Master Plans must “reflect a vision of the future that responds to the unique character of the local community within the context of a County-wide perspective.” Each time one of Montgomery County’s Master Plans is reviewed and amended, the County is careful to bring stakeholders to the planning table to look at the changing needs of the growing community – our elected representatives are cognizant of the need to maintain the tremendous quality of life that continues to draw new residents and corporations to our community. Planning is accomplished through input from all stakeholders, and painstakingly vetted through several tiers of local government, including the Planning Board, the County Executive, and the County Council. The process is and should be driven by stakeholders, by the character and evolving needs of the existing community, and now, as never before, by sustainability. One could argue that we have built beyond our capacity in areas where limited pubic transportation, infrastructure, and schools lower the quality of life. In Potomac, we have worked hard to uphold the well-vetted and prescient Master Plan we have in place today, but if our neighbors in other sectors are not as successful, we will be affected. Tens of thousands of cars will spill into Potomac, our air and water quality diminished, and our infrastructure degraded.
The Gaithersburg West Master Plan is the latest to undergo this process – but in this case, one must ask, Who is doing the driving here? Is it the development and business interests who, after all, are stakeholders and part of the existing community? Or is it the local residents in the decades-old suburban community many of whom moved here long before the commercial interests? Our County Council will have to look close and hard at the fine print to this plan to ensure that it reflects all stakeholder interests and the unique character of the local community, that it embraces technological advances in building and transportation, that it considers the county wide implications of high density housing and commerce, and that there are adequate financial resources to support the necessary infrastructure. There is a compromise, I think – an opportunity to find middle ground among the stakeholders, but there is much work yet to be done and particularly on the sustainability aspect of the plan. I am optimistic that our leaders won’t let our neighbors in Gaithersburg down. But we here in Potomac will be watching closely, as the quality of our life is as much at stake as theirs.
Planning and Zoning Report – by George Barnes
We are entering what may be a difficult time for our system of zoning and the Master Plans which we have been relying on since the Wedges and Corridors concept was adopted in the 1960's and which have guided and regulated development and created the communities we now live in. We are faced with a movement within the Planning Department which would create new zones, encourage densities far beyond what we now have, alter height restrictions, and create towering buildings in areas which are zoned for commercial use but which are restricted in height. Many more people, businesses, and cars would come with these changes, and we must be ready to take on some severe challenges in the months and years ahead as Gaithersburg West, White Flint and Montgomery Mall are under consideration for expansion and high-rise construction. WMCCA will be watching these carefully in the coming year. This plan, proposed by Johns Hopkins University, on the site of the Banks Farm bounded by Route 28 and Muddy Branch Road would, create a Science City of very tall, high-rise buildings, dramatically increase the density of this area, and wreak havoc on the road system. The University insists that only if a viable mass transit system is built would this plan go forward, but the University is, in fact, moving forward in the face of assurances from County officials, Council members, and State transportation officials that no such system will be built because there is absolutely no money to fund it.
Environmental Report – by Ginny Barnes
Forest Conservation Law reform: Nearly five years after the sensational tree cutting incident at Swain's Lock spawned multiple efforts to bring about critically needed Forest Conservation Law amendments, our County government has utterly failed to enact anything that will stem the loss of forests and tree canopy in Montgomery County. The two sets of amendments introduced last year at the Council – one set from Park and Planning (MNCPPC) and the other from Councilmember Marc Elrich – are both dead. The time to act on them has expired and would require another lengthy process of reintroduction, committee action, etc. The previously proposed amendments never made it out of the Transportation & Environment Committee (T&E) chaired by Councilmember Nancy Floreen. The Committee (Floreen, Berliner, Leventhal) seemed unable and equally unwilling to take on the tough decisions so they punted the whole issue over to the County Executive. There it has languished for nearly ten months while Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff tried to design a matrix for use with sites large enough to qualify as forest as well as smaller lots with no forest but significant tree canopy.
Meanwhile, this failure has affected the Potomac Subregion in very specific ways on critical development plans. Currently, Public Institutional Facilities (PIF's) like schools and churches are exempt from compliance with the FCL. Both sets of amendments under consideration would have eliminated this exemption, giving plan reviewers and citizens alike a better outcome on expansion projects like the Fourth Presbyterian School on South Glen Road or the Connolly School of the Holy Child, which recently reached a controversial settlement with MNCPPC for violating the meager conservation easements on their property while still being allowed to build an artificial turf playing field.
Artificial Turf Fields: Over the summer, this has been a growing concern as more and more information becomes available on the hazards, both to human health and the environment. Artificial turf playing fields are essentially impervious surfaces that generate toxic runoff from the chemicals in their composition. They heat up when exposed to sunlight and can reach temperatures of 160+ degrees, becoming a thermal threat to local water quality and a health hazard to children playing on them. The CDC cautions that all clothing worn while using them should be immediately laundered, no food or drink be allowed near them, and signs should be posted warning users to act accordingly. Evidence shows these fields also lead to an increase in the number of sports injuries.
Stormwater Partners: As a founding member of the 55+ organizations that have successfully wrangled a new Stormwater Permit for Montgomery County, WMCCA is active in the Partners on the emerging issue of Environmental Site Design (ESD) which a recent Maryland State Law will require of future development and redevelopment. While Montgomery County has made progress with energy efficient building, we still moonscape sites with little regard for existing ecological features critical to managing stormwater, cooling, and carbon sequestering – the most vital features being trees, ground that filters runoff, wetlands, and streams. If we preserve the features of a site that provide the functions we previously engineered after stripping that site, we not only save maintenance and money but come closer to the ultimate goal of sustainability, our planet's most crying need.
West Montgomery County Citizens Association Newsletter
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