Column: Glen Hills on the Brink

Column: Glen Hills on the Brink

The Montgomery County Council is close to deciding the future of Glen Hills, an environmentally sensitive large lot, low density RE-1 zone crisscrossed with ponds, wetlands, seeps, ephemeral streams, steep stream valleys, and flood plains. It has these features because it contains headwater tributaries of both the Watts Branch and Piney Branch streams. Extending sewers to such an area will not only increase overall density, but sewers tend to change the hydrology and alter the function and the very existence of such features, further undermining their critical role as “recharge” areas. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett has proposed an amendment to the County Comprehensive Water Supply and Sewerage Systems Plan that will help to preserve the area by limiting sewer extensions and confirming reliance upon onsite septic systems.

WMCCA urges its approval by the council. The amendment is consistent with sound science, reflects the actual conditions in Glen Hills, and further implements the Potomac Subregion Master Plan, the county’s Sewer Systems Plan and Policy , the Piney Branch Sewer Restricted Access Policy, and state statutes, including its designation as Tier III — large lots on septic — under the Maryland Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act.

There are no current documented septic failures in Glen Hills. There has never been evidence ever of groundwater contamination. The county has determined there are no public health problem areas. Any past issues have been resolved and the homes sold and resold with fully functioning septic systems. Given these facts, the amendment is reasonable, logical, practical, and sustainable. It provides relief in the form of approval of sewer for homeowners in the unlikely event that a septic system fails and cannot be repaired or replaced on site. The amendment expands the current availability of public sewer by providing that if there are ever any public health problems, the council can step in and immediately approve community service for those affected. It also expands the use of sewer by allowing for hook ups for houses already abutting an existing main. It confirms that properties in the Piney Branch watershed will continue to be subject to the Piney Branch Sewer Limited Access Policy as are other properties in the watershed.

It also stops the illogical, astronomically costly, environmentally destructive extension of unnecessary public infrastructure into a neighborhood with a hilly, rolling character with extensive stream valley and flood plain areas. This is an area requiring extremely long extensions that is so ill suited for sewer that the Glen Hills sewer study consultants were forced to propose 13 separate new lines, five to the Piney Branch, eight to the Watts Branch and even they would provide service to just 50 percent of the homes currently on septic. Costs to homeowners for these long extensions could be as much as $100,000 or more per household in front foot benefit charges.

An alternative amendment was recently submitted to the council that would force all of Glen Hills to be converted to public sewer. This proposal is based on a totally unsubstantiated, false allegation that the area is in violation of a regulation governing defective sewage systems. Its proponents seek sewer so they can greatly increase the density of existing development and build on undevelopable lots or portions of lots that do not perc and/or are located in wetlands, stream valleys, flood plains, and on steep and rocky wooded slopes. This sewer expansion would be outrageously expensive and inevitably result in increased overall density and construction in environmentally sensitive areas — the antithesis of the goals of Master Plan and County and State provisions governing RE-1 low density zones.

The Montgomery County Planning Board recently recommended that the council approve the amendment proposed by the County Executive. The council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy, and Environment Committee will consider the County Executive’s amendment further at a work session on Oct. 26 before its consideration by the full council. The council’s decision will have an impact not just on Glen Hills, but potentially on all other low density areas on septic throughout the county, including the Agricultural Reserve


By Carol Van Dam Falk

The Safe, Healthy, Playing Fields Coalition ( continues to gain new members from across the country who are deeply concerned about the health risks associated with artificial turf fields, even though local officials and public high schools from coast to coast continue to replace natural grass fields with artificial turf at an alarming pace. Last week, NBC Nightly News aired a two-part series as a follow-up to their investigative story last year delving into growing early evidence that links the basic ingredient of artificial turf, which the industry calls crumb rubber, to various forms of cancer in young soccer players, especially goalies. The Federal government no longer stands behind its statement that crumb rubber is safe. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chairman Elliot Kaye stated recently that "safe to play on means something very different to parents that I don't think was intended to convey, and I don't think we should have conveyed." As U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone put it, "In the absence of definitive information on crumb rubber, our children cannot be the guinea pigs."

Communities here and around the country are responding by writing their locally elected lawmakers to encourage them to contact the CPSC and the EPA and order them to do their job and conduct the research they both have been saying are necessary to determine if crumb rubber is safe or not. Montgomery County has recently decided to use a mixture of a different base for artificial turf fields involving coconut shells, but we believe sticking with natural grass fields and maintaining those fields is the best alternative, money-wise, and health-wise.

We encourage you to write U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, members of the Montgomery County Council, and other lawmakers, requesting they: 1) call on the CPSC to determine that artificial turf is a product marketed to children, and 2) have the EPA conduct unbiased, thorough tests and research analysis on the safety and efficacy of crumb rubber, and on the safety of allowing our children to play on artificial turf fields that can register a surface temperature of 150 degrees or higher on hot days. The link to the NBC reports on Artificial Turf are:


WMCCA has joined other local civic associations to encourage our members to attend the screening of Growing Legacy, the Montgomery Countryside Alliance (MCA) feature film about the Ag Reserve. The screening is on Oct. 25, 6-8 p.m. at the Kentlands Arts Barn. For more information go to the movie's website:

Next Meeting

The West Montgomery County Citizens Association will meet at the Potomac Community Center

on Wednesday, Oct.14, at 7:15 p.m. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.

Alan Soukup, senior planner, and David Lake, special assistant, in the Office of the Director, Water and Wastewater Policy, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection will be the guest speakers.

These experts on wastewater policy in Montgomery County will be focusing specifically on the Glen Hills amendment proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett. The public is invited to attend and learn about the amendment and sewer/septic issues in general such as:

  • Will I be forced to hook up to sewer if I don’t want to?

  • What if a line will be or is installed near my property?

  • How much do lines cost and who pays for them?

  • Can I use different types of systems if I want to replace my current system?

  • What qualifies as a failure?

  • What qualifies as a public health problem area?

  • What kinds of renovations and expansions can I do on my property with and without changing my septic system?