In Ruxton, a bloody foot

Arthur W. Machen Jr.

September 25, 1990|By Arthur W. Machen Jr.

THE Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area Improvement Association has an unpronounceable acronym, RRLRAIA. Still, it's an appropriate one because neither the organization nor its acronym makes any sense. Time after time it shoots itself in the foot.

An early case in point is the tragic loss of the Ruxton railroad station. This picturesque landmark, preserved for immortality in a memorable photograph by Robert F. Kniesche, was once the village green of Ruxton. There the villagers would assemble on Christmas Eve to be led in carol singing by the booming bass voice of the late Heyward Hamilton. Surrounded by several acres of open space, it provided a buffer against the encroachments of residential developers.

What happened to it? It was bought from the Northern Central Railroad by the late Frank T. Binford, who wanted to convert it to use as a gift shop on the first floor with professional offices on the second. At this point RRLRAIA arose with strident indignation: "There must be no commercialism on the Manhattan side of the tracks!"

(For the benefit of non-Ruxtonians, let it be said that the "Manhattan side" is the West Bank of the railroad tracks. The East Bank is the "Jersey side.")

RRLRAIA prevailed, and the Binford plan was killed. So, when the station was torn down, what did we get in its place? Row houses. Not only did this significantly increase the population density and traffic congestion; it also paved the way for further residential development on land that might have been preserved as open space.

So much for this first example of RRLRAIA's foot-shooting. A more recent example is found in its attitude to the plans for use of the Northern Central right-of-way for the light rail system and the possible installation of a station that would be convenient to Ruxton users.

Faced with the prospect of cost overruns, the Department of Transportation was looking for ways and means to save money. Stations cost money, lots of money. So, imagine the glee of the bureaucrats when informed that RRLRAIA did not want a station in Ruxton. "Glad to oblige," they said. The result is that the line will be running through our back yards but we won't be able to use it. Another case of shooting oneself in the foot.

The latest example is RRLRAIA's opposition to the application of Graul's Market for a zoning variance to permit the erection of a parking garage adjacent to its popular store on Bellona Avenue.

The Graul employees, having been denied squatters' rights to continue parking in the railroad right-of-way now that the light rail construction has begun, are parking their cars hither and yon along the narrow residential streets on the "Jersey side" of old Ruxton. They are becoming a nuisance, and come the snowy days of February they will be a menace. Yet these people have a right to drive to work, and the welfare of the community demands that they be provided with a place to park reasonably close to where they work.

True to form, RRLRAIA's reaction to this problem has been not one of reconciliation but of confrontation. Its leadership solicited signatures on a petition opposing Graul's plans. Now, with a hearing scheduled before the zoning commissioner on Oct. 16, RRLRAIA is lending its name to a solicitation for contributions to a legal defense fund.

If Graul's loses, it has two alternatives, neither salutary from the standpoint of the improvement of the community. It could lick its wounds, accept defeat and continue operating as usual. This would mean employees would continue to park on the narrow lanes of the town. Or it could fold its tent and move to a more hospitable clime.

All of this leads to two conclusions:

First, in the best interests of the community, Graul's should be granted the zoning variance it seeks. Second, the legitimate interests of those who live in the immediate vicinity of the project should be taken into account but not at the expense of the over-all benefit of the proposed improvement. The high vegetation fence already constructed should do much to alleviate concerns of neighbors, but if more is needed to control traffic and loitering, it should be imposed as conditions of the zoning change.

This may not be likely to happen but, if it did, RRLRAIA might no longer be a pistol-packing mamma with a very bloody foot.

VH Arthur W. Machen Jr., a lawyer, has lived in Ruxton for 64 years.

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