0
Votes

Solutions for Sewer Lines?

Opinion: Where sewer line extensions go, there, too, disappears forest canopy, green space and water quality.

Sewer line extensions are primary causes of further environmental degradation in the Potomac Subregion. As the Potomac Master Plan documented, the provision of sewer “damages the environment and water resources by facilitating development to the maximum zoning density.” Because existing mains are often in stream valleys, extensions “create habitat disturbance, threatening species survival, and can adversely affect the natural hydrologic system due to wetland fragmentation.” Once sewer lines are in place, “their structural integrity may deteriorate over time, resulting in sewage leaks and further disturbance to the ecosystem.”

As a result, the Master Plan barred further extensions into low-density areas (RE-1 (one acre) and RE-2 (two acre)), except in very limited circumstances. Unwarranted extensions, however, continue unabated. As a result, water quality in the Watts Branch and Piney Branch is subject to further degradation.

Some sewer extensions, such as the RAM Investment Corporation development on Boswell Lane, are just plain inconsistent with the Master Plan. The physical attributes of Boswell Lane were significant enough to warrant a “rustic road” designation under the county’s rustic roads protection program. Take a drive on Boswell Lane today and you will see the effects of unwarranted sewer category changes and inadequate tree conservation statues. This rustic road clearly was not protected.

OTHER SEWER LINE extensions make a mockery of the public health exception for failed septic systems. Public health exceptions have been approved when the systems clearly have not failed. Even more egregious are the growing number of instances in which developers themselves destroy the existing septic systems and then run to the county for public health exceptions. Moderately-sized houses are bulldozed, and existing mature trees and other plantings destroyed. They are replaced with much larger structures with larger environmental footprints and increased impermeable surfaces.

Questions also are raised by the exception for extensions provided in the Master Plan for lots along the “currently established edge” of the existing sewer envelope — “the peripheral policy.” The County Council has asked for further examination of this policy — one that if taken to its extreme would mean that, because everything abuts something, eventually every area would be eligible for a sewer extensions.

Another disturbing trend has been WSSC approval and construction of extensions, even before and without County Council consideration and approval. One positive note is the expressed desire on the part of county officials to help residents maintain their existing septic systems in order to eliminate the need for further extensions.

The WMCCA Board continues to be actively involved in efforts to ensure adherence to the Master Plan. This has involved extensive research and resulting testimony before the Department of Environmental Protection, the Planning Board, and the County Council on numerous category changes. We encourage you to become aware of and participate in decisions made about sewer extensions in your neighborhoods. Mr. Soukup’s presentation at WMCCA’s General Meeting on Feb. 21 (see “Get Involved”) will provide an excellent opportunity to learn more about this sometimes complex subject.

PLANNING AND ZONING: GEORGE BARNES

* Potomac Village — We have learned that the Chevy Chase Bank has purchased the property next to Chevy Chase Bank — formerly Dunham's Garage and lately a car dealership. Reportedly the bank plans to use the property for drive-through teller service, which would probably mean the removal of the existing old building. We hope to have more up-to-date information at the upcoming meeting.

In a related matter, the car dealer has rented the property at 9600 River Road across from the Garden Center. He has erected a large tent behind the house which is apparently full of cars, and the house is surrounded by parked cars. He has already been issued a citation by the county, as this use of the property is illegal under the zoning ordinance. He will have 30 days until the county takes further action. We will be in touch with county officials and will also have more information at the meeting.

* Rolling Run Wellness Center — Dr. John Yousif has introduced a plan to put a wellness center on the former Furman property next to the Giant and Rock Run. Susanne Lee and George Barnes met with him and his engineers and architects to look at his plans and hear his vision for the property. Dr. Yousif’s group plans to introduce a text amendment to create a wellness center category in the Special Exception ordinance; the use they plan does not quite fit any of the existing special exceptions. Their plan would significantly improve the property, if built as they envision it, and would remedy the existing violations of the stream buffers — the existing house and parking lot are in the stream buffer — but this would be an expansion of the commercial area of the Village. They will bring their plans to our next Board meeting and probably to a General Meeting in the future.

* Fourth Presbyterian School — The Fourth Presbyterian School on South Glen Road is planning a major renovation and expansion of the school. We will be meeting with school representatives to hear about their plans and will bring more information to the General Meeting.