To discourage crime and loitering, residents of Greencastle Lakes in Burtonsville want to build a mile-long fence around their subdivision. However, neighboring communities say it’ll cut them off from public transit, and the fence may not really make the area any safer.
Located in the Briggs Chaney area east of Columbia Pike and north of the Intercounty Connector, Greencastle Lakes was built in the early 1980’s on the former Silver Spring Golf & Country Club. The sprawling planned community has many private amenities, including a network of trails, a clubhouse and a pool.
The two communities are divided by Ballinger Drive, a public street where the popular Metrobus Z line runs, and a roughly 60-foot-wide strip of land owned by the Greencastle Lakes Homeowners Association.
Two years ago, the HOA began building a tall iron security fence on that strip of land, but construction stopped after a Montgomery County code inspector found they didn’t have the proper permits. They’re now seeking approval from the Planning Board, which will review the matter on September 13. This report assembled by Planning Department staff includes letters from over a hundred residents from Greencastle Lakes and Ventura, a townhouse community immediately across Ballinger.
Map of the proposed fence (in red) and gate (in yellow) from the Montgomery County Planning Department.
Greencastle Lakes residents say they’re just trying to replace and extend an existing chain-link fence that dates to the neighborhood’s country club days, but also hope it will keep people out. They wrote of cars being broken into, “condoms, cigarette butts and drug paraphernalia” littering the streets, and teenagers smoking pot and having sex in the common areas. Many neighbors blamed Castle Boulevard.
"We have become victim to the crime from outside the community,” wrote Marvin Kerdeman of Aldora Circle. “We pay a high homeowners fee to have the parking lot and trails available for our use, not for neighboring communities to trespass upon,” wrote Julie and Ken Mackel, who added, “To access the metro [bus] stop, they still need to cross private land. Just because it is a convenient short-cut, it is still trespassing and should not be allowed to continue.”
Ventura residents, meanwhile, say the fence would deny them access to the bus stops and Edgewood Park, a county park. The only other way to reach Ballinger Drive without crossing private property, they say, is a nearly 2-mile walk. “These facilities are public goods which we also contributed to and maintained with our paid taxes,” wrote Dinah Teinor, also of Castle Terrace.
Some say it’s just another sign of the discord between the two neighborhoods. “This has been an ongoing issue between both of our developments for several years. Something like the McCoy’s and Hatfield’s,” wrote Ventura resident Sabrina Christmas.
In response, county planners have proposed that Greencastle Lakes build a gate and a sidewalk so Ventura residents could walk to a bus stop on Ballinger Drive. “The construction of a continuous fence without a pedestrian access does not support the existing walkable and sustainable character of the neighborhood, and will have a negative impact on the surrounding communities,” the report says.
A fence may make some residents feel better, but if they really want to be safer, they should reach out to their neighbors on the Boulevard. Looking all of the letters, it’s clear that safety is a big concern for everyone. After all, the fear of crime in Briggs Chaney is so strong that kids aren’t allowed to play outside.
However, a safe space is a well-used space. Ventura residents may be “trespassing” on Greencastle Lakes’ property to catch the bus or walk to the park, but their presence alone is a natural crime deterrent. Providing more foot connections between neighborhoods will build on the county’s recent pedestrian safety improvements along Castle Boulevard and get more people walking, providing more “eyes on the street.”
Encouraging more people to use the walking paths in Greencastle Lakes could be a crime deterrent. Photo by Caps Fan 4 Life on Flickr.
County planners decided where to put a gate in the proposed fence based on an existing desire path made by people walking to the bus stop. There are other desire paths in the neighborhood and in Briggs Chaney as a whole, and it may be worth seeing which ones could be formalized.
Residents should also be encouraged to use their common areas. Like other neighborhoods in Briggs Chaney, Greencastle Lakes also has lots of awkward, unused common areas, which look great but can invite crime if they aren’t well-programmed. The homeowners’ association took out benches in one common area to discourage loitering, but it also prevents residents from using them for legitimate purposes, which in turn encourages more loitering. It’s time to put those benches back, and maybe even some tot lots.
Finally, Greencastle Lakes and Ventura should work together to fight the causes of crime in their community. For instance, they could organize a joint neighborhood watch or volunteer in the local schools. These may require more time and effort than simply erecting a fence, but they’ll do far more to create a safer community.
This isn’t the first time that a Montgomery County neighborhood has used a fence to seal themselves off from perceived “undesirables,” but it should be the last. Good fences may make good neighbors, but real crime prevention also requires that neighbors work together.