With the completion of our Master Plan Revision and all the hard work that went into guarding Potomac's 'green wedge' status to assure we remain a rural residential and environmental buffer to the Potomac River and the public drinking water supply, you might be tempted to think we are safe, at least for the next 20 years. Sadly, that is not the case. Mary Ann Thane, a beloved former President of WMCCA and a mentor to many Potomac activists including myself, taught us that the Master Plan is a document uniquely subject to current political whims. As such, it must be constantly defended by the citizens that live within its boundaries. To us, it is the Bible that informs our gradual development while preserving what we value about living here. To politicians and even the Planning Commission that helped frame it, the Master Plan is often seen as an impediment to ambitions for growth and additional traffic that we, as a community do not want.
There are several growth inhibiting factors built into our Master Plan. Roads are a good example. We have retained a 2 lane road policy in Potomac. There are members of the County Council and other souls still peeved that River Road escaped widening in the Potomac Master Plan. The roads and one lane bridge through the Glen were the inspiration for the County Rustic Roads program which recognized the need to preserve their rural character and traffic calming function. Like South Glen, Glen Mill and the Glen roads, Quince Orchard Road winds through and crosses a stream, the Muddy Branch. Several years back, the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) pushed a plan to widen, straighten and generally destroy the scenic character of the small portion of Quince Orchard that traverses the Muddy Branch Stream Valley Park. Thanks to citizens effort, it was beaten back but has emerged again in an upcoming Capital Improvements Program (CIP). In addition, the looming threat of a Techway stretching from Virginia to become a second Potomac River crossing puts our Master Plan's 2 lane road policy in serious future jeopardy.
Sewer policy is another way of controlling our development. In the current Master Plan, much time was spent addressing the helter skelter of sewer extensions that had been allowed to take place in Potomac. By design, some properties are intended to develop only on septic, limiting the number of dwellings possible within a zone. Sewers require gravity. Gravity means sewer pipe flow is directed to the lowest point in a watershed. That is why our sewer systems run along the edge of streams, crossing and re-crossing them. Sewer construction is very damaging to watersheds and the maintenance of sewer systems means a watershed can never full recover. So, in Potomac we have prohibited some watersheds from receiving sewer systems and limited, by zoning the capacity of those watersheds that are sewered. The Agricultural Reserve, to which we provide a gradual transition from the more urban downcounty, has been under a prolonged siege on their restricted sewer policy including proposed use of sand mounds as an alternative to septic. But sand mound technology is new and unproved. Yet we are now seeing it appear in development proposals here in Potomac. What does it do to the intent of our Master Plan if we accomodate the use of such technologies? As civic activists, we have to watch sewer issues of all kinds closely because they are the perpetual 'nose under the tent' for potential increases in development that were never intended.
Our designation as one of two residential 'green wedges' in Montgomery County is based on a green infrastructure rich in tree cover. An abundance of parkland and ribbons of stream valleys winding down to the Potomac River have returned to forest after being stripped of trees in the 19th century when Potomac was heavily farmed despite poor, rocky soils. Tree lined roads and wooded lots have become a hallmark of our community. Yet, in the last few years, trees have been disappearing at an alarming rate, particularly in the redevelopment of single lots. Many of us who worked on the current Master Plan assumed the value Potomac has come to place on trees would remain intact but factors like 'mansionization', fears of storm damage and cultural shifts have made the trees we took for granted and their future protection a major priority again.
I can still clearly remember the quietly fierce, diminutive figure of Mary Ann Thane in the late 1980's, invoking the Potomac Master Plan, chapter and verse as she testified before the Planning Board or the County Council. Here we are, nearly 20 years later and still doing the same thing , just hoping we are even half as effective as that admirable lady.
WMCCA has joined a coalition of environmental, civic and watershed organizations, including Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) proposing changes to the Montgomery County, Md. 2006-2011 NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) Stormwater Permit, which comes up for it's 5 year renewal in May of this year. A number of streams flow through our Subregion on their way to the Potomac, including the Watts Branch which empties into the River at the intake valve to the Water Filtration Plant on River Road, providing drinking water to both Montgomery and Prince George's County. It is to our direct advantage to seek improvements in the new permit. The coalition proposal includes enforceable pollution reduction standards, restoration of degraded streams and seeks required actions to protect and restore forested stream buffers and uplands. Diane Cameron, who represents both NRDC and ANS in this effort will be the speaker at our next General Meeting on March 8. She will elaborate on the Eleven Point Proposal for changes to the Permit.
Verma property - 11221 South Glen Road, 4.22 acres. An application has been made to MNCPPC for a two lot subdivision, the existing house to remain on two acres, plus another house on a two acre lot. This is the former Heinsohn property at the top of the South Glen Hill. It is next to another property which we have recieved a site plan for, 11111 South Glen Road requesting three new lots plus the existing house on 10.6 acres. Sewer service to this and the Verma property would connect to an existing sewer along the Kilgour Branch. Both properties meet the Zoning criteria for subdivision.
Rock Run Knolls - Two lots proposed in R-200 zoning on 1.1479 acres. The property is on the corner of Rock Run Drive and Falls Road, one lot would use an existing driveway on Rock Run, the other would use a new driveway on Falls Road. The existing buildings on the property would be removed.
Sutton Property - Owner, Dumont Oaks Corporation. This is a 25 acre parcel which is proposed to be developed using sand mound septic systems. 10 lots are requested, ranging in size from 2.0 acres to 3.34 acres. Access to the development would appear to be via McCrossin Lane and Riding Fields Road. The use of sand mound septic systems is controversial as they allow properties which will not perc and cannot use conventional septic systems to be developed. The site would utilise public water.
Special Exception - An application has been filed by the Tournament Players Club at Avenel, Inc. for a special exception pursuant to Section 59-G-2.24, (Private Golf Club) to permit, improvements to the golf course facilities, construction of a 39,000 sq. ft. clubhouse and a 2700 sq. ft. office building, a roof structure on the wash pad portion of the maintenance structure, widening the existing drive way paving to 36 ft, change the hours of operation, and permission to hold a PGA tour event. This appears to be a fairly extensive expansion of the facility. We will try to have additional information at the General Meeting.
Sewer Category change hearing at the Planning Board - Suzanne Lee and Diana Conway testified on behalf of WMCCA at a Planning Board hearing on the 26th. Suzanne covered the Glen Hills area and Diana two applications on Glen Road. Our thanks to both for their help. Hearings before the Council will be upcoming.
Planning Board issues - George testified before the Council on issues of site plan enforcement raised as a result of the difficulties in Clarksburg. Several proposals came from various Council members which would transfer site plan enforcement to the Department of Permitting Services. We oppose this action. The council also heard from Royse Hanson who had been appointed a Special Adviser on the Development Approval and Implementation Process. Mr. Hanson provided an extremely well thought out report on these problems and recommended a number of solutions, most of which the Association will propably support. Most important, we believe, will be the appointment of a Director of Parks and Planning who is a nationally known figure with a professional planning background who can restore the Planning Board to it's former stature as a nationally known planning agency and restore the morale of it's staff.
Check the web site for information on issues we are working on.