Reminder – No Meeting in January
Next Meeting – February 12, 2003
8:00 p.m., Potomac Elementary School
Speaker: Michael Subin, President, Montgomery County Council
President’s Letter – Susanne Lee
WMCCA and the residents of the Potomac Subregion begin the New Year facing a major challenge. After the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in studies, thousands of hours of skilled, dedicated county staff work, and four years of work by WMCCA members and other volunteers, the Potomac Subregion Master Plan was completed and approved by the Montgomery County Council and adopted by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. However, as first discussed in last month’s WMCCA Newsletter, in one of its first actions implementing the Master Plan, the County Council “blew up” basic provisions of the Plan that impact directly on the preservation of environmental resources in the Subregion.
In the final days of the outgoing Council’s term, in response to developers and their attorneys, Isiah Leggett, then a lame duck Council member, pushed through sewer category changes on Boswell Lane and in Glen Hills that clearly violate the plain language of the Master Plan. The Master Plan provisions at issue deal with sewer extensions and were carefully constructed based on environmental data assembled as part of the Master Plan process. The provisions were specifically designed to ensure the protection and enhancement of water quality in the Watts Branch and Piney Branch watersheds. The Piney Branch, because of its unique enviromental sensitivity, has been designated by Montgomery County as a Special Protection Area, and the Master Plan affirms the stringent limitations contained in the Piney Branch Sewer Restricted Access Policy. The Council’s approval of multiple sewer hookups on Boswell Lane clearly violates those restrictions and promotes the intensive development in the watershed that the Master Plan provisions sought to halt.
In addition to the immediate negative impact on those watersheds, an even greater concern is the blatant rejection and de facto amendment by the Council, without adequate public notice and comment, of such key Master Plan provisions – provisions approved by the Council just a few months ago after extensive public hearings and debate. The Council’s actions put in jeopardy the entire Master Plan process and citizen efforts, past and present, to maintain the Subregion as a low-density green wedge. Decisions made in the Master Plan that supposedly were to resolve certain issues for the next 10 to 15 years are now at risk of being modified and reversed. These include basic decisions regarding such issues as: land use, including the maintenance of existing zoning and the placement of schools, recreation centers, and commercial districts; the widening of River Road; a second Potomac River bridge crossing; the two-lane road policy; rustic and other road classifications; historic property designations; and park acquisitions and use.
Nothing is secure now – not for Potomac neighborhoods or for other communities in the Subregion, or even for other areas of Montgomery County. If Master Plans can be violated and rejected with such impunity, then homeowners and communities can no longer rely upon or put trust in their contents.
WMCCA has initiated a series of actions aimed at reversing the Council’s actions and ensuring that other Master Plan provisions are not violated in the future. County Council and other county staff members were contacted immediately to determine how and what had occurred and what could be done to reverse the decisions. Letters were sent and phone calls made to individual Council Members, and follow-up meetings are scheduled. Legal counsel has been retained to explore possible legal action. We are also reaching out to other civic and environmental organizations to enlist their support in our efforts – efforts we believe are essential to ensure all county residents the protections and processes afforded by Master Plans.
In addition, we urge all WMCC members to contact County Council members directly to express concern about the Council’s blatant rejection of the Master Plan provisions on sewer extensions and the precedence it sets for the Council to ignore, reject and reverse any other Master Plan provisions. Council member Howard Denis, who voted for the Boswell Lane sewer extension, represents much of the Potomac Subregion. Phil Andrews, who voted against the extension, represents a northern portion of the Subregion. Michael Subin, who voted for the extension, is the County Council President, and a letter sent to him generally is distributed to all other Council members. We also urge you to attend the next WMCCA meeting on February 12, 2003 when Mr. Subin will be the guest speaker.
A list of Council Members and their phone numbers and e-mail addresses/ links appears under the heading Gov’t Officials elsewhere on our web site. A summary of the sewer category changes that violate the Potomac Subregion Master Plan is set forth below at the end of the Newsletter.
WMCCA will testify before the County Council on January 14, 2003 opposing Council Bill No. 38-02, which would make optional development standards (denser development than under existing zoning) currently available to developments of 35 or more units also available to any other developments that contain moderately priced dwelling units (MPDUs), no matter how small the parcel of land or the number of dwelling units proposed. While WMCCA supports efforts to increase the number of MPDUs available, under this legislation high-density infill developments could be approved for single lots in established single-family detached neighborhoods without regard to zoning, the Master Plan, or the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
The Board of Appeals hearing on the Allentuck Special Exception Request (nursery at corner of Glen Road and Falls Road) has been postponed until February. At that time WMCCA plans to support the proposal in general, subject to the imposition of certain limitations on lighting and sales of garden furniture.
Planning and Zoning: We have received two new site plans which we will bring to our February 12 meeting. Should you have questions about them before the meeting, call George Barnes, 301 762-6423.
Greenbriar Preserve – 31 lots, RNC zoning (rural cluster). This property is near the corner of Glen Road and Piney Meetinghouse Road adjoining the Tipton property, and is part of the cluster development concept approved in the Master Plan in return for the dedication of a significant amount of land for conservation and parkland. This is a preliminary plan, and neighbors could have input with the Park and Planning staff at this point.
Congressional Forest Estates: Preliminary Plan for five houses. The property is bordered by Beech Hill Drive, Aldershot and North Branch Drive. The houses are on roughly half-acre lots. Several specimen trees are shown to be saved but many others would surely be lost.
SUMMARY OF SEWER CATEGORY CHANGES THAT VIOLATE THE POTOMAC MASTER PLAN
NOTE: THE FIRST TWO CATEGORY CHANGES CLEARLY VIOLATE THE PLAIN LANGUAGE OF THE MASTER PLAN AND, IN THE CASE OF THE FIRST CATEGORY CHANGE, ALSO THE PINEY BRANCH SEWER RESTRICTED ACCESS POLICY. THE THIRD CATEGORY CHANGE MAY BE A VIOLATION OF THE MASTER PLAN DEPENDING ON FACTS WE ARE STILL TRYING TO VERIFY AS WELL AS THE FINAL SEWER ALIGNMENT.
I. BOSWELL LANE EXTENSION TO THE PINEY BRANCH RESTRICTED ACCESS TRUNK SEWER. Map Amendment No.WSCCR 00A-TRV-03. Applicants: R.A.M. Investing, Ltd. and Boswell Lane Limited Partnership (Steve Orens . Location: Northeast side of Boswell Lane 800 ft. west of Glen Mill Road.
- Requested pubic sewer service via an extension to the Piney Branch Trunk Sewer to support a proposed four-lot subdivision.
- Piney Branch Sewer Restricted Access Policy, as amended by the Potomac Subregion Master Plan, prohibits additional hook-ups except in very limited circumstances: “[for]properties which abut and predate existing sewer mains, restricted to one sewer hookup only.
- Applicant’s property does not abut the existing main and the request is for a four-lot subdivision, not a single hook-up. Thus, the request clearly does not meet the requirements of the Piney Branch Sewer Restricted Access Policy and the Master Plan. This was the unanimous conclusion reached by all the government agencies that commented on the request, including the Montgomery County Planning Board, the Department of Environmental Protection, the County Executive and the County Council Staff.
- In Councilmember Isiah Leggett’s presentation to the Council on November 26, 2002, just before the Council voted, he urged the Council to vote for the extension indicating that the Council need not adhere to the Master Plan provisions.
- No public notice was given that the agenda of the Transportation and Environment(T&E) Committee, chaired by Mr. Leggett, would include a vote on this category change at its meeting on November 25, 2002. Similarly, no public notice was given that the Council agenda would include a vote on this category change on November 26, 2002, the day it was enacted.
II. GLEN HILLS EXTENSION TO THE WATTS BRANCH SEWER LINE. Map Amendment No. WSSCR 01A-TRV-10. Applicant: Eberhard Klein represented by Larry Gordon of Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy, and Ecker. Location: Glen Hills neighborhood, north side of Watts Branch west of Valley Drive.
- Requested extension of public sewer to a vacant lot in Glen Hills.
- The Potomac Subregion Master Plan contains the following Sewer Service Policy restrictions for the Glen Hills area: ‘Conduct a study described above of the Glen Hills area. Based on the results of the study develop a policy outlining the measures needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of septic service for new home construction and existing home renovations, minimizing the need for future sewer service extensions. Under this policy the sole basis for providing new sewer service would be well-documented septic failures where extension could be provided consistent with results of the study and in a logical, economical, and environmentally acceptable manner. Until a policy is developed, restrict further sewer service extensions in Glen Hills to properties with documented public health problems resulting from septic system failure.’
- The required study has not yet been completed and no policy developed; and, thus, extensions are limited to properties with documented public problems because of failed septic systems. This vacant lot does not have a failed septic and thus is ineligible for an extension under the Master Plan restrictions.
- T&E Committee, at the urging of the lawyer for the applicant, erroneously determined that this property was ‘unique’ and voted for an extension on the basis of that finding. The Department of Environmental Protection determined that it was not ‘unique’ and that this determination was not supported by the facts.
- The T & E Committee, without any public meeting or other public communications, invented 5 new criteria to indicate how “unique” this lot was. In fact, DEP determined that these criteria, e.g. the lot doesn’t perc, could be met by many other lots throughout Glen Hills. It was just such similar piecemeal extensions that were the subject of much criticism in the Master Plan process and, as a result, they are prohibited under the Master Plan.
- In contrast to the hours of public comment and deliberations given to Glen Hills sewer policy in the Master Plan, the T&E Committee, with no opportunity for public comment, established these entirely new criteria that will now be applied to sewer requests in Glen Hills. The criteria were developed after the public hearing and after the T&E committee meeting and were not made available to the public until just before they were presented to the Council for a final vote. These criteria amount to an amendment to the Master Plan that was never subject to public comment.
- Furthermore, in response to one of the criteria, the T & E Committee erroneously stated that the extension will have minimal environmental impact. To the contrary, the lot is heavily wooded, the woods are contiguous to a forest conservation area established on the adjoining lot under the Montgomery County Forest Conservation Law. According to abutting property owners, the lot also contains an area of wetlands that drain into a tributary of the Watts Branch.
III. GLEN HILLS AREA EXTENSION FOR AS YET UNVERIFIED PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEMS CAUSED BY AS YET UNVERIFIED FAILED SEPTIC SYSTEM. Map Amendment No. WSCCR 00A-TRV-05. Applicants: Douglas and Chris Hatch. Location: 13300 Southwood Drive in Glen Hills.
- The July, 2002 request for a sewer category change for this lot stated that the extension was needed in order to build an addition for an elderly relative.
- On October 15, 2002, after the public hearing on September 19th and the T&E Public Work Session on October 14, 2002, the County Department of Environmental Protection received a memo from the Department of Permitting Services that state with regard to the lot that “[a] failing septic system has been confirmed” and requested a 22ft. direct sewer hookup to the existing main at Jasmine Hill Terr[ace].”
- The Master Plan provisions for Glen Hills state that an extension may be granted for pubic health reasons as follows: “Under this policy the sole basis for providing new sewer service would be well-documented septic failures where extension could be provided consistent with results of the study and in a logical, economical, and environmentally acceptable manner. Until a policy is developed, restrict further sewer service extensions in Glen Hills to properties with documented public health problems resulting from septic system failure.”
- The Master Plan requires documentation of an actual failure, not failing or the possibility of a failure. In the absence of documentation that the system has actually failed and a public health problem exists, the extension is barred by the requirements for public health extensions in Glen Hills set forth in the Master Plan.
- Notwithstanding the Master Plan requirement that any extensions for public health reasons in Glen Hills must be provided in an “environmentally acceptable manner”, no information was presented to the Council or the public regarding the environmental impacts of this extension. The extension could have been obrained by running the line in the street and hooking up to a main on Scott Drive. Instead, the alternative that was approved is a 200 ft. extension that will go through the heavily wooded backyards of the applicants’ two abutting neighbors. These forest stands are specifically protected from any disturbance by forest conservation easements that were placed on all the properties in the North Glen Hills subdivision.
- Adequate notice and opportunity to comment has not been given to the neighbors through whose properties the line will be constructed. The material presented to the Council indicates that the applicants contacted the abutting property owners whose backyard forest stands will be destroyed by the extension insinuating that the neighbors had somehow agreed to the extension. In fact, they were not provided information about this request by the applicants and had told the applicants when asked several years ago that they objected to the extension.
It was only after the September public hearing and the October T&E work session, both of which dealt only with the prior request for an extension in order to expand the house (for which the unanimous County recommendation had been denial), that the applicants claimed their septic was failing. There was no way the neighboring property owners could have known about this entirely new claim or the proposed alignment through their properties until the information was disclosed in the staff report just prior to the time the Council was acting upon the request. There was thus no meaningful opportunity for them to respond in a timely manner to a construciton project that will have a substantial negative impact on their properties.
West Montgomery County Citizens Association Newsletter
P. O. Box 59335
Potomac, MD 20854-9335
President, Suzanne Lee
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.