We Need Your Eyes and Ears

We Need Your Eyes and Ears

Opinion — WMCCA President's Letter

You round the curve of your residential neighborhood street and the discovery is shocking. The usual thick green canopy of mature trees and the understory plants next door are all gone — clearcut. The next day it’s raining as you arrive home, and stormwater from the clearcut lot is flooding your driveway and pulling up the asphalt. Yet another day, and on your lot line sits the foundation for a very large commercial structure that will soon tower over your house.

These or similar events have happened to all of us throughout the Potomac subregion. Sometimes they involve the parkland we love as well. The adverse consequences of these illegal events are direct, immediate, and often irreversible. They impact not just environmental quality, but the quality of our daily life — and sometimes our pocketbooks as well. They occur because of the actions of individual developers and homeowners, but also as a result of the adverse actions or inactions of government officials. As we watch these events, our hearts sink and then sink further and our anger rises. But you and we can and need to do more and do it sooner.

WEST MONTGOMERY County Citizens Association members work hard to gather information, educate ourselves, and take whatever actions we can to protect environmental quality and the character of our neighborhoods and to ensure compliance with a variety of complex laws and regulations. We try to provide sound expertise, a strong ongoing organizational structure, and a forum for discussion. However, there is nothing more powerful or effective than participation by those of you directly impacted. No one knows your neighborhood better than you do, and Montgomery County will never have adequate resources to stop violations before they occur. We need your eyes and ears — and your commitment and interest.

We also know your time and energy are limited, so a major emphasis this year will be on providing tools that will make it easier for all of us to participate more effectively and efficiently. In the coming months, we will be focusing on providing a variety of “how to’s,” beginning with our November meeting focusing on the Planning Board’s environmental compliance process. Future “how to” topics will include:

* Identifying and taking actions in emergency situations — when the chain saws have arrived, the stream has turned purple, or the concrete is pouring . . .

* Dealing effectively with the Department of Permitting Services, building permits, run-off, lot lines, illegal uses, well and septic . . .

* Participating in decisions on zoning and special exceptions.

Countywide Green Infrastructure: Don McNellis

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has started the planning process for a countywide Green Infrastructure Master Plan. On Oct. 11, a WMCCA Board member participated in a focus group of civic groups held by Park and Planning to provide early input for the plan. Green Infrastructure is defined as a network of various natural areas that support air and water quality through natural processes, thereby sustaining environmental resources essential to humans as well as plants and animals. WMCCA is enthusiastic about the focus on Green Infrastructure in Montgomery County and will continue to contribute as the plan evolves over the coming months.

Environmental Report: Ginny Barnes

The majority of issues that WMCCA faces in preserving the quality of life in our community have strong environmental components. Given our geographic proximity to the Potomac River and a major national park, the mandate through the Potomac Master Plan to protect the public drinking water supply, and our role in preserving streams that pass through our subregion, the environment is always a major focus. WMCCA concentrates on addressing sewer and water expansion, improving forest conservation and stormwater management, and closely watching road or highway expansions.

Since the environment is a connected network, the impacts are also connected.  For instance, under the Federal Clean Water Act, states can mandate local jurisdictions to require caps on pollutants entering our streams. The long-term failure to do so here in Montgomery County has led to a proposal for a mid-river intake to avoid the sediment entering the Potomac from the Watts Branch watershed. Similarly, continuous loss of forest coupled with the steady increase of impervious surfaces creates more runoff to foul our streams with chemicals, bacteria, trash and sediment. Both development projects that our November speaker will address and the Koh property described below have serious environmental consequences.

C&O Canal National Historical Park is looking at another impact to the narrow viewscape at Swains Lock that buffers the park in the form of a development proposal at 12000 River Road for a large mansion and swimming pool on steeply forested slopes adjacent to the canal. Now under review at MNCPPC, this project could lead to significant losses of sizable trees visible from the towpath.

Planning and Zoning: George Barnes

* Country Inn Zone: The Koh family has submitted a revised plan to the Hearing Examiner for the property across River Road from the WSSC Water Filtration Plant. They are requesting a change in zoning from RE-2 to the Country Inn Zone. They have submitted a development plan to Park and Planning for a 12-room country inn, including 8,000 square feet of commercial use and 6,715 square feet of banquet hall and dining areas. A hearing before the Hearing Examiner on the Zoning Change will take place in January, and a Planning Board hearing will precede that hearing. Planning staff is recommending approval of the plan, but they have not yet heard from citizens or WMCCA. A hearing scheduled for Oct. 26 at the Planning Board was rescheduled, with the agreement and cooperation of the applicant, to allow us time to meet him on site and review his plan and to provide proper comments to the Planning Board.

WMCCA has retained Norman Knopf to represent us on this case. The site has had a large amount of fill placed there (or allowed to be placed there) by previous owners. This fill is unsuitable for construction and the applicant will agree to remove it and replace it with conditioned fill. Some of the fill is in the stream buffer along the Watts Branch, but Park and Planning would allow work in the stream buffer if the grade leading down to the stream were reduced. A less steep slope to the stream and proper stabilization would mean less erosion and impact on the stream, according to Planning staff.

Planning staff has decided that the use would be compatible with the character of the surrounding neighborhood, a finding which WMCCA will almost certainly take issue with. For example, 111 parking spaces are proposed for the site.  Development would occur in two phases. In Phase I, dining and commercial space would be in the existing market building, and the existing antique shop would remain. In Phase II, a new building would be constructed to house dining and banquet space, while the market building would have some dining and around 6500 square feet of commercial space.