Montgomery County has no plans to relocate the Little Falls Library as part of redevelopment in Westbard and county officials on Tuesday did their best to stay out of what’s been a contentious planning process. Planners working on an update to the Westbard Sector Plan have suggested Westwood Center owners Equity One could include space for a new Little Falls Library in their project planned for the shopping center. But all of the people who spoke Tuesday in a crowded meeting room of the existing library spoke in favor of keeping the nearly 60-year-old building at 5501 Massachusetts Avenue. Many in the room have also spoken out against the redevelopment proposed by Equity One. Department of General Services Deputy Director Greg Ossont assured people that the county had no plans to take planners up on their relocation idea. The Department of General Services, which builds county facilities and controls county property, met with Equity One about the possibility. “Equity One asked if we’re interested in moving the library,” Ossont said. “Candidly, the answer is not right now.” That brought claps from the audience. Throughout the meeting, county officials distanced themselves from the Westbard Sector Plan process. That process is still in the hands of the Planning Department and has brought heaps of criticism from nearby residents. “The reason I asked to call this meeting is I heard through the grapevine that you guys thought that I recommended this library be moved,” said Parker Hamilton, director of the county’s library system. “I said, we’ve got to go out and talk to the community and I said bring Greg because I don’t know what’s going on.” Rita Gale, the Libraries administrator in charge of facilities, said the Little Falls Library is one of three branches in line for some minor repairs and upgrades next fiscal year. The refresh, as Gale called it, could include new carpets, new paint, new bathrooms, more ADA accessibility and a new layout for the main library space to provide for more tables and chairs. It would cost between $500,000 and $1 million and design is set to begin in July. People at the meeting made it clear their opposition to relocating the library was firmly rooted in their general opposition to major redevelopment in Westwood Center and the rest of Westbard. Planners had suggested the library relocation as a way for Equity One to fulfill its public amenity requirement, get the private company’s investment in building a new library and opening up the library’s existing space for a new public school facility or affordable housing. Some at the meeting said the library was already ideally located next to Westland Middle School and a few area private schools. Jane Snyder, president of the Friends of the Little Falls Library, said the board of that group wants the library to remain in the same location because it’s become a widely-used community hub. Another person at the meeting scoffed at the notion that residents had asked for the library relocation, something she said planners have been claiming. “It as though the community wants it,” the person said. “They repeat that and they repeat that no matter what venue you go to. It’s restated as though it was our idea or as if we’re in favor.” Ossont said that he and Regional Services Center Director Ken Hartman would take that message back to the county executive. The Planning Board’s draft of the Westbard Sector Plan likely won’t hit the county executive’s desk until March 2016. It’s at that point that the County Council will review it, make changes and approve it. Ossont said County Executive Isiah Leggett will have a 60-day period to make his own comments before the Council holds its public hearing. The meeting was held a day before planners are set to reveal their “Plan Concepts,” which they’ll take before the Planning Board on April 30. It appears unlikely that many of the people in the room Tuesday will be open to what they hear Wednesday. “I recommend we just get our pitchforks and torches for tomorrow night’s meeting,” said a resident at the library meeting, “and keep them for the meeting after that.”
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