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Master Plan Bows Before Art

Sewer extension paves way for “one of the world’s most important collections of art” to expand in Potomac.

The likely path of the new sewer line.

The likely path of the new sewer line.

— Glenstone, a 150-acre estate in Potomac that is home to one of the world’s most important collections of contemporary art, will get its own sewer line.

Montgomery County Council ignored the recommendation of the Montgomery County Planning Board on Tuesday, July 24 in approving — without any additional comment, with all council members present — a nearly mile-long sewer for the museum owned by the Rales family.

The approval came as part of a consent calendar that also included approval of a change for a Hindu Temple in the eastern part of the county.

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Aerial photos show the location of the existing and proposed museums.

The County Executive has 10 days to comment, and then the amendments to the water and sewer plan go to the Maryland Department of the Environment for review. MDE has 90 days to review the changes, and will receive input from the Maryland Department of Planning during that time.

If MDE were to deny the changes, the county could, and likely would, request reconsideration, said Keith Levchenko, senior legislative analyst with Montgomery County Council, who added that it is hard to predict what the Maryland Department of the Environment will do in the case of large institutional uses. Some previous changes have been denied by the state at first, then approved after a request for reconsideration, he said.

County Executive Ike Leggett had urged the council to approve the sewer.

“I can tell you that the further development of Glenstone deserves wholehearted encouragement from Montgomery County,” said Earl “Rusty” A. Powell III, director of National Gallery of Art, in a letter in support of the action. “Glenstone has assembled one of the world’s most important collections of art from the period after World War II — a collection that continues to grow. Any museum in the world — including the National Gallery of Art — would be eager to have the Glenstone collection for itself.”

The applicant won approval for sewer service for five contiguous properties on 127 acres located on Glen Road, a rustic road, which is outside the approved sewer service envelope.

The Rales propose constructing a 3,000-foot pressure sewer to serve an existing museum on one property and a proposed new and larger museum on an adjacent property.

The Planning Board recommended against allowing the extension because it does not meet the requirements of the Potomac Master Plan or the county’s guidelines for the sewer envelope.

According to the sewer service policy, extensions to sewer service can be considered if properties: 1) abut existing or proposed sewer mains; 2) mains could be constructed within the public right of way, and 3) mains avoid disruption to streams and their undisturbed buffers.

“Glenstone meets none of these criteria,” say Planning Board documents.

WEST MONTGOMERY County Citizens Association, Montgomery Countryside Alliance, Sugarloaf Citizens’ Association and the Audubon Naturalist Society opposed the sewer extension for environmental reasons and out of concern for the precedent the exception will set for other large institutions.

The groups argued that wastewater should be treated onsite at Glenstone, and that the expansion could still go forward with a state-of-the-art approach to septic.

The sewer extension will cross the Greenbriar Branch stream valley and flood plain, and Glenstone’s own engineers admit that they cannot guarantee against the possibility of leaking raw sewage into the stream valley, according to Planning Board documents.

“As the county builds out, your decisions regarding water and sewer changes will be even more critical in nature,” said Adrienne Nicosia of the Audubon Naturalist Society.

“While we applaud the concept of the Glenstone Museum and art collection, county staff indicate that the museum can be built using an on-site [treatment] system.

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This graphic shows the houses and lots that have been purchased by the Rales by year.

“It is well outside the water/sewer envelop and violates clear language in the Potomac Subregion Master Plan crafted to protect the fragile network of water resources such as the Greenbriar Branch.”

West Montgomery County Citizens Association supported the concept of expanding the museum, but still argued against the sewer extension.

“Mr. Rales does not need sewer to build Glenstone II and we are convinced that he has the flexibility to locate six acres of septic on 127-plus acres since he continues to buy surrounding properties,” said Ginny Barnes of West Montgomery. “The arguments being made for using sewer undermine the very premise of the Potomac Subregion Master Plan and threaten our highly prized Agricultural Reserve.”

BUT THE ALLURE of the growing estate and art collection was more than the council could resist.

“We have spent the last 20 years building the art collection. Currently in our existing facility, only 10 percent of the collection can be shown at any given time. By expanding our exhibition space, we can allow a much greater percentage of the collection to be seen,” said Mitchell Rales. “With time, we hope to have every high school student in Montgomery County visit Glenstone at least once before graduation. … Art is a key component in allowing young people to jumpstart their creativity and unleash the imagination.”

The Rales have been buying adjacent property for some time to make way for the expansion and outdoor sculpture.

“It is extraordinary that a collection of Glenstone’s exceptional quality should now reside in Potomac, where the public can visit it entirely for free, in a museum building and a beautifully designed landscape made expressly for these works,” said Powell of the National Gallery.

Advocates of the arts could not contain their excitement about the project.

“This is a unique gift to Montgomery County, pure and simple,” wrote Eliot Pfanstiehl, CEO of Strathmore.

“It is worthy of our serious attention, our heartfelt support, and our hospitable welcome. Lives will be shaped by its presence.”