment of the greater good. As a member of the Trails Working Group, I’ve seen firsthand how the resource atlas can provide invaluable multilayered data that verify, without spending scarce dollars, the physical constraints and environmental costs of one route over another, and even lead to options as yet unconsidered. In this case, that analysis, were it available to participants in the selection process through the parks staff, expertise with the tool itself would have benefitted all concerned.

We support the Staff recommendation that the first priority should be the purchase of a private site and not the taking of any parkland from any community. When the Planning Commission wants land for parks, it has to buy it. Why shouldn’t the Board of Education do the same?

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