|The not-going-anywhere-anytime-soon Woodmoor Shopping Center. Photo by the author.|
I am not sure how this myth started, but it certainly alarms people who are unfamiliar with the BRT plans. I assume its origins are in another myth I have heard about BRT: the thought that BRT will require 150 feet of additional right-of-way on local roads. For some reference on that number, the width of the Beltway from shoulder to shoulder through Four Corners is less than 150 feet. BRT buses are between 8 and 9 feet wide, so the 150 number seems a bit extreme.
There are some valid concerns to be had about Bus Rapid Transit, such as the preservation of left-turns into local neighborhoods. Many of these concerns can be addressed in the BRT Master Plan, and more specific concerns can be fielded by contacting Montgomery Planning. Concern about the destruction of the Woodmoor Shopping Center is not valid, since there's no way the county will destroy the shopping center for BRT or any other transit project. Here are two good reasons why.
The Woodmoor Shopping Center generates millions of dollars in tax revenue each year for the county and the State of Maryland each year. Should BRT be built, it will require funding from tax revenue generated at the shopping center and other local businesses. When businesses are destroyed or closed, less tax money goes to the county and state. As far as the county is concerned, destroying the shopping center would destroy a major revenue source, and that is the last thing they want to do. The destruction of the shopping center would mean the loss of the largest retail hub in Four Corners. Lack of a nearby shopping center would make the surrounding neighborhoods (particularly Woodmoor) much less appealing to new residents. This would mean houses would be on the market longer and, the county would lose tax revenue due to the higher vacancy rates. This brings me to my next point.
Four Corners; particularly Woodmoor, is one of the most politically active areas in the county. This political activism is on display whenever a controversial issue arises (for example, those who lived here in the 90's will remember how heavily opposed the new Blair was). Residents of Woodmoor and Four Corners also show up at the polls, and politicians know it. Whenever a candidate is running for elected office, whether it be County Council, State Delegate, or the U.S. Congress, they visit Woodmoor at least once during campaign season. Were the shopping center to be destroyed to make way for BRT, the politicians in office at the time (especially the County Council member) would be in hot water. Allowing something like that to happen would seriously hurt their political career, since the politically active citizens that live here would be very angry, and they would ensure that said politician is not re-elected.
The Woodmoor Shopping Center is the most well known landmark in Four Corners (there's a reason I made it the background picture of this blog). It is an attractive building that provides our community with a sense of place, and it fulfills our daily retail needs. The M-NCPPC recognized this when they drafted their Four Corners Master Plan in 1996, stating that "The long-term economic viability of the shopping center contributes to the health of the entire commercial district." This is still true today, especially after the shopping center underwent improvements in the early 2000's.
The county is not going to use eminent domain to destroy such an important structure. If it did come under threat of demolition, it would not be threatened by a public transit project, but a road project. Several structures at the intersection of Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue in Glenmont are being destroyed to accommodate a new grade-separated interchange at that location. The SHA would like to do something similar in Four Corners if it could, since our intersection is at a point of failure due to large amounts of car traffic, and grade-separation would greatly increase traffic flow. Pressure to grade-separate the intersection poses a much more realistic threat to the shopping center and commercial district than any public transit project does, because an interchange project would have much larger footprint than even the most elaborate BRT plans
As I've said before, it's fine to have concerns about the county's bus rapid transit plan, since there are real concerns to be had. The demise of the shopping center is certainly not one of them. Instead of inquiring about the destruction of the Woodmoor Shopping Center, ask questions about preserving a left turn lane at Crestmoor Drive, or ask about priority signalization and what it means for traffic light timing at the intersection. Or ask about how BRT could raise property values and offer homeowners a better return on their investment.
Don't buy into a scare tactic that claims that our most important commercial structure will be destroyed to accommodate improved transit.