It seems there is no end to vigilance
needed to protect a way of life that makes our community so refreshingly
different from other areas of Montgomery County. Some of our elected officials
enjoy typecasting Potomac as a rich enclave where houses are too big, lawyers
too plentiful, and work force housing in too little evidence. That might serve
as a superficial impression, but it is hardly fair.
Our environmental underpinnings and low-density zoning are planning mainstays of
a region intended to buffer agricultural lands to the north and protect the
public water supply. Because of this and our position hugging the western edge
of the county, we have staved off efforts to widen River Road and decimate the
Rural and Rustic Roads that, along with our many stream valleys leading to the
Potomac River, help define this region. Last week brought a new and troubling
issue with far-reaching implications.
We were alerted by neighbors of signs going up and Internet advertising for a care facility south of the Village utilizing three houses adjacent to one another on Falls Road and Burbank Drive – advertised as “Potomac Seniors Village” on Craig’s List. The Zoning Ordinance is clear that group homes of up to eight residents are a permitted use in residential zones, and the ordinance does not put a limit on how many such homes can exist in any given neighborhood. However, these three group homes were advertised as a single facility, making it a group home complex of twenty-four residents. Inquiries to Susan Scala-Demby at the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services revealed that DPS considers it entirely legal because the houses are listed on tax records as owned by three different people. What makes this interpretation puzzling is that were any one of those three group homes to house nine persons, it would require a Special Exception. This situation is certainly stretching compliance with the law, especially when the owners are linking the three houses with gravel drives, walking paths and a common fence surrounding all three lots. So far, County Attorney Malcolm Spicer agrees with the DPS interpretation. We believe, at the very least, that a Special Exception should be required of what is essentially one facility of three connected lots. It is utterly illogical to permit three abutting group homes to have twenty-four adults when any one of them with nine requires a Special Exception.
Let's extrapolate using public officials’ interpretation of the Zoning Ordinance. In Montgomery County a double-wide mobile home is permitted in most single family residential zones including RE-2. Applying the same reasoning used in the Burbank Drive case, it would be legal to establish a mobile home park as a matter of right. While that might not be as likely on large lots, it certainly is possible in the R-60 zone, in an established subdivision. Once again the DPS has failed to recognize a situation where a business is taking advantage of loopholes in the law, and it does not have the will to protect existing communities from opportunistic individuals exploiting poorly written regulations. It should be incumbent on the business to prove that they are separate, rather than the responsibility of the citizens to prove that they are, for all practical purposes, one entity. As one facility, they may still have a legal right to exist on three contiguous lots, but being required to go through the Special Exception process would determine what impacts exist and how they might be mitigated.
Environmental and Planning and Zoning Report
Forest Conservation Law Amendments The County Council has finally confirmed the Forest Conservation Advisory Committee (FCAC) mandated by legislation passed in late 2006. After two Transportation and Environment Committee (T&E) work sessions on proposed Forest Conservation Law amendments from Councilmember Elrich and the Planning Commission, the T&E Committee decided to turn both sets of amendments over to the new FCAC while the council takes up the county budget. What is missing from the discussion so far is a measurable goal for the law. Perhaps No Net Loss is a good starting point. The council is looking for recommendations from the FCAC in June, when the budget is completed. In the meantime, Council President Mike Knapp has reconfigured the T&E Committee to be known as Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (TIE&E) with Nancy Floreen (Chair), George Leventhal, and Roger Berliner (replacing Valerie Ervin). Councilmember Berliner will be called "Lead Member for Energy and Environment."
Pepco Tree Cutting You may have noticed some heavy-handed pruning of trees and vegetation along River Road between the Village and Behnke's Nursery. Pepco is engaged in some roadside clearing that has even reached onto the property of homeowners who abut the road, with a goal of increasing the time between regular pruning to once every five years. Claims that they are cutting to “arborist standards” are being used as an excuse to remove trees beyond the right-of-way. In “Pepco speak” this translates to another twisted logic: Arborists say if more than twenty-five percent of a trees' canopy is cut, it will die. So, if Pepco thinks they will have to cut more than twenty-five percent of the canopy of any given tree to get the job done as they see it, they simply remove the tree altogether, and, with a good collective conscience, claim they don't kill trees. Congressman Chris Van Hollen's office is looking into matter.
Sewer Category Change Requests At the T&E Committee work session on Sewer Category Change Requests, Potomac Oaks Center requested “deferral” of their application in order to work on options for upgrades to the center. WMCCA and the other major civic associations in the Potomac Subregion jointly opposed their request because it violated the Potomac Master Plan and the county's Ten Year Water and Sewer Plan. The other request of concern was the Lee-Lacer property asking for sewer to serve two houses on one RE-2 lot; the smaller house is currently illegal. The County Council voted to defer this until the Hearing Examiner rules on a Special Exception request for an accessory apartment on the site.
Check the web site for information on issues we are working on.