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Parkland Subdivided for Residential Use

Creative financing provides land for equestrian center.

Woodstock Equestrian Park has approximately 800 acres of rolling hills lined with horse trails sitting on either side of Darnestown Road in Beallsville. It was designed as an equestrian park that could one day boast indoor and outdoor arenas, stables and a cross country trail. At some point it could also have three new homes sitting on it.

The bulk of the land was originally donated to the Montgomery County three years ago by Hermen and Monica Greenberg and William Rickman Sr., and a year ago the county acquired an additional 81 acres, according to David Tobin, the county's equine resources coordinator. The purchase was made because that land was deemed more suitable for the construction of an indoor arena, according to Tobin. That acquisition was made with the assumption that a portion of it would be re-subdivided to create three residential lots that could be sold to refund the money used in the initial acquisition, according to Tobin.

The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission approved the re-subdivision of those lots on Thursday, Dec. 7, opening the possibility that those lots will be sold for residential development in the

future.

The re-subdivision does not necessitate the sale of the lots, as commissioner John M. Robinson noted, and currently there are no plans to sell the property.

The plan had the full support of the Planning Board staff and was approved unanimously by the Planning Board, but residents voiced concern at Thursday's meeting that such a tactic does not bode well for the future.

"The staff report fails to take into consideration the best interests of Woodstock Equestrian Park and threatens to provide precedent for a policy of selling parkland for residential development," said Liza Durant, Vice President of Equestrian Partners in Conversation (EPIC).

"We would see more McMansions like we already see too many of in the Agricultural Reserve," said Dolores Milmoe of the Audubon Naturalist Society, referring to land that is supposed to be protected from development by the county.

The additional acreage was purchased with money from the Advance Land Acquisition Revolving Fund (ALAR), a county fund used to acquire park land, according to Tobin.

The tactic of potentially selling off the three lots to reimburse the ALAR funds represents a creative way of circumventing budget restraints, said Commissioner Allison Bryant, who gave his "unreserved approval" to the plan.

Durant urged that the Planning Board consider other options for reimbursement.

"Funding exists, both public and private, substantial enough to build a facility that will enjoy public use and support," said Durant. "These parcels are not surplus and the best use of this land is not residential development. … This is not the time to be paving over parkland in Montgomery County."

Royce Hanson, chairman of the Planning Board voiced concern over the decision to re-subdivide the property, but approved the plan.

"I'm concerned about [the Planning Board's] appearance and our position on this … [I] worry about whether or not we will ever want to dispose of all three lots and we may in fact never want to do that," said Hanson. "I would prefer finding other funds than the ultimate sale of the lots."

"I understand the concern over the re-subdivision," said Wellington, "[but] it does not denote a decision to sell — that is a matter for another day."

KOH PROPERTY HEARING POSTPONED

A hearing scheduled for the Dec. 7 meeting of the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission was postponed indefinitely. The Koh family is seeking to have 5.6 acres of residential property rezoned to Country Inn Zoning. The proposed plan would allow for the construction of a country inn, a restaurant and additional commercial space. Various residents and neighborhood associations have raised objections to the current form of these plans and the Koh family requested a postponement to address those concerns in private. According to Ginny Barnes of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, a meeting has been tentatively proposed for early February, but those plans have not been finalized.