Virtual meeting, Wednesday, Dec 9, at 7:30 p.m. via ZOOM:
Or call in with 301-715-8592 (Meeting ID = 878 0190 3231, Passcode: 568563)
A recording of this meeting and longer versions of the newsletters will be available on our website: http://www.wmcca.org/
Stephen Peck, Senior Planner and Forest Conservation Inspector, and Kristin Taddei, Forest Conservation Planner Coordinator, both with the Montgomery County Planning Development.
Join us for a fact-filled discussion of trees and forests – how to protect what we have and how to increase them. Stephen is an expert on the requirements of the Forest Conservation statute and our invaluable go-to person regarding potential violations. Kristin coordinates Reforest Montgomery aimed at increasing trees and will discuss the forest conservation statute amendments currently pending before the County Council.
Who Will Thrive by 2050?
Submitted by President Ken Bawer
This past month we provided testimony to the Planning Board on the County’s draft General Plan which is called “Thrive Montgomery 2050”. As stated in the document, “Thrive Montgomery 2050 is a general plan for the County with a 30-year horizon. It sets a vision for the County and encompasses broad, county-wide policy recommendations for land use, zoning, housing, the economy, equity, transportation, parks and open space, the environment, and historic resources.”
After reading the draft plan, one is left asking the question, “Who is meant to thrive in the next 30 years?” There are many admirable aspirations in this draft plan which we support, such as a greater availability of low-income and moderately priced dwelling units, concentration of growth near mass transit (Metro and Bus Rapid Transit), and a vision where walking and biking is encouraged for shorter distance trips instead of car use. Having said that, it appears clear that the main group that will thrive from this document’s implementation are developers since the plan calls for a huge increase in zoning density at the expense of the environment and quality of life for the average resident. We stated that our vision balances any up-zoning (increased density) with down-zoning (decreased density) in other areas. Otherwise, we will be locked into an untenable future where the County continues to be urbanized (think Bethesda and Silver Spring) at the expense of open spaces.
We said that our vision for 2050 is a County where we don't compare our growth to other jurisdictions (like Fairfax), and where our main goal and indicator of success is not growth but is being at the top of the Happiness Ratings, having a high quality of life, and above all, respecting and enhancing the environment. Our vision is a County which is not developer-centric but rather is resident-centric and environment-centric, where the focus is on sustainable growth, not simply population, business, and job growth.
Our vision is a County that has maintained the green Wedges & Corridors structure from the current General Plan rather than being “disappeared” from this draft document. This draft condemns us to becoming a County of all corridors and no green Wedges. We need to go back to the Wedges & Corridors concept which more clearly delineates areas of development. For our area specifically, our vision is a County in which low density and rural areas outside the Sewer Envelope are afforded special protection since these areas contain watersheds which contribute drinking water to millions of people. These protections should include severe limitations on new road construction and widening, and stricter requirements to control stormwater and impervious surfaces. Our vision does more to protect well water quality.
Our vision is a County where all decisions and policies are informed by science. Decisions will be based on the fact that any amount of impervious surface degrades our water quality including development in the Ten Mile Creek watershed. So-called “stream restorations,” which convert our natural areas into “engineered stormwater conveyances,” will be banned. We also stated that our vision is a County committed to actually enforcing County codes and regulations. Today, waivers and rulings are being made in a seemingly arbitrary and capricious manner.
Our vision is a County that is honest about air and water quality conditions. Currently, we have only a single air quality monitoring station. Our vision is for a network of roadside monitoring stations. Our vision is for emergency alerts for sewer overflows similar to air quality alerts. Unlike the current draft Plan, our vision does not include “flexible regulations, zoning controls and zoning initiatives.” We don’t have flexible speed limits for a reason. Regulations and zoning controls should be fixed and enforced, not flexible. There are still opportunities to comment on the draft Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan:
The Planning Board is accepting written testimony through Dec. 10, 2020. Comments should be transmitted via e-mail to MCP-Chair@mncppc-mc.org, faxed to Chair Casey Anderson at 301-495-1320, or addressed to: Casey Anderson, Chair, Montgomery County Planning Board, 2425 Reedie Drive, Wheaton, MD 20902.
Commercial Solar ZTA 20-01
Submitted by Ginny Barnes
This has been a deeply controversial issue that would alter the Agricultural Reserve to allow industrial solar facilities to locate on farmland. Objections center around the need to preserve farmland for food production. The pandemic has highlighted the need to have access to locally sourced food and the Land Link program has been pairing small farmers with landowners to grow affordable food crops. After public hearings and discussions, the County Council has established a stakeholders task force. WMCCA has supported the Montgomery Countryside Alliance position that our 93,000 acres of farmland and forest needs to be protected from industrial uses. The energy that could be produced in the Reserve from this ZTA would not be available to Montgomery County but become part of the energy grid in Pennsylvania.
A Necessary Appeal – WMCCA v. Montgomery County Planning Board
Submitted by Susanne Lee
On Oct. 29, 2020, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals (COSA) issued an opinion affirming the Planning Board’s decision approving the subdivision of a 2.77 acre lot on Glen Mill Road adjacent to the Glen Hills Park and in the Piney Branch Special Protection Area. WMCCA and multiple neighbors had appealed the decision even though we knew that the Courts are reluctant to reverse administrative agency decisions. However, we believed appeal was essential because the decision resulted in such egregious violations of the County’s Environmental Guidelines, the Piney Branch Special Protection Area covenants, and the Forest Conservation statute. Unfortunately not only did the COSA affirm the Board decision, it did so by basically rubber stamping the Board’s decision and holding among other things that the Board is not required to make findings when it approves a subdivision – only when it disapproves one. It also applied an erroneous standard for the approval of forest conservation statute variances. Because we believe these set a dangerous precedent since they constitute basic errors in the interpretation of administrative law and the forest conservation statute, WMCCA is filing a petition for review of the decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The recent COSA opinion appears here: https://www.courts.state.md.us/data/opinions/cosa/2020/0579s19.pdf
Spectrum Retirement Communities Conditional Use Application CU-20-5
Submitted by Susanne Lee
Spectrum, a for-profit real estate developer of senior living facilities, proposes to construct a residential care facility with up to 100 living units (assisted living and memory care) at 9545 River Road, the current site of Potomac Petals and Plants, formerly Behnke’s. Because the land is zoned RE-2 (residential 2 acre minimum) the proposal requires conditional use approval by the Montgomery County Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings (OZAH). WMCCA joined with surrounding neighbors to oppose the project and submitted a Prehearing Statement in Opposition on Sept. 1, 2020. Subsequently, however, the neighbors whose properties abut or are in close proximity to the site engaged in extensive negotiations with Spectrum seeking ways to lessen the impact of the facility. The result was an agreement by Spectrum to reduce the building from 3 to 2 stories, with a corresponding expansion of the building footprint to accommodate the elimination of the 3rd story, and for enhanced landscaping and screening. In exchange the neighbors agreed to withdraw their opposition to the proposal. In order to support the neighbors’ extensive efforts to reach an agreement on the revised plan, WMCCA agreed to withdraw its opposition as well.
Spectrum submitted the revised plans to OZAH on Nov. 24, 2020. Because the OZAH offices are closed to the public as a result of COVID, case files, including site plans, are only available online via the Planning Board’s website. As of the date of this newsletter, the revised plans had not been posted, but this is the link where they should appear or call the OZAH office at 240-777-6660 for further information and assistance:
The OZAH Hearing – to be conducted virtually – currently is scheduled to begin at 9:30 am on Jan. 15, 2021. For further information and updates check the OZAH website at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/ozah/. The agreement the parties reached is in no way binding on OZAH or its hearing examiners who will make their own independent determination as to whether to approve the conditional use application. While WMCCA does not support the project, as a result of its agreement with Spectrum and the neighbors it will not oppose or encourage others to oppose it. The agreement is binding on WMCCA and its Officers and Directors acting in their official capacities, but not on members of WMCCA acting in their individual capacities, nor on any other organization of which WMCCA is a member.
REMINDER: IT'S TIME TO RENEW YOUR MEMBERSHIP FOR 2020-2021! Please renew or become a new member of WMCCA. Go to our website http://www.wmcca.org/ to download a membership form or join using PayPal: Individual: $25 / Family: $50. We also welcome donations to our Legal Fund.
VIRTUAL WMCCA Meeting: Dec. 9, 2020 - 7:30 p.m.
West Montgomery County Citizens Association Newsletter
P.O. Box 59335, Potomac, MD 20854-9335
President – Ken Bawer: President@WMCCA.org
Website: WMCCA.org – Peter Poggi,
Newsletter Editor – Nancy Madden