In 2002, when the Approved and Adopted Potomac Subregion Master Plan finally made it through the minefield of political pressures that sought to widen our two-lane roads, increase zoning density, and expand commercial development well beyond the confines of Potomac Village, a sense of satisfaction prevailed. We were the first Master Plan Revision to use the new Geographical Information System tools the county had just acquired to have our environmental resources mapped and studied in depth. We were the last such revision to have an appointed Citizens Advisory Board which met over the course of three years to consider proposals and policies that would shape our growth for the next twenty years. By 2002, the major tenets of our Master Plan were widely known and reported each week as community news in the local papers. We had come through the process with our green infrastructure largely protected because of our role as stewards to the C&O Canal National Historic Park along with the Potomac River and the public water supply for two counties. Our place in Montgomery County as the western, low density Green Wedge buffer to the Agricultural Reserve was thought secure.
But is it? Six years have now passed. Memories tend to fade. Traffic has increased and houses have gotten ever larger. Our forest cover is diminishing. What was once well known now relies on institutional and individual memory. It is left to organizations such as ours to remain vigilant about guarding not only what we achieved but in recognizing the elements that must be upheld in order to retain the quality of life we value.
Extension of sewer is a planning tool used throughout the country to limit and shape growth. Where sewer goes, increased development follows. The Citizens Advisory Board for the Potomac Subregion Master Plan recognized that sewer service had been granted piecemeal without coherent planning. A major goal of the Master Plan Revision was to firmly establish areas where sewer would be allowed while protecting other areas such as large lot zones and sensitive areas by prohibiting it.
Any method of processing human waste has environmental impacts. Sewer lines rely on gravity and since stream valleys are the low points in any watershed, main trunk sewers run adjacent to streams, crossing and re-crossing them. Building sewers is destructive to ecosystems and over time they can develop leaks and pollute streams. Only a few of our Potomac streams are free of sewer lines. When properties are situated far from these lines, waste removal relies on septic systems. Modern septic systems placed where soils drain properly function well, though they require space for septic fields and homeowner maintenance. The sewer envelope is the area where we allow sewer service and where properties which adjoin may apply to hook up to those sewer lines. Properties outside the sewer envelope are not and should not be allowed to connect. Here in Potomac and especially in the Agricultural Reserve, the restriction of sewer service is what holds back rampant development.
Once sewer service is granted to a property outside the sewer envelope, the door is open. Everyone wants it – for re-development, for expansion of existing homes, and for cluster development and concepts like workforce housing that break housing density limits. If sewer is there, it always creates pressure for more density. Then pressure mounts to rezone. And then the concept of a semi-rural country setting is lost.
Forest Conservation Law amendments (Bill 37-07) – The Transportation and Environment Committee (T&E) held its first work session on February 19th. Billed as “Forest Conservation 101,” it was intended to familiarize Council Committee members with the current law and the two sets of changes proposed. The Planning Commission staff used the bulk of the time to present their amendment proposals. In contrast, a short time was given Councilmember Elrich staff for his amendments and Department of Environmental Protection had no time at all other than to introduce the new Director and mention the matrix created by his staff comparing the two separate approaches. No subsequent work sessions have been scheduled. It would be helpful if DEP and the new Director played a larger role in the ongoing process that leads to a stronger law.
A Forest Conservation Advisory Board was created under separate legislation in December of 2006 but has yet to be confirmed by the County Council. The County Executive has sent a list of nominees but the Council is not satisfied as yet with the make-up of the group. This board will have a prescribed set of members from agencies and the academic, civic, and business communities, and, if confirmed, might prove helpful in achieving consensus on issues still outstanding between the two sets of amendments.
Planning and Zoning
Country Inn Zone – To date, no revised plan has been proposed by the applicant. WMCCA is working with Park & Planning to hold a meeting with appropriate staff and the applicant to discuss and work through outstanding issues.
Check the web site for information on issues we are working on.