From the word “precede” we get “to be before in time, rank or place,” which gives us precedent, “a past instance that may serve as an example or rule in the future.” And therein lies one of our major problems in dealing with zoning issues or development plans. In some instances an approval may permanently alter the rules we operate under and create unintended consequences that are difficult to foresee. By allowing a precedent to go forward we may open our community to future undesirable uses over which we lose control. WMCCA is currently faced with several such prickly cases that we must weigh carefully to determine the benefits to our community against future possible harm – not just to the Potomac Subregion, but elsewhere in Montgomery County. As the western gateway to the Agricultural Reserve, one of our functions in the overall Master Plan is to buffer and protect that precious rural open space. Anything allowed to occur here has the potential to migrate there.
Two prominent proposals of concern are for a country inn on River Road across from the WSSC Water Filtration plant and a Wellness Center next to the Giant. Both properties are currently zoned residential. The proposal for a country inn requires a change in zoning, while the Wellness Center will need a new Special Exception category. Both applicants are offering to remedy environmental problems on their site. A Country Inn Zone was created a few years ago for existing older restaurants in residential areas that predated zoning (1958), like Normandy Farm and Old Anglers Inn, giving them a way to modernize or upgrade. But the Country Inn Zone has not yet been applied to a new facility. This proposal seems primarily focused on a banquet business, and it is sketchy on its provisions for a restaurant. Does it actually fit the intent of the zone? What happens if the zoning goes through but the applicant is unable to build? What is any future developer bound by?
The Wellness Center applicant wants options for patient education and treatment that don't exist in medical center uses within the Zoning Code, and would require an amendment to the Ordinance. The applicant asks to have overnight stays and serve meals. Would the Wellness Center be considered to include a restaurant? Could you go there for a healthy meal? Restaurants are strictly prohibited in residential zones, and no Special Exceptions fit the uses the applicant wants to offer. Any Zoning Text Amendment written to cover this facility must be applicable elsewhere in Montgomery County. Would we open neighborhoods outside our Subregion to a development use that may cause unwanted consequences to them? What will be the actual consequences here?
Off McCrossin Lane is a proposal for a development that stays within existing two-acre residential zoning but creates another kind of precedent. The land does not perc for traditional septic systems. If approved, it would be the first entire subdivision in the Potomac Subregion predicated on sand mounds, and there is concern for the water quality impacts on the two streams running through the 25 acres. Of further concern is that in this plan, sand mound sites for the eight proposed lots are located on other lots. Sand mound location requires identifying back-up mound sites if the primary mound fails; thus each house would have sand mound sites on a neighbor's property. The need for cross easements to protect a homeowner’s future sand mounds from impacts by a neighbor who owns the lot with the sites is daunting.
Nearby, at the corner of Glen and Travilah Roads, the Potomac Oaks Center is proposing to build a privately financed sewer to serve only the commercial uses on that property – in an area of Potomac where no sewer is permitted. The adjacent residential homes are all on septic. The commercial uses at the Potomac Oaks Center were grandfathered, and the precedent was already to have nonconforming uses allowed on an otherwise residentially zoned site. All too often precedents can give rise to future problems.
Country Inn Zone: A hearing has been scheduled before the Hearing Examiner on January 28, 2008 on the application of the Koh family for a zoning change from residential zoning to the Country Inn zone. The Planning Board will hold a public hearing prior to that date, in late December or early January.
German School: The German School is planning an expansion of the school on Chateau Drive, and two public meetings to present the plans have been held. Neighbors and others who would like more information can send their e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive digital presentations of the German School’s proposed building plans.
Retaining Wall at 11900 River Road: The National Park Service is processing a request to replace a portion of a failing retaining wall located within a scenic easement of the C&O Canal National Historic Park (NHP). WMCCA submitted comments (due 11/30/07) requesting that any attempt to remedy the failed wall occur outside the 200-foot easement where construction is prohibited. Allowing the requested repair would create a precedent for other properties overlooking the NHP.
Clean Water and Streams for Montgomery County Conference: One of the objectives of the event held by the Stormwater Partners at the end of October was to stimulate the creation of watershed groups devoted to improving a single stream. Most of the streams in the Potomac Subregion lack such groups. WMCCA advocates for all the watersheds in the Potomac Subregion but our organization is not just watershed-focused. If you are interested in starting a group for Rock Run, Watts Branch, Muddy Branch or Seneca Creek, or to receive updates on watershed related issues, visit the web site, www.stormwaterpartners.org.
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