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Votes

A Tale of Two Policies

Sewer service extended to would-be church; neighbors object.

A house would be allowed to have it by right. A church might not be allowed to have it. But what about a house, which is being used as a church, and intends to remodel, perhaps adding a 200-seat sanctuary?

This sewer dilemma was presented to the County Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee on Oct. 30.

St. Luke’s Serbian Orthodox Church uses the property at 10660 River Road, which is currently a single family home. The property is next to Sts. Peter and Paul’s Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Under the Potomac Master Plan’s Peripheral Sewer Policy, the property would be allowed a single sewer hook-up because it abuts an existing sewer line as a single family home. “Staff believes this … meets the peripheral sewer policy,” said Keith Levchenko of County Council Staff.

But it might not be allowed a hook-up as a church under the Private Institutional Facilities (PIF) policy.

Two of the committee’s members, George Leventhal (D-At Large) and Tom Perez (D-5) are in their first year as on County Council and were using this opportunity to become educated about the nuances of sewer policy.

Committee chair Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) served on the Planning Board and was accustomed to the ways in which sewer policy acts as a back-door for land-use policy.

Floreen made the motion to accept the staff recommendation and allow the church to have sewer service.

The motion was not seconded and Floreen continued to press. “Let’s just move on guys,” she said.

“I don’t want to move on,” replied Leventhal.

The committee was placed in a somewhat awkward position. If the Church had been less forthright, and simply come forward as a single family home, then it could, at any time in the future, shift and become a church, and it would never have come before the committee.

“We seem to have a conflict between two policies,” said Jody Klein, attorney for the Church.

In an unusual situation, the committee accepted testimony from members of the audience who had a stake in the proceedings.

“We, the neighbors, believe this is a PIF,” said Diana Conway, a neighboring property owner. “It is unfair to go shopping for a policy. We feel they should be coming as a PIF.” The neighbors are opposed to extending sewer service to the property.

The Planning Board had expressed opposition to the extension of sewer service. “The concern being intensification of use,” said Dominic Quattrocchi of Park and Planning. “The peripheral sewer policy wasn’t intended to allow for intensification of use.”

A church built to accommodate several hundred parishioners would be considered more intense use than a single-family home.

Eventually Leventhal second Floreen’s motion to extend the sewer line. Perez voted against the extension, saying that he would rather have more information. “I’m not saying that I disagree with you,” he said.

The full County Council will make the final decision on Nov.18.