Letters Needed to Council NOW to Support Willett Branch in the Westbard Sector

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 12:25pm

The Planning Board has submitted its proposal for the Westbard Sector and includes strong support for naturalizing the Willett Branch and creating a new stream valley park - a ribbon of green cutting through the sector. The Plan is now in the hands of the County Council who are holding public hearings this week. The plan then moves to their PHED committee who will make recommendations for the final vote.  

LFWA is busy advocating for the creek. We have a working group for the project and have leafleted, petitioned, and are meeting with Council members to get their support, not only for including the project in the Plan but for getting it built.  We have information HERE about how you can help bring this vision to fruition. Writing letters of support is very important at this time. We have names, addresses and an easy email link with sample letter HERE.
LFWA testified before the Council on February 2 outlining our support for the plan and appeal for bringing it to fruition. You can read our testimony HERE.  My testimony as an individual is below.
The restoration is also very personal to me and below is the testimony that I gave before the Council at the February 2 meeting.  I appended pictures that were submitted with the written testimony. If you haven't had a chance to look at the creek, I urge you to make some time.  It's only a short walk, but it will be eye opening.
While there is much opposition to the entire Westbard Plan, the one thing that people have agreed on is the need to restore the creek.  We are optimistic that it will pass the Council's scrutiny and make it into the new Master Plan. The challenge will be getting it funded and built.
Please visit HERE to learn how you can help.
Thank you for your support,
Sarah Morse
Executive Director
Little Falls Watershed Alliance
Sarah Morse
Testimony on Westbard Sector Plan
County Council Public Hearing
Feb. 2, 2016

I’m Sarah Morse and I live in Somerset, adjacent to the Westbard sector. I’m also the Executive Director of the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, but I am testifying as an individual.

I’m here to speak for the creek, to ask you to support the proposed Willett Branch Park and naturalization of the creek as outlined in the Westbard Master Plan re-write. Many people don’t even know that there is a creek in the sector, but I can see the Willett Branch from my house. It’s in a big cement ditch – the proper term for it is concrete-lined creek. It’s paved all the way through the Westbard Sector and you can walk the entire length in the creek on pavement. In fact, I have. It was a favorite place for my children to walk our dog, which sounds kind of idyllic - creek, dogs, kids. However, the creek is anything but idyllic, the walls are covered in graffiti and the banks are used in many places as dumping grounds for local businesses. You can find household appliances, shopping carts, newspaper stands as well as tires, landscaping debris, bottles and all kinds of other trash. In some places, the banks have eroded into the creek and you can see that the trash is layers and layers deep. Parking lots go right up to the edge and when it rains, run-off carrying a toxic mix of chemicals goes directly in the creek. I have pictures in my printed testimony.

It was horrifying for me to discover this just a stone’s throw from my house. This is the type of creek you see in blighted neighborhoods, not in established affluent areas. It’s the kind of creek they restore when they do urban renewal projects; the creek goes from eye sore to major amenity in the area and it gets a lot of press. There are dozens of examples of this type of transformation – Carroll Creek in Frederick is one of the best. What was once an industrial blight is now beautiful urban park, a show case for the city and major amenity for the re-development of the area. People crowd to it and there are restaurants on the banks and spaces for picnics and concerts.

So, when the first charrettes proposed making Willett Branch into a park, I was so excited. Not only would it fix a major eyesore and have environmental benefits, it would be a major amenity for the area. Imagine a new Westbard where the creek is the focus of the area, where businesses instead of turning their backs to the creek and using it as a dumping ground, embrace the creek. Imagine restaurants and shops creek-side with outdoor seating. Imagine people walking in this new naturalized area, pushing strollers enjoying nature. Imagine how wonderful it would be to have this instead of a concrete ditch.

With the Westbard Sector Plan and the imminent re-development, we have a chance to have this for our neighborhood and for Montgomery County. It would be show place for the entire area, a draw for new residents, a respite for the neighborhood. Even the developers who would have something to crow about – a ribbon of green cutting through the sector. The County Planner and Park Department did a wonderful job of thinking this through and creating a vision that will serve the county for generations. I can’t thank them enough for pushing for this and getting it into the master plan rewrite and finally, approved by the Planning Board.

I know that you’ve heard a lot of testimony about what people don’t like in the new plan, but this is something to support. A naturalized creek and new park will be a legacy for the area, something everyone can be proud of. We need this for the environment, for a respite and for our grandchildren. I hope you will vote to keep it in the plan and further - work to seeing it to fruition.

Thank you for your time.
Standing in Willett Branch by River Road
Standing in the Willett Branch by River Road and Ridgefield Ave. The inlet is from an unnamed tributary that runs under the Westwood II shopping center parking lot. This area could be a show piece entrance for the Westbard Sector with a waterfall and natural space. Imagine a little café creek side here. Creek by River Road and Ridgefield Ave. It runs under the Westwood II shopping center parking lot here.
Looking Downstream in the Willett Branch at American Plant
Looking down steam in the Willett Branch at back lot of American Plant.  The stream valley has been filled with un-reinforced concrete to make an area for American Plant’s nursery items.  Severe cracking seen on the right indicates that repair of the structure is needed. 

Willett Branch by Schnabel Foundation

The  Willett Branch behind Schabel Foundation near the Capital Crescent Trail.  The litter on the bank is from the landscaping company located there. 

Willett Branch tunnel under Butlers Road

Willett Branch  runs through a tunnel under Butler Road and parking lots.  Just after this tunnel, it becomes a naturalized stream and joins with the Little Falls Branch.