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Opinion: Master Plan: Still Timely Today

In a transition zone between Maryland’s piedmont and coastal plains, the Potomac Subregion has a unique geology and biodiversity. The stream valleys, feed into the Potomac River — water supply for the region — are environmentally sensitive areas. As our region changed from an agrarian to a suburban area, these sensitive ecosystems have come under more environmental pressure. In 1965 the first Potomac Subregion Master Plan was written, and the goal of its latest revision in 2002 is to “protect the subregion’s rich natural environment and unique ecosystems” and to “maintain and reaffirm a low-density residential green wedge.” WMCCA devotes much of its effort to assuring that our Master Plan achieves this goal.

One way the Master Plan works to protect the environment is by limiting the amount of development that can occur. Larger lot sizes (one- and two-acre, i.e., RE-1 and RE-2) formuchof the area are meant to minimize the impact of development, and some areas are designated to be outside the sewer envelope so only septic can be used. This limits development and protects the stream valleys from the installation of sewer lines. Sewer lines along stream valleys disrupt habitat and the natural hydrologic system, and over time develop leaks, causing contamination.

The Master Plan designated Piney Branch Stream Valley a special protection area (SPA). This sensitive stream valley is adjacent to the Glen Hills neighborhood and is outside the sewer envelope. The Master Plan called for a study, now underway, of failed septic systems in Glen Hills to see if they need to be hooked up to sewer. The study has since been expanded to examine all septic systems and now recommends sewer extensions to all properties that might fail in the future. This goes beyond what the Master Plan called for and would allow more infill development to occur, putting more environmental pressure on this sensitive stream valley.

The Greenbriar stream valley is Montgomery County’s most unique and sensitive stream valley. A rare serpentine rock formation underlies the entire watershed, and the shallow soils and heavy mineral contents make this ecosystem one of a kind, and Master Plan states that this stream valley is to not have sewer lines. Recently a Private Institutional Facility (PIF), the Glenstone Art Museum, was granted permission by the County Council to run a sewer line under the Greenbriar stream. The museum’s reasoning is that it is more environmentally sensitive than using septic systems, even though a state-of-the-art septic system would protect the environment and avoid disturbing this sensitive stream valley.

The Brickyard School site is mentioned in the Master Plan as a potential site for a local park if declared surplus property by the Board of Education. There is a current proposal for County to lease the land to a private company to build a commercial soccerplex. This lease is the subject of several lawsuits — expensive to both the County and the residents trying to protect their community. The County claims that this soccerplex fits the Master Plan, but if the intent of the Master Plan had been followed from the beginning, these lawsuits would have never occurred.

The Potomac Subregion Master Plan is clear in its intent: “This Master Plan strongly recommends that sustaining the environment be the preeminent policy determinant in a subregion so defined by its natural resources.”