Deborah A. Vollmer
Candidate for Town Council
Background and Experience
I am running for Town Council, and ask for your vote. The Town is my home; I live in the same house where I grew up, with my parents and my sister Susan, attending Chevy Chase Elementary, Leland Junior High School, and B-CC. I attended Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, from which I graduated with a B.A. in Government in 1970, and I graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law, in 1973.
I am a retired lawyer, and after practicing for years in California (having worked for the United Farm Workers Union, a legal aid office in Bakersfield, and having a sole practice focusing on criminal defense), I returned to my childhood home in 1997 to live with my father, Erwin P. Vollmer, who passed away at the age of 98 in 2004. In his younger years, my father, whose day job was as an endocrinologist on the Breast Cancer Task Force at N.I.H., was a model of civic engagement; he was one of a group of individuals who helped to make possible the annexation of our neighborhood to the Town, and also helped to make possible the creation of the Leland Community Center (now Lawton Center) and Elm Street Park. He was a role model for me, as was my mother, Aline Fruhauf, an artist.
Since returning to the Town, I have been active on Town committees. I currently serve on the Purple Line Mitigation Committee, and on the Long Range Planning Committee. Previous assignments have included the Town’s Special Committee on the Bethesda Sector Plan, the Land Use Committee, and the Climate and Environment Committee.
The Town is facing some serious issues. The implementation of the Bethesda Sector plan and the construction of the Purple Line create continuing challenges. I was against the Purple Line project from the beginning, because of concerns that I have for the environment generally, and for quality of life in our Town. Now, as the project goes forward, we must focus on holding the powers that be to the letter of the law, with respect to environmental protection.
The Purple Line
While I share a concern that many supporters of the Purple Line have, that we need to address issues of economic inequality, I believe that the transportation needs of our area, including the needs of low income workers coming from the east, would have been better served through bus rapid transit along existing roads. As it turns out, the Purple Line is more of a cash cow for real estate developers, than it is a boon for low income workers getting to and from their jobs. As noted above, workers commuting to work would be better served by improving bus service along existing roads. And low income housing and small businesses now in close proximity to the Purple Line route will be lost to make way for high-priced, towering, condos and office buildings.
The closing of the Trail, and the decimation of the tree canopy has had a crushing effect on the morale of those of us who treasure the Trail, the trees, and the wildlife.
When the Trail was closed in a precipitous and disrespectful manner by the Purple Line Transit Partners, on the very day that school was to begin, I joined with a few other adults to stand by the entrance to the Trail from the Lynn Drive Path, to give the students crossing to B-CC moral support as they crossed.
With the project going forward, it is important that we be sensitive to the impending loss of tree canopy, which will harm migratory birds, to storm water issues, increased noise, and chemical pollution, and work to do whatever we can to mitigate these harmful effects. It may be too late to stop the project, but we need to hold the powers that be accountable, and do whatever we can to protect the quality of life in our Town, what is left of our tree canopy, and the environment more generally. I would note that while we have already lost much of the tree canopy, if we can save the trail, new trees can be planted. We shouldn’t give up hope, that we might be able to restore at least some of what we have lost.
Saving the Trail could mean that several years hence, a very narrow modified hiker biker trail with a few trees will be reinstalled next to the two track light rail train. But with some hard work and a bit of luck, it could mean more---exerting the Town’s leverage in such a manner as to force sending the project back to the drawing board, reinstating the linear park that is the Trail, planting new trees to once again serve as refuge for the migratory birds, and creating a new kind of Purple Line that was never fully considered, as it should have been, when the plans were finalized---either an underground rail line, or an enhanced bus system along existing roads.
Toward that end, I think we need to look for points of leverage, to insure that we are not just giving lip service to the idea of mitigation, but creating real protection for our residents, and for our environment—steps that just might possibly send the entire project back to the drawing board---but if not, at least provide a higher level of protection for our quality of life and the environment than now seems possible.
There are points of leverage that we can use in this way. The county and the State will need the Town’s cooperation, when it comes to certain plans for tunneling, and redirecting traffic, both during and after construction. We don’t, as a Town, have to agree to every request made to us to cooperate. That gives us leverage. There are also various permits that have been granted in connection with the project, and with regard to these, we need to hold the Purple Line Transit Partners, the State, and the County, to the letter of the law. This, too, is leverage. And while the Town itself is not a party to the lawsuit filed by the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, this litigation, which raises questions regarding Federal funding for the project as well as some other legal issues, is another point of leverage.
The Bethesda Sector Plan
On another front, we need to monitor development in Bethesda, as the implementation of the Bethesda Sector Plan goes forward. On this front we need to be working with other community organizations, and CBAR. If elected to the Town Council, I will look forward to working with CBAR and other community groups, to do what we can to slow development. Our infrastructure is simply not up to accommodating the level of development anticipated in the Bethesda Sector Plan. Schools are already overcrowded. Traffic is a mess. We need to do what we can to slow it all down.
The Tudor Shops
Let me address the issue of
the Tudor shops, those low profile buildings between Leland
and Walsh Street on Wisconsin Avenue, which house a variety of
small businesses that serve our residents as well as the
larger community. Some
people think that these buildings have historic designation. They were, in fact,
established many years ago, to house small businesses to serve
the residents of the Town of Chevy Chase and nearby
communities. They do not currently have the protection of
historic designation. If
elected to the Town Council, I will work to bring about a
consensus within the Council to propose to the Historic
Preservation Commission that these buildings receive historic
designation, and follow through with the process, to make this
this would help to solidify the buffer between development in
downtown Bethesda and our Town.
The Parking Lots
Now let me address the issue of the two large surface level parking lots, behind the Farm Women’s Market and behind the Tudor shops. On this issue, I differ somewhat in my position from some of the other candidates. I think that we should fight to insure that there be no building on those parking lots. As to the lots themselves, I am in favor of keeping some of the area of the lots for surface level parking. Yes, we want to get more cars off the roads. But some people do need to drive.
In our Town, we have residents, especially older and/or disabled residents, who cannot walk to the Farm Women’s Market, the Tudor shops, or the Writer’s Center. To these residents, keeping some of the surface level parking close to those locations is extremely important. Not all are comfortable parking in underground facilities or parking garages. One should be able to make a quick stop at the Farm Women’s Market or one of the shops, without having to park underground, or walk a long distance. There should be some surface level parking kept, at least for senior citizens the disabled.
But we should also reserve some of the area of those lots---the area closest to our Town---- for green space, planted with trees, a linear park. With developers keen on developing these parking lots with tall buildings, accomplishing these goals will be no easy task. I suggest that we try to figure out how we might consider using some of the financial resources of the Town, to buy an interest in those lots, so that we might have some control over the future of these parking lots.
With respect to snow removal, I
think the Town’s approach should be one of looking at overall
level of dangerousness rather than simply the depth of the
snow. It is
easier for residents to shovel several inches of light fluffy
snow, than to have to deal with packed slush and ice. The Town manager
should have more discretion, subject to direction from the
Town Council, in the event of
problematic snowfalls. I
would also try to keep the office and Town Hall open when
weather is severe and/or we have power outages, so that
residents would have a place to gather for moral support and
to exchange information.
With respect to dog parks, I
support working with the County to have more frequent “pop up” dog parks,
such as the very successful event that was held at Elm Street
Park, as we consider the pros and cons of establishing a
permanent dog park in our Town.
Let me use this space to briefly address one additional issue. Since about 2009 a handful of Town residents have been pushing to expand voting rights to allow our residents who are not U.S. citizens, but who are permanent residents, and members of our community, to vote in Town elections. I raised this issue when I ran for Town Council in 2009, and again in 2014. Finally, after many years of discussion of this issue, our current Town Council has taken steps toward implementing this reform. If elected, I pledge to complete the work of our current Town Council, to expand the franchise to include these neighbors of ours.
Let me also note that there are residents in our Town who favor lowering the voting age, to include sixteen and seventeen year olds. While I do not have a firm position on this issue, I would be open to considering making this change as well. Recent events have taught us that high school students can, and will, make a difference, when they participate in our democracy.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss these and other issues with voters in the course of this campaign. Please remember to vote on Tuesday, May 1, and also attend the Annual Town meeting that evening. Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 301-652-5762, if you have any questions about my campaign or want to share any concerns that you may have that you wish to share. Thank you, and I hope that you will consider voting for me for one of the three seats on the Town Council.