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Votes

Commentary: The Potomac Master Plan: 12 Years Old

Next Meeting

The public is invited to the West Montgomery County Citizens Association General Meeting on Feb. 12, at 7:15 p.m. at the Potomac Community Center. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.

The speaker will be Callum Murray, Area 3 Community Planning Leader, Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC).

Once a year, WMCCA asks for an update on the Potomac Subregion Master Plan. Luckily, the planner who saw the community through the process of updating the plan is still at MNCPPC but the territory he covers has expanded to include not only the Potomac Subregion but the Agricultural Reserve as well. The community have faced some unforeseen challenges in recent years, most notably the two and a half years of fighting to keep a soccer complex from being built by the county on the 20-acre Brickyard Road school site. Remaining within the confines of a well-executed Master Plan takes vigilance. While the staff at MNCPPC works to assure it, there are mechanisms and processes over which they have only a voice and not full control. It is imperative that citizens play their part and keep track of how the Master Plan is being fulfilled. Murray will give a view of the progress and possible pitfalls. As always, the public is welcome to attend.

— Potomac hugs the western edge of the county in a transition zone between the urban down-county and the rural Agricultural Reserve. Our Master Plan is firmly based on protection of the drinking water that serves over 4.3 million people in the region. Within the Master Plan boundaries are numerous streams that find their way by gravity into the Potomac River. Adjacent to those streams are even more seeps, springs, and wetlands that feed and recharge them with clean water and aquatic life necessary for a healthy environment. Through good planning, stream valley parks were established to help buffer and protect those streams but it is not enough. Potomac is designated a residential low density “green wedge” to limit impervious surfaces (rooftops, driveways, parking lots) that cause storm water runoff. The goal of our 2002 Master Plan Revision is to “protect the subregion's rich natural environment and unique ecosystems”. In the 12 years since our Master Plan was adopted, we know a great deal more about the damage caused by even low levels of imperviousness. The struggle to save Ten Mile Creek in Clarksburg has brought this issue into sharp focus and created countywide concern for the future of clean drinking water.

One of the protection tools used by any Master Plan is limiting sewer capacity. Installation of sewer in stream valleys causes environmental degradation and increases the potential for further, unforeseen development. WMCCA keeps an eye on individual applications for sewer. Currently we are also following progress on a Glen Hills Sewer Study, envisioned by the Master Plan revision as a way to comprehensively evaluate what limited sewer extensions, if any, should be allowed in this environmentally sensitive neighborhood. The study was not intended as a means to extend sewer wholesale and residents have rightly questioned how the study is being conducted. Why? Because Glen Hills straddles headwaters of two streams in the same watershed: Piney Branch and Watts Branch. Eventually these streams reach the Potomac at the intake of the filtration plant on River Road. We are back to the need to protect drinking water and the Chesapeake Bay.

Upholding our Master Plan is fundamental to WMCCA, assuring residents that the life they came to Potomac to enjoy will remain intact. Many communities without strong citizen oversight have seen their planning undermined with precedent setting decisions that destroyed and caused irreparable harm to communities they loved. Our Master Plan identifies sustaining the environment as the “preeminent policy determinant in a subregion defined by its natural resources.” We benefit from and enjoy riches here — an abundance of forest, stream valley parks, and the C&O Canal National Historic Park on our border with the Potomac River. Our geology alone is astounding. But we will not keep any of these treasures if we do not defend them. Like our drinking water, we can never take them for granted.

Parks Update

One of the most geologically unique areas of Potomac is the Serpentine Barrens. Approximately 200 acres of it has been acquired as a Conservation Park through the Legacy Open Space Program (LOS). The park is bisected by Pepco power lines. After many years of negotiations, an agreement has finally been signed with Pepco to allow the trail crossings of the power line ROW through the Serpentine Barrens. This finally allows implementation of the management plan required of all LOS parkland. Now natural surface trails in the park can be planned and the process of creating public and educational access to this amazing natural resource can be realized.

Development Proposal

Lake Potomac Development - 11.06 acres, 11901 Stoney Creek Road, at the intersection of Stoney Creek Way. The property combines three parcels in RE-2 zone with stream buffers, forest, and steep slopes. There will be a presubmission public meeting on Thursday Feb. 13, from 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. at Potomac Elementary School. The subdivision plan submitted to Park and Planning calls for five lots. The purpose of the meeting is to explain the plan, address issues, and notify those attending of their right to participate in the review process. Please attend as this proposal has environmental impacts of concern to our community.

Artificial Fields Update

By Carol Van Dam Falk

Jan. 9: Environmentalists disputed an EPA study that ground up tires in turf pose no health risks. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl is to be played at MetLife Stadium, where a new synthetic turf field from UBU Sports was installed last summer. Organizers were forced to replace the old synthetic turf field made by FieldTurf after only three years. In its glossy marketing brochures, the company claims 10 years is the normal life span of its artificial turf fields.

Dec. 23, 2013: The EPA acknowledges it is not entirely confident playground turf is safe for children, which makes one wonder how lawmakers and school administrators can determine that artificial turf is safe. The EPA writes, “the "very limited nature" of the EPA study makes it "not possible to extend the results beyond the four study sites or to reach any more comprehensive conclusions without consideration of additional data." We agree more research is a must.

Oct. 29, 2013: Actress Jennifer Beals is on our team. She led a “Stroller Brigade for Safer Chemicals and Safer Playing Fields” in Washington, D.C. to draw attention to the connection between toxic turf and questionable chemicals encountered daily by Americans. Beals said, “I’m tired of debating school administrators about artificial turf fields with crumb rubber, those black pellets that get everywhere and anywhere and that contain lead … polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ... I’m tired of reminding school administrators that what is good for a tire is not good for a child. I’m tired of hearing schools say, ‘Well, the company says there’s only a little bit of lead in it.’ There is no such thing as an acceptable level of lead for children.”

Maryland State legislators are working on gaining support for bills to prevent Public Open Space (POS) money from being spent on funding artificial turf (AT) fields in Maryland, erect warnings signs at AT fields on the dangers of playing on tire crumb especially on hot days, and to expose counties and municipalities to the full legal liability associated with AT fields. Please go to www.safehealthyplayingfields.org for more information concerning the dangers of artificial turf fields and to how promote and support natural grass playing fields in your community.