One of the first things I typically ask someone is “Where are you originally from?” or “Where’d you grow up?”. I instinctively ask that not just because it’s interesting or a conversation starter, but because where someone has grown up or lived can really frame their perspective … and that’s what I find the most interesting. So, at the pool this past summer I started chatting with a couple whose child is on my son’s 2nd grade soccer team. I coach, so this was one of the first times I’d had to really hang out and talk. They’d moved here a few years ago and were raving about what an incredible community Darnestown is. Originally from California, they had never experienced the type of community we have. And they didn’t mean the houses or streets or open space, they meant “community”—the people and the bonds we share. Even something as simple as the majority of Darnestown kids going to the same elementary school. Where they’d come from, kids weren’t even guaranteed to go to their local public school—you literally had to get in line in time to get the school you wanted or your kids would be assigned to some other random school. It made me realize that Darnestown Elementary is a real bedrock of our community and how lucky we are to have it.
And while I was completely blown away by the whole school thing in California—that’s just crazy, I was also blown away by just how much these folks cherished this community. I honestly had to think about that—why was I so blown away? I’d grown up in Darnestown and love Darnestown, but perhaps I was taking it for granted. Naively, I don’t think I’d realized things could be so different or, for that matter, just how special we are.
These conversations stuck with me, and as I spoke with other neighbors I began to realize, much more than I had before, just how much passion there is for our community and the strong desire for more of that “community” in their lives. That was never more evident than at our December Holiday Tree Lighting, where more than 250 neighbors came out to the Darnestown Heritage Park next to the Harris Teeter to celebrate the holidays together under the lights. Kids made ornaments and ate s’mores and 30 students from the Darnestown Elementary School chorus led everyone in singing before the tree was lit with a cheer. It felt like a Hallmark movie in our village. So much so, I’m still convinced that among the revelers there must have been some city slicker, begrudgingly stuck in Darnestown for the holidays, who met a local and they’re now planning to spend the rest of their lives here together.
I’ve said before, the DCA is taking a fresh look at what we do. What I really should say is that we’re taking a fresh perspective, and we want that perspective to come from you. One important way we’re doing this is by re-evaluating our social calendar and gearing our community events to what you want. We received an incredible response to our social events survey in January, led by our new Social Chair Stephanie Kunkle. Stephanie is taking that feedback and developing a social calendar for this year that will keep the best of the old, while adding in many new events.
At our last town meeting, an open session for dialogue and feedback yielded some very thoughtprovoking suggestions. To see those, please visit darnestowncivic.org. We are going to do the same thing in our March Town Meeting, so if there are issues you care about or things you think can make us a better community, please come out so we can all talk about it.
Community also struck a chord as the DCA got engaged in the new Thrive Montgomery 2050 initiative. Initiated by the County Council and driven by the MC Planning Department, this initiative will result a general plan update—the only other update to the 1964 general plan occurred in 1969, with a refinement in1993. Is that a big deal? Yes, because the General Plan outlines the high-level strategic approach for land use (zoning), transportation, community design, housing, environment and a socio-economic framework that is the basis for all county master plans. The general plan informs the 20-year ‘Potomac Subregion Master Plan,’ which is the master blueprint for zoning and transportation in and around Darnestown. That 2002 Master Plan is due for a revision and we expect that will follow shortly on the heels of the new General Plan.
So how did this Thrive effort strike a chord when it comes to community? Well, in the most simple terms, the Thrive Issues Report—the first step leading up to the formal plan and our first opportunity for official input—laid out a vision for a “complete” community and development based on things such as proximity to mass transportation, mixed use development, and high density population. To learn more, in November, the DCA Board received an outline of the goals of the plan from the Thrive Project Manager. While we understand that much of this plan targets more urban parts of the county, we feel strongly that the unique values of Darnestown as a rural residential community and its importance as a transition area adjoining the Agricultural Reserve should be recognized and embraced.
The DCA’s response (see darnestowncivic.org) stresses the uniqueness of Darnestown, while acknowledging the necessary work being done to prepare for Montgomery County’s growth. As the DCA stays actively engaged in the planning process, we will communicate updates and actively solicit your feedback for our future responses.