The Town of Somerset, located between Wisconsin Avenue and River Road just north of Friendship Heights, has long prided itself on being a pocket of green as its environs are increasingly developed. It takes pride in being designated a “Tree City,” and for many years its residents have enjoyed the amenities of Vinton Park which offers the possibility of a walk in the woods just a few yards from high rises and busy streets.
However, even Somerset is not immune from the gradual degradation of the urban environment. In response, its residents have become increasingly active both to protect its parkland and to reduce its overall environmental footprint. The Town created an environment committee in 2008, which complements its already existing Parks and Natural Resources Committee in channeling citizen energy on a wide range of “green” projects.
The most visible of these was Somerset’s recent “Green Day”, which featured speakers and a tour of local homes with notable “green” features. The combination of information and eco-tourism proved highly attractive, filling the town hall with residents who wanted to learn about energy efficiency, stormwater management, and everything else that they can do to make their own homes planet-friendly. Speakers included a resident who works for the Maryland Energy Administration and demonstrated practical steps to avoid wasting energy, a Takoma Park landscaper who explained the impacts of stormwater and what homeowners can do to reduce their runoff, a representative of the National Green Building Council who educated residents on the components of LEED ratings for homes, and a consultant on green homes.
The most eye-opening part of the day may have been the tour of local homes. The tour included both residences that were designed to be eco-friendly from top to bottom, and homes that illustrate what homeowners can do on a smaller scale – from installing solar power to replacing a driveway with permeable blocks. By using local houses as demonstration projects, the Green Day tour demystified the concept of a “green home” and showed that it might be located next door. Some of the green home features highlighted on the tour included:
- Geothermal heating and cooling
- Zoned heating and cooling
- Gutterless construction with a stone perimeter bed
- Stormwater controls including dry wells, permeable pavers,
- rain gardens and improved grading
- Organic gardening
- Solar electric panels
Less visibly, the Town is taking significant steps to recognize and address a variety of environmental issues. Little Falls Branch is a defining part of the town’s landscape. However, over recent years it has been degraded by erosion and pollution. Past efforts to restore the stream have made some progress; nevertheless, when children at nearby Somerset school do their annual “stream team” survey they no longer find the many forms of aquatic life that used to populate the creek. Therefore, the Town has contracted with the Center for Watershed Protection to do an assessment of its stormwater impacts on the creek, and make recommendations for retrofits that might reduce the volume of runoff in storm events or the pollutants in the runoff.
The Town is also looking into ways of reducing its energy use and carbon footprint. A resident inspired by a Bethesda Green presentation has begun signing up residents to get reduced rates on energy audits. The Town is exploring whether LED lights are a workable and energy-efficient alternative to more standard streetlights, and whether group purchasing of wind power could make it more economically attractive.
The town’s parks and trees are a significant amenity, and no small amount of effort goes into maintaining them. The Parks committee organizes multiple events each year to remove invasive plants from parklands, and promotes tree planting on private as well as public property. Pressure from residents led to a requirement that developers shield trees and shrubs so that they are not damaged by construction.
Somerset does not consider itself unique; it frequently looks to its neighboring communities for ideas and inspiration. However, it takes pride in the contributions it can make to the quality of life throughout the region.
-- Article by George Wyeth