In a transition zone between Maryland’s piedmont and coastal plains, the Potomac Subregion has a unique geology and biodiversity. The stream valleys that feed into the Potomac River – water supply for the region – are environmentally sensitive areas, and as our region changed from an agrarian to a suburban area, these ecosystems have come under more environmental pressure. The first Potomac Subregion Master Plan was written in 1965, and the goal of its latest revision in 2002 is to “protect the subregion’s rich natural environment and unique ecosystems” and to “maintain and reaffirm a low-density residential green wedge.” WMCCA devotes much of its effort to assuring that our Master Plan achieves this goal.
One way the Master Plan works to protect the environment is by limiting the amount of development that can occur. Larger lot sizes (one- and two-acre, i.e., RE-1 and RE-2) for much of the area minimize the impact of development, and in areas outside the sewer envelope only septic systems can be used. This limits development and protects the stream valleys from the installation of sewer lines that disrupt habitat and the natural hydrologic system, and over time develop leaks, causing contamination.
The Master Plan designated the Piney Branch Stream Valley as a special protection area (SPA). This sensitive stream valley is adjacent to the low-density RE-1 Glen Hills neighborhood. Both are outside the sewer envelope. Glen Hills is the quintessential "green wedge" neighborhood envisioned in the Master Plan. It is located between areas of massive new development and crisscrossed by small streams and wetlands. As such, it serves as a vital recharge area for the water quality of both the Piney Branch and the Watts Branch. The Master Plan called for a study, now underway, of septic failures in Glen Hills "in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of septic service . . . minimizing the need for future sewer service extensions." The study was expanded to examine all lots, even some outside Glen Hills, and now includes sewer extensions to about 240 properties, including vacant, environmentally sensitive lots. This goes way beyond the plain language of the Master Plan and will result in maximum build-out and its attendant adverse environmental consequences.
The Forest Conservation Law covers tracts land of an acre or more, and was written to address protection of forest stands on large lots. Currently the county has no protection for trees on smaller lots or for roadside trees. The urban canopy is an important part of the overall tree canopy in Montgomery County. With the increase of infill development and PEPCO’s drastic tree cutting, it is important to protect the remaining urban canopy. Bill 35-12, covering smaller properties, and Bill 41-12, covering street and roadway trees, are designed fill in where the Forest Conservation Law leaves off. It is important to note that these bills will not prevent any development or remodeling of a property. Instead, the goal is to provide incentive to preserve trees where possible and to provide funds to replant trees when removal is necessary.
The Brickyard School site is mentioned in the Master Plan as a potential site for a local park if declared surplus property by the Board of Education. There is a current proposal for the County to lease the land to a private company to build a commercial soccerplex. This lease is the subject of several lawsuits – expensive to both the County and the residents trying to protect their community. The County claims that this soccerplex fits the Master Plan, but if the language of the Master Plan had been followed from the beginning, these lawsuits would have never occurred.
The Potomac Subregion Master Plan is clear in its intent: “This Master Plan strongly recommends that sustaining the environment be the preeminent policy determinant in a subregion so defined by its natural resources.”
Environmental Report: Two Tree Bills Introduced
by by Ginny Barnes - After two years of waiting, the County Executive has sent to the Council an urban tree bill – Bill 25-12, the Montgomery County Urban Canopy Bill. The purpose of the legislation is to discourage the common practice of clearing trees from small lots during redevelopment. Unlike the County Forest Conservation Law, in effect since 1992, which addresses protection of forest stands on large lots, this bill focuses on the continued canopy depletion in urban areas where the loss of individual and small stands of trees has been both significant and cumulative. It requires that fees be collected whenever tree canopy is disturbed on any lot where a sediment control permit is required. The fees are paid directly into a mitigation fund and used to plant native trees in the same sub-watershed where canopy is lost. In some areas of the County canopy, coverage is down to just eight percent, and continuing to decline.
A second piece of legislation, Council Bill 41-12, the Montgomery County Streets and Roadside Tree Protection Bill, introduced by Councilmembers Berliner and Elrich, will require a county permit for any work in the County Right-of-Way (the strip of land between the street and any private property line) that will damage trees. The Department of Permitting Services (DPS) would work with the Chief of Tree Maintenance in the County Department of Transportation (DOT) to determine if a tree can be saved, and if not, the applicant would contribute to a tree fund to insure replacement. A Public Hearing before the County Council on both bills is scheduled for January 17th.
Brickyard Road School Site Update
by Curt Uhre - The Maryland Court of Special Appeals denied the County’s motion to overturn the Stay issued by Judge Greenberg in the Brickyard Board of Education lawsuit. The Court Stay prohibits the Board of Education from moving forward with the Brickyard lease to the County until the Court decides the matter on the merits. The County had appealed Circuit Court Judge Greenberg’s decision to issue the stay to the higher court. The Circuit Court has scheduled a hearing in the BOE appeal for February 18th.
Glen Hills Area Septic Study Update
by Susanne Lee - The Phase I study report was taken down from the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) website, supposedly in order for DEP to respond to citizen demands concerning the Report's designation of their lots as not being sustainable on septic. So far the County's response has been abysmal. At the December 17th meeting of the Study's Citizens Advisory Committee, DEP passed out a revised map for the Phase I Report that, according to their handout, was supposed to "address the language and mapping concerns raised by Glen Hills residents." The only change from the previous map was that individual lot lines had been deleted. However, all of the same areas were shaded and are now labeled as “Areas where conditions may require the use of alternatives to conventional deep-trench septic systems.” The proposed sewer extension maps from the Phase II Report still show the same shaded areas with specific lot lines for properties for which sewer extensions are being proposed.
Deleting the lot lines on some maps does absolutely nothing to address the real concerns of residents. The underlying problem remains the same – that DEP has determined, without notice and without any assessment of actual conditions, that these lots are not suitable for conventional septic systems. Their revisions may make it a bit harder for the property owner, potential home-buyers, and real estate agents to connect the dots to individual lots, but the shaded "areas of concern" are still there. If anything, DEP has made it even more confusing and difficult since each property owner and potential buyer will have to first determine exactly where the shading and lot lines begin and end and then how the amount of shading impacts their particular lot. It is still impossible to determine what theoretical parameter triggered the fact that a lot can't be continued on conventional septic, and a sewer line extension is now proposed for the property. Furthermore, DEP states that the only way to counter their conclusion is for the individual homeowner to pay for actual percolation and other appropriate testing supervised by the Department of Permitting Services. DEP states it will conduct a public meeting in January, but it has yet to release to the public the revised Phase I Report or Phase II Report or provide public notice of the date.
West Montgomery County Citizens Association Newsletter
P. O. Box 59335
Potomac, MD 20854-9335
President - Shawn Justement, 301 762-6937
Newsletter - Lois Williams
Check the web site for information on issues we are working on.