Over the past year, we in the Potomac Subregion have faced a number of what, on the surface would seem to be disparate, but important issues - from affordable housing and so-called "surplus" school sites to the newly designated "Country Inn Zone" to the clear cutting of tens of thousands of square feet along a steep hillside adjacent to the historic C&O Canal.
Traditionally, WMCCA does not track local school issues. However, when Montgomery County School Board officials conspire with County officials to deem valuable land "surplus" school property so that it can later be identified as a suitable site for development of housing we take notice. Early on, when not many people were aware of this land use issue, we weighed in strongly against high density housing on this site. Read on for more on this from Board Member Barbara Boykin.
If the Montgomery County Planning Board and eventually the County Council approve a change in zoning for property such as the Potomac Inn on River Road to a Country Inn Zone, it would mean the new owners could construct a myriad of shops, restaurants, banquet facilities and hundreds of parking spots along a very narrow strip of land. This could happen even though the County has never clearly defined what it means to have a Country Inn Zone. If this zoning change is approved, others will undoubtedly be lining up to follow suit.
As for the tree cutting controversy, if the National Park Service begins selling views to the Potomac, there's no telling where that trend could lead. As Environmental Chair Ginny Barnes tells us, it is our goal to make sure that such an arrangement never happens again. It may not be your school targeted this year to be surplused and eventually turned into affordable housing. It may not be your neighborhood that suddenly sprouts a mini-mall disguised as a Country Inn. It may not be your cherished view in a National Park that has turned barren. But one day it very well could be. These are all things that could soon be coming to a theatre near you. It is WMCCA's role to be attuned to - and take action on -precedent setting issues with potential for community-wise impact. Become a WMCCA member and add to the effectiveness of our organization.
National Park Service/Snyder Easement - Last month we reported that WMCCA had written Representative Chris Van Hollen's office outlining our concerns over the clear cutting of more than 30,000 square feet of forest on steep slope within a scenic easement abutting the C&O Canal National Historical Park just upstream of Swains Lock. Mr. Van Hollen has responded with a letter directed to the NPS covering the issues we raised and requesting answers to a number of questions. Among them - whether overall easement policy changes have been made, whether NPS has procedures to ensure compliance with state and county regulations, and whether any policy changes complied with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policies Act (NEPA). In addition, the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which has jurisdiction under the Forest Conservation Law, has assured us they have issued a citation and are proceeding with an investigation "with due urgency" into the extent of the violation.
Legacy Open Space (LOS) Acquisition in the Glen - The Planning Board has approved the acquisition of an 8.3-acre site in Potomac's historic Glen. Known locally as the Cahoon property, it has long been considered a missing link in the contiguous Watts Branch Stream Valley Park, which is already a narrow corridor where the one-lane bridge crosses Watts Branch at the terminus of South Glen Road. It was acknowledged in the Potomac Master Plan as a desirable park acquisition and nominated as such when the LOS program was initiated in 2000.
Greenbriar Local Park - The Potomac Subregion has a number of large conservation oriented tracts of parkland, while smaller local parks are in short supply. Purchased in 1992 by M-NCPPC in response to citizen requests for a "local park" instead of additional residential development, this 25-acre tract is located on Glen Road near the intersection with Travilah Road. Local Parks, by definition, include recreational facilities, and the Master Plan process cited a shortage of ball fields in the Potomac area. The facility plan for this park is now completed, and includes a ball field, basketball court, and playground located in the open field or early succession/low priority forest area, while the more environmentally sensitive portions that include steep slope and stream buffer areas remain protected. The site will also include a 1/3-mile paved loop trail, a gazebo/overlook and a picnic area.
WMCCA has been involved in the Seven Locks Elementary School issue from the very beginning, over eighteen months ago. Because this is a complex issue with a number of decision points, what follows is a summary of everything that has happened to date, what decisions are outstanding, and where citizens can get involved.
In 2003 the County Executive asked the School Board to identify any school sites that could potentially be developed into affordable housing. The School Board identified Seven Locks Elementary School as one of those sites. The School Board proposed that SLES, which was slated for renovation, be closed and a much larger replacement school be built on Kendale Road that would take the SLES children plus the overflow from the very overcrowded Potomac Elementary School. Despite massive neighborhood opposition, the School Board recently approved the plan to close SLES and build a replacement school on Kendale.
In order to construct affordable housing on the SLES site, the School Board must now declare that SLES is a "surplus" school site, meaning that it will never be needed for educational purposes. This will undoubtedly be the next step in the process, which will clear the way for the County to develop high-density affordable housing on the corner of Seven Locks and Bradley.
WMCCA is strongly opposed to the surplusing of school sites and has gone on record several times in 2003 and 2004 in opposition to the surplusing of ANY school sites-including Seven Locks Elementary. Once these sites are "surplused" out of the school system they can never be regained, and large parcels located in residential areas appropriate for schools no longer exist in this County. If sites are given away today, the County will be short land for school children in the future.
Although we have lost the battle to keep Seven Locks Elementary open, we can still fight to keep the site from being declared surplus and available for high-density affordable housing. If this site is taken away from our neighborhood, we will not only lose a much-used community facility, but it will set a very dangerous precedent for the County in controlling land use against the neighboring homeowners' wishes. On May 5 the Facility Plan for the Seven Locks replacement school on Kendale will be reviewed in a hearing before the Planning Board. We urge you to join WMCCA at this hearing and express your opposition to the surplusing of this and any other school site.
Potomac Village Sidewalks - WMCCA has long campaigned for adequate sidewalks in Potomac village, and we are proud of the tenacity and effectiveness of the WMCCA Sidewalks Chairperson, Carol Embry. With other WMCCA members, Carol Embry testified at a county hearing urging completion of Potomac's sidewalk network by building a sidewalk along River Road between the Post Office and the crossroads. Her testimony outlined the years of requests for sidewalks, the "walk thrus" with county politicians and staff, and the promises of quick action - to no avail - but now, the anticipation that this construction will complete the sidewalk network. The project is in this year's budget, and scheduled for construction this summer.
WMCCA Nominating Committee - The membership will be asked to elect the Nominating Committee at its April meeting. The Committee will present a slate of officers and directors for the coming year at the May meeting to be voted on by the membership. The committee consists of George Barnes, Chair, Barbara Boykin, C.O. North, Betsi Dahan, and Susanne Lee.
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