With Montgomery Village having balked on tens of thousands of dollars in state grants for community projects in the past year, the Village's state legislators asked residents weigh in Saturday on the latest proposal to find itself in the crosshairs of neighbor outcry: a bathroom and concession stand at South Valley Park.
The idea dates back more than a decade, when the Montgomery Village Sports Association suggested the idea in 1998. The Montgomery Village Foundation OK'd the project in 2000, but it came undone in 2003 when potential sponsors fell through.
Last year, it found new life in the Montgomery Village Foundation seminal five-year plan for amenities, programs and community enhancements.
Sen. Nancy J. King, a longtime Village resident, organized Saturday's forum at the Lake Marion Community Center to help her and District 39's three delegates decide whether to request half of the project's $250,000 pricetag among the dozens of community projects funded in the legislature's annual bond bill.
"There’s been some question about why, in a bad economy, are we asking for money. Well, the money is there," she said. "If we don’t ask for it for our community, it will go to another community in Maryland."
Visitors to South Valley Park—which has the Lawn Theater, a football field and a softball field—use portable toilets stationed around the park and purchase food or refreshments from a trailer operated by an outside vendor. The proposed bathroom and concession stand would be roughly 60 feet long by 20 feet wide, with a shingled roof and a canopy to shield picnic tables. Several locations are under consideration, particularly spots that are easily accessible to both the ballfields and the Lawn Theater.
Roughly 50 people attended the forum on Saturday morning, with the two dozen speakers evenly split for and against the
Opponents said they worried the facility would attract drug use, vandalism and violent crime as well as maintenance costs, noise and pests and rodents. Others said they needed more information before they could feel comfortable with the project.
"The bathrooms are a plus to the Village and the sports association but there's a big negative risk involved," said Rich Wilder, who with his wife Jane have been the project's most vocal detractors.
Several opponents raised the specter of child safety, citing the recent Penn State scandal.
"We have to think about the safety of the children," Jane Wilder said. "Who will be attending the bathrooms and ensure the children are safe? The liability on the part of the foundation is scary."
The project's supporters were frustrated by what they see as a perpetually hostile tone toward any attempt to bring something new to Montgomery Village.
"Many people have used this project as an opportunity to introduce all sorts of issues today. ... This is not about trying to keep ourselves insulated from people who might come in—we welcome people from other communities," said Pete Young, a member of the MVF board and father to former and future MVSA athletes. "Ultimately, the argument that we cannot support anything, that will make us marginalized as a community if all we have is this negative posture. We will not move this Village forward."
"I’m really kind of sad people don’t want to make improvements here. The Lawn Theater is awesome, it’s a jewel of the Village. I love kids and that’s what this is all about," said resident Kathi Hufnagel, who worked with children’s programming for the Village for 36 years. "… I understand, I have compassion that nobody wants this in their backyard, but you knew this park was there when you moved in. You knew there were teams playing there."
MVSA representatives said the league is losing families to teams in communities with better facilities.
Several speakers bemoaned the difficultly for seniors and small children to use the portable toilets. The portable toilets fill up quickly on game days, which compels children to duck into the woods or walk all the way to the McDonald's just to use the bathroom, said Garrett King, the MVSA's football commissioner.
"We have a lot of kids and this project would be great for them," he said.
The project's $250,000 pricetag would be split between the state funding and the Montgomery Village Foundation, which has already allocated its share in this year's budget, which estimates it will cost $500 a year to maintain and operate the facility.
If the project has enough support, King said she will request funds for the other half next month. The MVF board will discuss the project at its Feb. 23 meeting.
"Believe me, we have not made our decision yet and this is only the beginning of the process," Nancy King said.