Testy Waters

Testy Waters

Proposed wellness center in the Village gets a lukewarm reception at its public introduction.

After years of living in Chevy Chase, Susan Reichardt and her husband were ready for a change of scenery. Fed up with being surrounded by traffic and noise at all hours of the day, they wanted a quainter lifestyle.

“We said to each other, ‘Why are we doing this to ourselves? Let’s move to Potomac where it’s quiet,’” said Reichardt.

Reichardt and her husband did just that several years ago, and have enjoyed the tranquility that they found living in the Potomac Manor neighborhood. They worry now about the Rock Run Wellness Center, a proposed plan for a wellness center that would be located at 10276 River Road, the property along the eastern boundary of Potomac Manor. The property is the former site of the Prinz Inn bed and breakfast but has been vacant for much of the last 10 years.

“A number of residents are worried about the proximity of the center’s road [to Potomac Manor] and the noise and disturbance and traffic that it would bring to what is currently a very quiet lot,” said Jeff Parmet, the president of the Potomac Manor Homeowner’s Association.

The proposed facility would blend minor cosmetic procedures and holistic lifestyle classes with a relaxing weekend getaway atmosphere, said Jody Klein. He is the attorney who represents Dr. John Yousif, a Milwaukee-based plastic surgeon who bought the property for $1.7 million in May 2005 and wants to build the center. Yousif was raised in Potomac and graduated from Winston Churchill High School in 1969.

The center would serve as a good transitional use of the property between the commercial area of Potomac Village and the residential neighborhood of Potomac Manor, said Klein.

He and architects for the proposed wellness center discussed the project and presented preliminary renderings of their plans to the public at the West Montgomery County Citizens Association monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 11. Yousif did not attend Wednesday’s meeting because his flight from Milwaukee was cancelled due to bad weather, Klein said.

“It’s our job to convince you and provide a level of comfort that this will be good for Potomac,” Klein said.

KLEIN EMPHASIZED that the project would have a minimal impact on the surrounding areas by design. Because the purpose of the facility is to provide a tranquil, relaxing atmosphere, daily activity and traffic on the property would be minimal.

Dusty Rood, an environmental consultant with Rodgers Consulting working with Yousif on the wellness center, said the plan is to demolish the structure currently on the lot and build the new facility in the back of the wedge-shaped property. Doing that would make the center more secluded, to the benefit of its customers as well as the surrounding community, Rood said.

The 38,000-square foot facility would also be shaded from the view of outsiders because of planned plantings of trees and bushes on the property, said Anthony Consoli, an architect for DNC Architects, which is designing the wellness center. The plantings, along with the planned implementation of bio-retention ponds and permeable pavement to reduce runoff would also improve the health of Rock Run, which runs along the eastern border of the property.

Still, many of those who attended Wednesday’s meeting said they were unconvinced by what they heard.

Reichardt said that cars traveling westbound on River Road to reach the facility would have to turn left and that that could cause backups on the road as other cars line up behind those waiting to turn into the center.

“Left turns — it sounds small, but it will be huge,” Reichardt said.

Sandeep Singh lives in the house nearest the structure that was formerly the Prinz Inn and is worried that the construction of the facility and the activity that it would bring to the lot would be particularly disturbing to him.

“To say that it would be ugly would be an understatement,” Singh said.

Marshall Niremberg said that he had a “very negative” reaction to the presentation. Niremberg lives on Gary Road and said he was unconvinced that the facility would not create traffic problems.

Consoli said that any use of the property would create an increase in traffic, but that the proposed use for the property as a wellness center would not create a high number of daily commuters and would not have a significant impact on the traffic of River Road.

“THE ONLY THING THAT IS RELEVANT is the zoning [that the project is] going to get and how it looks to people,” said Myrna Weissman, a Potomac resident.

The property is currently zoned as RE-2 for residential use, Klein said. The Prinz Inn operated under a special exception to the county’s zoning ordinances allowing bed and breakfasts on residential lots and Klein said that he intends to create a zoning text amendment (ZTA) that would create a special exception for wellness centers like Yousif's.

Such amendments require approval by the Montgomery County Council and open the door for similar usage throughout the county, said Klein, who added that he intended to make the language of his ZTA specific to the needs of the Rock Run Wellness Center to make further usage unlikely.

“It's important to make sure [the ZTA] is narrowly worded because otherwise it can get out of your hands and out of our hands,” said Weissman.

“Frankly, we would prefer to keep [the property] as a residence,” said Parmet.

The property is 4.5 acres in size and large enough to be subdivided into two residential lots, but its shape would make that difficult. Because the wedge-shaped property narrows as it approaches River Road, creating a viable design for two lots would be nearly impossible, Consoli said.

Klein said that he and Dr. Yousif were interested in the possibility of entering into a covenant with the WMCCA that would give the association enforcement power of the center’s construction and operation.

Both Parmet and Klein said that they intended to arrange a meeting between Yousif and Potomac Manor residents to address their concerns about the proposed project. For now though, Reichardt said that she and her neighbors remained unconvinced.

“We heard nothing tonight to make us less concerned.”