Montgomery County has a General Plan for how we will grow over the course of time. Under that General Plan are subregions, each with their own master plan and function within the larger vision. Our General Plan uses a ‘wedges and corridors’ concept to identify concentrated areas of growth. The amount of development is determined by zoning and access to sewer. If you look at a map of Montgomery County, development is dense in the down county, near Washington D.C. and sparse in the upper county closest to what we now call the Agricultural Reserve. In the eastern and western areas adjacent to it are two residential ‘green wedges’ which buffer the Agricultural Reserve, prioritize water quality and make a transition to the more urban down county areas of Bethesda and Silver Spring, now served by transportation corridors that include mass transit. As the westernmost, residential ‘green wedge’, Potomac, with primarily 1 and 2 acre zoning also buffers the Potomac River, the source of drinking water for 2 counties.
Now the county is reaching build-out. Land is at a premium. Those who believe growth should be perpetual are casting about for ways to squeeze more development into a county bursting at the seams, with an overcrowded transportation infrastructure still based on the automobile. Master Plans for the various subregions of the county have always been vulnerable. Though a lot of work goes into the creation of them, they are still guidance documents and subject to the whims of politicians and the pressures of innumerable ambitions. Our job, as citizens and as civic organizations is to keep to the intent of our Master Plans and defend the usually thoughtful, long term planning that goes into charting a course expected to be valid for at least 20 years.
The recent Potomac Master Plan revision is now almost 3 years old. The Agricultural Reserve has just celebrated 25 years of being not just a collection of farms but a defined open space we are committed to preserving well into the future. We are seeing the same pressures that have eaten into the eastern and western residential ‘green wedge’ buffers begin to lay siege to farmlands. Large, private institutional facilities called PIF’s want to locate there, bringing sewer, high imperviousness and increased traffic. Large lot developments of even bigger mega mansions than those popping up in Potomac threaten to scar the rural face of our agricultural heritage.
Worst of all, the sleeping dragon of a second crossing over the Potomac has only been enjoying a short doze. Beyond Montgomery County, interests that never gave up have been working to further the goal of a Techway from Virginia, across the Potomac, linking to the now approved InterCounty Connector (ICC). Multi-jurisdictional transportation bodies are embracing ideas to study this proposal and political candidates in Virginia are using it in their campaigns. One of the many routes discussed crosses the Potomac River at Blockhouse Point, right through the conservation heart of Potomac. Our Master Plan is emphatic that a second crossing cannot be accommodated and is inconsistent with the Plan as written. For over 50 years, WMCCA has protected our environmental foundation, upheld our zoning, the limited sewer envelope and a 2 lane road system so that we remain a ‘green wedge’ and retain a quality of life in keeping with our rural character. But threats are increasing. Our Master Plan is not enough to protect us. We need to join forces with our neighbors. We need to be watchful and vigilant. We need your support.
In the aftermath of the Swains Lock clear cutting and a settlement with MNCPPC under the Montgomery County Forest Conservation Law that included a substantial Conservation Easement and a minimal financial fine, there has been a widespread call for greatly increased administrative civil penalties. To that end, the County Council introduced Expedited Bill 27-05 which has gone to public hearing and will now go before the Transportation and Environment Committee (T&E) in early December. A number of scenarios are under discussion in shaping this bill. How high should penalties be to create the necessary deterrents? Should there be a category for particularly egregious violations? Should there be a tiered approach, raising the minimum fee-in-lieu as well as the maximum penalty per sq. ft. destroyed?
The C&O Canal Task Force, created by Congressman Chris Van Hollen is devoting time and the considerable expertise of its membership to exploring the possibility of criminal penalties in addition to the large monetary fines proposed. WMCCA maintains that any penalties considered must be large enough and serious enough to be the ‘No Trespassing’ sign to potential violators since the forest destroyed in these acts cannot actually be replaced.
The 240 year old Ash Tree Lives on – at least for now. The Montgomery County Planning Board has soundly rejected the developer’s current proposal to demolish a house and construct another on top of the majestic ash on Circle Drive. The tree is protected "in perpetuity" by a conservation easement imposed under the County’s Forest Conservation statute. It was an important test case of whether the County will in fact enforce these easements. A key element in the Board’s decision was the undisputed expert testimony of Keith Pitchford, the arborist hired by WMCCA, that the proposal would in fact kill the tree. The developer failed to provide basic information on how he proposed to protect the tree prompting Board members to sharply criticize the developer and the staff for even bringing the issue to the Board and likening the situation to Clarksburg, an improper delegation of critical decisions to staff. Other issues raised by WMCCA included the PB lack of jurisdiction to lift the conservation easement and the developer’s past violations and unpaid fine for prohibited activities within the easement. Although the PB voted to defer thereby giving the developer the opportunity to submit additional material, it did so with strong language indicating that it doubted whether any future proposal impacting the tree would be acceptable. WMCCA will continue to monitor any future proposals for the site. This was one of the few times when we have hired an expert to evaluate developer’s claims and it was money well spent. In the absence of any meaningful analysis by the developer or the staff, WMCCA was able to provide the factual information necessary to demonstrate the adverse impact on the tree, critical information for the Board’s decision.
Special Exception - A special exception request on Glen Rd. for a riding stable, (Equestrian facility in a residential zone) is scheduled for a hearing before the Hearing Examiner on November 7. We have reviewed the application file and the planned facility is in accordance with the requirements of the zoning ordinance. The barn, paddock and a substantial portion of the necessary fencing are pre-existing, but not visible from Glen Rd. and a Special Exception for this use was issued to the Barr family in the 60's when they owned the property. The property is in excess of 10 acres and the requirement is for 1 acre per horse, five are requested in this application. The Dept. of Permitting Services has said that the use will not impact the stream or wetlands and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will not require a nutrient management plan even though the area is in a special protection area of the Piney Branch. We will not plan to testify unless neighbors have other concerns.
Rezoning cases: The application for a zoning change to the Country Inn Zone for the Koh property on River Rd. across from the filtration plant on River Road is scheduled for Monday Nov. 28 at 9:30 AM.
The application for a similar change for Normandy Farm on Falls Rd is now scheduled for Monday Dec. 19.
Check the web site for information on issues we are working on.