For­mer rescue mem­bers fight pro­posed shrink plan

Pub­lic safety could suf­fer, they ar­gue

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY RYAN MCDER­MOTT

A group of for­mer Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue mem­bers are fight­ing plans to sell a large swath of the squad’s prop­erty to be de­vel­oped into a res­i­den­tial high-rise apart­ment build­ing, chal­leng­ing ar­gu­ments by their lead­er­ship that the money is needed to re­place a fa­cil­ity that has fallen into dis­re­pair.

The dis­si­dents say pub­lic safety may suf­fer if the sale goes ahead.

“The rescue squad’s re­zon­ing and de­vel­op­ment plan is not com­pat­i­ble with the ex­ist­ing neigh­bor­hood. It doesn’t pro­vide for fu­ture ex­pan­sion to meet pub­lic safety re­quire­ments that will grow ex­po­nen­tially,” said Joe Ker­nan, a for­mer mem­ber who joined the squad in 1957 and is op­posed to the deal with de­vel­op­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Ker­nan and a group of 25 for­mer mem­bers, the loss of park­ing and train­ing space would be detri­men­tal to the squad when cou­pled with an an­tic­i­pated pop­u­la­tion growth in Bethesda that will only heighten the need for ser­vice in the area.

But squad pres­i­dent Ken Holden said if the deal doesn’t go through, the com­mu­nity could be faced with a rescue team that doesn’t have the abil­ity to do its job. The build­ing which cur­rently houses the squad at 5020 Bat­tery Lane in Bethesda was built in 1974 and lacks most of the ameni­ties needed for a modern rescue fa­cil­ity.

“The re­quire­ments for a fire sta­tion have changed dra­mat­i­cally even in the last 10 years,” said Mr. Holden, who joined the squad as a teenager in 1972. “We’ve got an al­most 50-year-old build­ing. Some things are fall­ing apart, elec­tric isn’t what it should be.”

The BCC Rescue Squad, which was founded in 1937, is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion made up of about 150 pro­fes­sion­al­ly­trained vol­un­teers and in­cludes seven am­bu­lance/medic units, two heavy-rescue squads, one medic-chase car, and util­ity and com­mand ve­hi­cles.

The squad does not re­ceive funding from the county gov­ern­ment. Al­most all of the $2 mil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get comes from in­di­vid­ual donors, foun­da­tions, busi­nesses and oc­ca­sional state and fed­eral grants. That money isn’t enough to un­der­write a state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity, Mr. Holden said.

“There just isn’t enough pri­vate money com­ing in. Ba­si­cally, it’s all we can do to get enough money to get by every day,” he said.

Mr. Holden’s so­lu­tion was to sell about two-thirds of the land to a de­vel­oper for a 120-foot high-rise apart­ment build­ing. The de­vel­oper, in turn, would fund a brand-new sta­tion at a cost of up to $18 mil­lion. The squad would not re­veal the name of the po­ten­tial de­vel­oper, and county doc­u­ments about the is­sue don’t men­tion a spe­cific name ei­ther.

The deal must be ap­proved of the Mont­gomery County Coun­cil to be re­zoned for a res­i­den­tial build­ing of that size. Last month the re­zon­ing was given pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval by the county coun­cil’s Plan­ning, Hous­ing and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee. The com­mit­tee did rec­om­mend a 90-foot limit on the planned build­ing in re­sponse con­cerns of res­i­dents in the area. The com­mit­tee re­port also said they be­lieved the squad won’t “com­pro­mise their abil­ity to pro­vide nec­es­sary ser­vices for the neigh­bor­hood” in fa­vor of the deal for the new fa­cil­ity.

The coun­cil next month is ex­pected to take up the new­est ver­sion of the Bethesda Down­town Sec­tor Plan, which in­cludes the rescue squad prop­erty.

County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Roger Ber­liner, who also rep­re­sents Bethesda and Chevy Chase, did not re­turn re­quests for com­ment on the up­com­ing zon­ing de­ci­sion.

But Mr. Ker­nan and his group of life mem­bers — those who were at some point in­volved with the squad for at least 10 years — are that rel­e­gat­ing the rescue squad to a prop­erty one-third the size while adding hun­dreds of new res­i­dents to ser­vice will be bad for the squad and for the com­mu­nity. And with the ad­di­tion of the Pur­ple Line in the com­ing years, the prob­lem will only be ex­ac­er­bated, he said.

“At a time when the county strug­gles to find land for fa­cil­i­ties that sup­port pub­lic health, safety and wel­fare, it should not fa­cil­i­tate the loss of such a sig­nif­i­cant piece of land owned and main­tained by first re­spon­ders when the de­mands on first re­spon­ders will only grow in this very com­mu­nity,” Mr. Ker­nan said in a let­ter to Mr. Ber­liner.

Some Bat­tery Park res­i­dents op­pose the deal as well be­cause the build­ing will out of char­ac­ter with the neigh­bor­hood.

“Ba­si­cally, the county is slowly al­low­ing taller and taller build­ings up Old Ge­orge­town Road fac­ing res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods,” Steven Teit­el­baum, who has lived in the com­mu­nity for around 30 years, said. “Those are fairly high build­ings when you take into ac­count that they’re fac­ing res­i­den­tial homes.”

But Mr. Holden, the pres­i­dent of the rescue squad, said he’s just try­ing to cre­ate a sta­tion that will best serve an evolv­ing com­mu­nity.

“I have to look out for the present day,” he said. “We have to be pre­pared to an­swer the call to­day, to­mor­row, 20 years down the road.”

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