WMCCA Newsletter


WEST MONTGOMERY COUNTY
CITIZENS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER

An Archive of past newsletters, back to the January 2003 issue, is now available on this website.

December 2009



Remember the Public in the Private Partnership

President's Letter - by Liza Wilson Durant, PhD

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) is reviewing an unsolicited proposal from Sunny Pitcher of Potomac Paddlesports to establish a National Outdoor Center (NOC) at Rockwood Manor through a public-private partnership with the applicant.  Rockwood Manor is a 44 acre property on MacArthur Boulevard in Potomac and adjacent to the C&O Canal National Historical Park.  The Montgomery County Department of Parks manages Rockwood Manor as a Conference/Event Center.  In the Parks system, Rockwood Manor is categorized as an “enterprise facility,” and as such is expected to generate enough income to maintain itself.  This is not the case with most of our parkland, where maintenance is funded through the Department of Parks operating budget.

The proposal for a National Outdoor Center has characteristics that make it sufficiently attractive to the Department of Parks to consider a public-private partnership with the applicant.  The project proposes a number of commercial uses – a restaurant, a pub, a bed and breakfast facility, and retail operations that include kayak and bicycle rentals.  Community amenities include a wildlife rescue program, a wellness center, and trail improvements.  The applicant will renovate the Rockwood Manor buildings.

Unfortunately, the Department of Parks and the applicant failed to notice WMCCA as well as some other organizations and neighbors of a public information meeting it held November 17 at Rockwood Manor.  WMCCA’s Environmental Chair, Ginny Barnes, has been working with the Department of Parks to schedule additional public meetings, extend the public comment period, and postpone the Public Hearing before the Planning Board (originally scheduled for December), thereby providing all stakeholders an opportunity to gather information and provide comments for the public record.

As WMCCA considers the larger implications of such a proposal for our community, we will study how the project fits with the goals of our recently revised Potomac Subregion Master Plan, any Department of Parks’ master plans, and long-range plans for C&O Canal National Historic Park.  The project’s impact on traffic, parking, safety, storm water management, and Rockwood’s old growth forest will be carefully considered.  While Rockwood Manor may be underutilized, and a public-private partnership might provide a solution, more information and stakeholder advisement is needed to determine if this proposal is the appropriate project for a very special park and historic site.  

The Parks Dept has tentatively scheduled the next public meeting for Tuesday January 12th, 2010.  The public comment period has been extended to January 29th, 2010.    No date has been set for a public hearing before the Planning Commission.  For more information as it becomes available go to .  To provide written comments, e-mail .

WMCCA Brochure!  Our new brochure explains Potomac area’s “green wedge” designation, tells how the citizens association operates, and outlines WMCCA’s goals.  Save the brochure and refer often to its map of the Potomac Subregion Watersheds and the area’s streams and stream valley parks.

 Planning and Zoning Report – by George Barnes

The Montgomery County Board of Appeals denied the appeal of C. O. North and WMCCA on narrow technical grounds that make a mockery of the due process which citizens count on when appealing or contesting County agency actions.  This issue started when, without warning, a cellular telephone equipment structure installation started at the Cabin John Volunteer Fire House on Falls Road.  The county ordinance clearly states that cellular communication structures on land owned by a volunteer fire company MUST seek a Special Exception prior to construction.  No notice was given, no special exception was sought, and one day, Mr. North, who lives next door to the property, heard heavy machinery running and, on inquiring, was told that an equipment structure for a new cellular telephone network was being installed.  Callum Murray of M-NCPPC notified the Department of Permitting Services that the facility was being constructed without the required special exception and without mandatory referral review, and, on April 25, 2008, a stop work order was issued.  On January 30, 2009, DPS lifted their stop work order, and Mr. North and WMCCA immediately filed an appeal of the lifting of the stop work order.  The Board of Appeals held a hearing on November 19 and ruled that the appeal was not valid because it had not been filed within 30 days of the issuance of the building permit.  Note that the original building permit was never posted on the property, no notice was given to the neighbors, and there was no way anyone could have known that a permit for construction had been issued until the machinery started running – long after the deadline had passed for filing an appeal of a permit.  The Board's decision means that a builder could get a permit, put it in his desk drawer for 31 days, and then put up the permit and  start construction – and the community would have no right to an appeal because the appeal did not occur within 30 days of the issuance of the permit!!!  WMCCA will decide if we will appeal this ruling to the Circuit Court, but it seems that this is an egregious miscarriage of justice that we cannot ignore.

Environmental Report – by Ginny Barnes

Norton Road Tree Cutting:  Starting at the corner of River and Norton Roads, three lots have been combined into one building site.  The developer removed all 17 trees in the public right-of-way  (ROW) on October 29 and 30, claiming to have permission from Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to install a sewer and water pipe adjacent to the road.  Of the trees cut down at least ten were eastern red cedars (Juniperus Virginiana), an indigenous evergreen species that takes many years to reach the size of those destroyed.  The berries of this tree are consumed by 50 species of birds.  Though a permit was found to have been issued by DNR, a clause in the permit indicates it is subject to the local jurisdiction.  The County Chief of Roadside Maintenance stated that he did not authorize the destruction of any trees on the site.  WMCCA has requested clarification of liability from both the County Executive, who has passed it on to the County Attorney, and the State Attorney General's office.
 
County Cuts Street Tree Planting Program:  Each year, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (DOT, the agency charged with maintaining street trees on county roads) removes about 2,100 trees and plants 1,700 trees, with a small annual planting budget of $247,000.  On November 17th the County Council voted to cut the entire program, a cut initiated by the County Executive.  There will be no street tree replacement during the planting season that runs from October 15th to May 31st.  Unless the budget is restored, this is another blow to clean drinking water, county streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, and this means the dead and dying trees recently cut along the length of Persimmon Tree Road will not be replaced.

Zoning Code Revision – by Diana Conway

WMCCA joins Montgomery County planners to invite citizens to get involved in rewriting the Zoning Code.  The County is engaged in a comprehensive revision of the entire county zoning code.  The three-year initiative will result in a number of changes to the code, which guides development by establishing rules regarding land uses, density, height, open space and public amenities.  Since the original code was written in 1928, it has been comprehensively updated just twice.  The intent of this revision is to simplify the code by reducing redundancies, reducing the number of zones, and increasing on-line accessibility to the code and its maps. 

This undertaking poses the possibility of “winners and losers,” so we urge our members and all area residents to be vigilant by following the process.  Visit www.montgomeryplanning.org/development/zoning to let the Planning Department know what you think as the project progresses.  Planners will post targeted questions on specific themes such as mixed-use infill development, preserving neighborhoods, sustainability, and simplifying uses.   The County Council is the final arbiter of the proposed zoning changes, and e-mail sent to its website is distributed to all nine councilmembers – . 


West Montgomery County Citizens Association Newsletter


P. O. Box 59335
Potomac, MD 20854-9335
President - Liza Wilson Durant, PhD  Ph: 301 806-2393
Newsletter - Lois Williams

The Newsletter is published monthly, and the Board of Directors meets each month. We welcome any suggestions for upcoming meeting topics and ways to further utilize our web site (www.wmcca.org).

Check the web site for information on issues we are working on.