Cairo Eubanks ANS Conservation Intern
In all of my years in White Oak, I have never thought of it as being a “booming place.” It has not been a destination like Downtown Silver Spring. Instead, White Oak is that place where you sit in the car and twiddle your fingers as you wait in traffic to get to Downtown Silver Spring. As a recent graduate of Paint Branch High School and once a resident of White Oak, I can say this last statement very confidently.
The White Oak Science Gateway (WOSG) Master Plan promises to change this perception of White Oak from being a midpoint between destination points, to becoming THE destination point. It is almost awe-inspiring what they have in store for White Oak, but it is also currently very flawed.
There are two major problems that the WOSG does not adequately account for: traffic and pollution. According to the Master Plan, 75% of the residents in White Oak are commuters, as opposed to the average of 69% in Montgomery County. US 29 and MD 650 are some of the most deeply congested routes in all of Montgomery County. Adding 14,000,000 square feet of commercial development and over 8,000 residential units in an area of 4 square miles will not make the traffic situation any better.
All of that high density development could damage our ecosystem greatly. Unless redevelopers go well beyond compliance with current standards, stormwater from the new projects will hollow out deeper gullies into the the Paint Branch Stream Valley Park. This, in turn, will degrade Paint Branch, the Anacostia River, and the Chesapeake Bay.
In a lot of ways, the two issues of traffic and pollution are intertwined, as the excess of traffic will also create air pollution. Air pollution has been linked to asthma as well as lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. The chemicals in car exhaust can trigger asthma. Densely packed traffic will only worsen these problems.
I am not inherently opposed to the White Oak Science Gateway Plan. It would be wonderful to see White Oak as a vibrant place to work, live and shop. White Oak has been seen as lagging behind other residential areas in Montgomery County. That doesn’t have to be the case.
What should the solution be? These problems can be fixed by: a) restoring staging into this Master Plan, and b) including specific environmental goals along with site-by-site objectives for air, water, and tree canopy protection and restoration. The current plan is a gamble, with backers believing that problems will resolve themselves over time. However, staging will help to take the gambling out of the building process. There would have to be certain requirements met before one could continue building. Staging provides assurance that adjustments will be made as needed, to the lofty plans that developers propose for White Oak.