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Posted at 2:41 PM ET, 07/13/2009

My Cul-de-Sac Became a College's Ashtray

By Stephen Stromberg

By Christine Borger

My street lies at the heart of a neighborhood problem that has mired the mayor and city council of Rockville and threatens to draw in state Sen. Jennie Forehand and even Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Unfortunately, the problem has no easy solution.

For more than 40 years, my quiet cul-de-sac lived at peace with the Rockville campus of Montgomery College, while hosting a small pedestrian opening to a parking lot on that campus. In August 2008, Montgomery College enacted a campus-wide anti-tobacco policy. Suddenly, our street was flooded with smokers and loiterers. Large groups of people gathered to smoke in the cul-de-sac for hours each day.

The area quickly became a living ashtray: The stench and debris were unbelievable. Eventually, cars belonging to students, faculty and other campus employees jammed the street. Some people regularly parked illegally. Speeding cars endangered residents. Litter became pervasive. Trespassing became commonplace.

With time, the situation deteriorated. The street became a "hangout" for college students and staffers. Residents' private property was used (illegally) to host student gatherings. Loud music blared from cars parked illegally in the cul-de-sac. Passersby have witnessed public consumption of alcohol and marijuana, as well as vandalism. A drag race took place. There was so much activity on the street that I felt the street had become an un-policed extension of the campus.

After various attempts to address the problem failed, Montgomery College closed the pedestrian opening that led to our street. Peace on the street was restored. And my immediate neighbors and I were relieved.

But other residents of the street are angry over the college's decision. A few insist that the fence be reopened permanently. This group takes the position that the situation wasn't "that bad" because there were few police reports. They disregard the many complaints filed with other government officials. The residents opposed to closing the street have formed a neighborhood committee dedicated to opening the fence. They claim to "represent" 1,100 homes, implying a consensus that does not exist.

This group takes its position despite the fact that there is another opening to the campus three blocks away; that a three-minute bus ride from the bottom of my street drops riders by a main entrance; and that it takes only about 15 minutes to walk to either of two main entrances. They want the fence open for their convenience.

My immediate neighbors and I would prefer that the college's fence remain closed because closure has eradicated a host of problems, some of which had been growing as the campus grew.

However, given the vocal nature and greater numbers of area residents opposed to the fence closure, the mayor and council of Rockville no longer support Montgomery College's decision to close the entryway. Most recently, they have decided to approach Montgomery College with a proposal that would require reopening the fence

I understand that for elected officials there are no easy answers, because votes matter. But no one would want what happened on my street to happen on his or her street. Ultimately, the fence belongs to Montgomery College, and it must act in accordance with its mission. Hopefully, that mission includes protecting its immediate neighbors from the harm even a well-intended policy can do.

By Stephen Stromberg  | July 13, 2009; 2:41 PM ET
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