I once had a nationally renowned park planner tell me Montgomery County is the envy of all other county park and planning organizations when it comes to our Legacy Open Space program. It was years ago, back when I was gathering research on whether communities fare better or worse after major freeway widening and expansions like I-270. His statement caught me by surprise, but I soon realized he was right. Despite our frustration with the increasing amount of commercial development and zoning changes that pave the way for more residential development in our area, we should be proud that our county planners realize the importance of this valuable program.
Legacy Open Space works to protect and preserve exceptional lands and to bring them into the public domain. The program creates unique partnerships with local, state and federal government entities and private organizations to acquire lands that may be historic or of other value to the public. County funds spent on acquiring Legacy Open Space sites have a chain reaction effect, leveraging other public funds and private contributions to bring more valuable land into the program. Legacy Open Space acquisitions include tranquil places to visit, sites of special botanical or geological interest, and properties that can educate future generations about Maryland's history.
We hope you can join us for the March general meeting. We invite your input on conservation, tree cutting, and other issues before the WMCCA.
WMCCA Special Project - As a follow-up to our March program on Legacy Open Space, the April 12th WMCCA General Meeting will showcase outdoor student science projects carried out at Potomac-area sites. A WMCCA reviewer will be at the Potomac Library from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. on March 9th to meet with students working on environmental science projects.
Special Exception on Falls Road: The special exception requested for the Srour property on Falls Road next to Potomac Village has been withdrawn. We will try to have some information about the reasons for the withdrawal at the March 9th meeting.
Subdivision plan, 10830 Pleasant Hill Drive: A pre-application plan has been filed to re-subdivide an existing 5.64 acre lot with an existing residence into two lots, the existing lot to become 2.9 acres and the new lot to be 2.7 acres. The existing zoning is RE 2, which permits lots of this size.
For the past two months, WMCCA has been looking into the consequences and implications of an incident at 11900 River Road, where nearly two acres of forest on steep slope within a scenic easement bordering the C&O Canal National Historical Park was clear cut. The tree clearing was in violation of the Montgomery County Forest Conservation Law, and the Maryland Circuit Court issued a fine of $1000. Inspectors from Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission were sent to measure stumps and investigate. Under our Forest Conservation Law, the Planning Board has the authority to levy an administrative civil penalty, which can take any number of forms, from an additional monetary fine to off-site reforestation. In a letter to the Planning Board Chair dated February 9, 2005, WMCCA has urged the group to exercise its authority.
What is troubling is the use of the existence of exotic species as an excuse to clear cut more than 30,000 square feet of forest, when at least 20 of the trees removed were native species. The National Park Service has, in the past severely punished property owners who attempted to cut trees within their scenic easements. The Park Service has made an exception in this case, and that exception heralds a whole "new" approach to scenic easements along the Maryland side of the Potomac River. The Park Service is now inviting other property owners to do the same. Any negotiation that includes the ability to clear cut steep slopes is both precedent-setting and dangerous. The bargain struck here marks a sea change in policy regarding scenic easements negotiated with property owners that protected the viewscape from the C&O Canal for more than 30 years. The new arrangement gives this property owner unprecedented control over cutting of trees, and favors the property owner's view of the Potomac over the protection of our national treasure.
We are currently working with Representative Chris Van Hollen's office. Our goal is to stop the National Park Service from further implementing this "new" policy, and we are requesting an investigation into the development, implementation and cost to the public of such a policy.
Check the web site for information on issues we are working on.