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What is Happening To Our Trees?

WMCCA President's Letter

Look around. Our landscape is changing. The trees we take for granted as part of the Potomac Subregion are either disappearing, under threat, or poorly protected from destruction by our existing laws and regulations. River Road has seen painful losses of forest. At the edge of Potomac Village, on Falls Road, old shade trees, landscape screening and all the trees on a lot under new house construction have been cut down this summer while you were on vacation. A specimen Ash tree on Circle Drive, thought to be protected in perpetuity, is awaiting a Planning Board decision that may mean its doom. New residents are buying existing homes or building lots and destroying the trees that have been there for half a century or more because they do not understand or appreciate their value.

THE POTOMAC SUBREGION Master Plan Revision, completed in 2002 reasserted the environmental basis of our planning as a low-density ‘green wedge’ vital to protecting the public water supply of the Potomac River and creating a buffer for the Agricultural Reserve. The major component of our environmental function to water quality is the existence of forest. Tree roots absorb rainwater, their leaf canopy protects the land from damaging run-off and our streams from toxic pollution and sediment. Efforts to save the Chesapeake Bay start right in our back yards with trees.

The recent settlement of the forest clear-cutting violation at Swains Lock by Park & Planning Commission legal staff has created outrage over the inadequacy of monetary fines under our current Montgomery County Forest Conservation Law (FCL). Several members of the County Council have responded by introducing a bill to increase fines. The bill is silent on how much of an increase and certainly does not address the many other faults in the current law. With an election on the horizon, jumping on a single aspect of a complex issue does more to promote the political hopeful than the long-term protection of trees. A comprehensive effort to update our Forest Conservation Laws at both the County and State level is what we sorely need and it cannot come soon enough.

Trees make Potomac a ‘green wedge’ in a rapidly urbanizing county. They are, in large part, our insurance against increasing development pressures. Justice William O. Douglas, to whom we owe credit for the wondrous C&O Canal National Historical Park which forms the N.W. border of our Subregion, believed that trees should have legal standing. Until that day comes, we must speak on their behalf.

ENVIRONMENTAL REPORT

Two different new County parkland additions located in the Potomac Subregion are moving through the planning process.

1. On 9/8/05, the Planning Board voted unanimously to approve the Forest Conservation Plan and the Facilities Plan for Greenbriar Local Park, a 25-acre site on Glen Road between Piney Meetinghouse and Travilah Road. By definition, local parks contain recreational facilities for the community. Though this park will have a soccer field, basketball and volleyball areas as well as a loop trail, 65 percent of the site will be left undeveloped and natural to protect environmental features and the Rustic designation of Glen Road.

2. Serpentine Barrens Conservation Park — Consisting of two parcels, the North and South Serpentine were acquired under the Legacy Open Space (LOS) Program. The North Serpentine is a 258-acre tract located on the southern side of the Rockville Quarry west of Piney Meetinghouse Road, north of Palatine Drive and bisected by the Pepco power lines. It is characterized by old growth forest, numerous rare, threatened and endangered plant species and unusual upland wetlands. The South Serpentine consists of 65 acres dedicated as parkland under the Greenbriar Preserve development along Glen Road. Under the terms of LOS, both sites are undergoing management plans to determine public access and potential facilities. A final Management Plan will come to Public Hearing at the Planning Board by the end of 2005.

THREATENED SPECIMEN ASH TREE

By Susanne Lee

A magnificent 213-year-old white ash on Circle Drive is about to be destroyed to permit the construction of a new house, notwithstanding the fact that it is the subject of a Category II forest conservation easement that was to preserve it and "run with the land in perpetuity." The tree is about a foot from the existing 100-year-old farm house and its massive roots extend under and around the house. The developer and the county tree staff are asserting that the existing house can be razed and a new house constructed on the same spot as the existing house while still preserving the tree. We just didn’t believe that was possible. Because of the importance of this issue and because it involves the analysis of technical data, West Montgomery hired a noted arborist who is an expert in tree preservation. He has confirmed that the demolition and construction of the new house will result in excessive root damage and the death of the tree. The proposal will be presented for approval by the Montgomery Planning Board on Thursday, Sept. 29. West Montgomery plans to testify in opposition. If approved, this will set a terrible precedent and deal a major blow to the use of conservation easements, a major element of the forest conservation statute, to actually protect trees.

PLANNING AND ZONING

By George Barnes

Normandie Farm — Country Inn Zone — The long-awaited hearing on the zoning change for Normandy Farm has been postponed again, this time until mid December. We will plan to testify at the hearing about our concerns regarding the accessory uses which are permitted in the Country Inn Zone. The current owners have assured us that they do not intend to employ those accessory uses. Our concern is based on the fact that the uses are part of the zone, not a site plan or condition of approval which in the case of a subdivision or special exception would be binding on any future owner of the property. The plans which the owners have submitted, which do not include these other uses, are not binding on either these owners or possible future owners of the property.

South Glen Road — A subdivision plan has been submitted for four lots, one existing house and three additional houses at 11111 South Glen Rd. The property is within the sewer envelope and therefore does not require a sewer category change. An easement across a neighboring property would be necessary. One of the lots would have a 42,000 sq. ft. Cat. 1 Conservation Easement which would preserve a number of the specimen trees on the property.

Special Exception: An application has been filed for a Special Exception pursuant to Section 59-G-2.49 ( Equestrian facility in a residential zone) for five horses, a two-story 2400-sq.-ft. barn, fencing and paddock areas. The property is located at 11001 Glen Rd. A hearing date has been scheduled for early November.

Sewer Category Change Requests — The Council will hold a public hearing on sewer Category change requests in our area will be held on Sept. 29. WMCCA will testify on several. We will update the membership on the outcome at the October meeting.