Alas, nothing stays the same. Just when you think things are comfortably familiar and even secure, change comes in strong gusts or even gentler, less noticeable breezes. People you've come to count on move on and policies you think of as eternal are stretched, bent or shattered. Through the ages, philosophers have reminded us that change is the only dependable component of life on Earth. Last week we were reminded of this with a jolt when the landscape of our civic work in Montgomery County was drastically altered by the loss of two significant leaders.
Many citizens are unaware of who represents them on the County Council or the degree to which their lives are affected by these legislators who make our local laws and approve the budgets that allocate our tax money. Yet, even to the nearly oblivious, Council Member Marilyn Praisner (D-District 4) was a long familiar name. To civic, political and environmental activists she was a giant – one of the most striking trees in the forest. In her fifth four year term (the longest serving woman ever on the Council), her institutional memory and analytical powers were something you could always lean against, and her dedication to public service had her working a full schedule up to the day of heart surgery. With a truly Renaissance eye she took the lead on a wide range of issues – child advocacy and education, technology, the protection of stream valleys and forests, as well as fiscal policy. In 1996, during one of her terms as Council president, I presented to the Council a water quality slide show I had created called "Living Waters," thanks to a partnership with DEP and Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS). Mrs. Praisner wanted to see it widely distributed, and initiated the means to turn it into a video with the help of staff from the Council cable channel. "Living Waters" is now available in public libraries throughout the county, and it was featured in the D.C. Environmental Film Festival. It is hard to imagine the County Council without Mrs. Praisner’s tireless, attentive and wise presence.
We also lost one of the five members of the Planning Commission in the same week. Gene Lynch, a strong advocate for Smart Growth, served as chief administrative officer for then-County Executive Neal Potter in the early and mid-1990s and later as deputy chief of staff to Maryland Governor Glendening, and he was appointed to the Planning Board last June. Like Mrs. Praisner, his analytical mind and problem solving skills compelled him to seek creative solutions in decisions made by the Commission. Mr. Lynch had a keen interest in environmental implications and he asked the questions that led others to see the links between Smart Growth and increased natural resource protection. Mr. Lynch will also be missed. Our condolences to the families of these dedicated public servants.
Against this backdrop of loss and drastic change, the wheels of government continue to roll. The Council remains in session. Public hearings are held. Laws are passed or amended. Development plans still make their way to reality. These decisions will also lead to change. After a year or more at the staff level, the Sutton property development plan finally reached the Planning Board on January 17th and the Country Inn proposal did the same on the 24th. The Council held public hearings on Forest Conservation Law amendments (Bill 37-07) and a set of Climate Change bills. In Annapolis, hearings were held on stripping the ridge tops in our state-owned forests for industrial wind energy development. At the national level, our votes may bring leaders never before considered possible. The winds of change are blowing strong this year.
Sutton property – The Planning Board voted to approve the first subdivision in the Potomac Subregion entirely predicated on sand mounds after the developer dropped one of the lots (leaving seven) and removed all the cross easements. This opens the door to additional development on properties that do not perc for traditional septic systems, and begs the question of how much this stretches the intent of the Master Plan in limiting development by limiting sewer service.
Country Inn Zone – After two hours of hearing the proposal and unanimous public testimony in opposition, the Planning Board accepted a request for deferral from the applicant. The Board strongly cautioned the applicant to drastically scale back the size and scope of the development plan that is currently driven by the proposed banqueting facilities rather than a restaurant. The Planning Board will schedule another hearing when a revised plan has completed staff review and community input.
In both these cases, community participation was strong and significant in demonstrating to the Planning Commission how important these proposals are to Potomac community. A better outcome resulted from the wide array of input provided by citizens, some of whom had never testified on an issue before the Commission. We commend the individuals and Home Owner Associations who took time to prepare and give testimony. It really does make a difference.
Forest Conservation Law amendments (Bill 37-07) – A public hearing was held before the full County Council on January 22nd with strong advocacy for the Elrich amendments and requests to have at least an outline of the Tree Ordinance under development by Council members Berliner and Elrich. Next step is the Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee work sessions. The first hearing is scheduled for February 19th, and two subsequent sessions are planned.
Circle Drive Ash Tree – Several years back, WMCCA successfully stopped a plan to demolish an existing house on the grounds it would adversely impact a specimen Ash tree directly adjacent to it. We consulted an arborist who testified that the tree’s root system would be damaged. The applicant is again attempting to have the house removed, and he has submitted a revised Tree Save Plan (TSP) to Park and Planning.
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