Montgomery County took the Potomac Subregion Master Plan out for a spin this past month. Unfortunately, it was a very rough ride. But the events did underscore how critical the Master Plan is in managing growth in our neighborhoods.
- On March 8, the Montgomery County Council approved a text amendment to the Countywide Sewer Plan that will allow for further expansion of sewer into the environmentally sensitive Glen Hills neighborhood. The original text amendment proposed by the County Executive provided for limited expansion under several scenarios, including to “specifically designated public health problem areas” when necessary to address “area-wide public health hazards” and “larger-scale, chronic public health problems.” WMCCA supported the original text amendment because it was consistent with the Master Plan, the Countywide Sewer Plan, and State statutes on sewering low density areas. It would have put Glen Hills homeowners on an equal footing with others on septic throughout the county.
However, at the last minute, the council added 62 new lines of text, applicable only to Glen Hills homeowners, that so expanded the standards and process for declaring “public health problem areas” that almost all Glen Hills properties, all with functioning systems, are now “septic concerns” triggering sanitary surveys leading to designations as public health problem areas. (See WMCCA’s February 2016 Newsletter for a further description of the text.) Maryland’s Departments of Environment and Planning now have 90 days to review and approve or disapprove the Council’s actions. WMCAA has joined with the Audubon Naturalist Society and the Montgomery Countryside Alliance in urging the State agencies to disapprove the new 62 lines of text for failure to provide adequate notice and opportunity to comment via a required public hearing and because the text violates the Master Plan, the County Sewer Plan, and Maryland’s smart growth statutes.
The Master Plan, however, did stop the council from approving developers’ proposals for immediate wholesale conversion of Glen Hills to sewer. Even the council recognized they could not do that under the Master Plan. However, in a clear bow to development interests and other proponents of increased density, they took the unprecedented step of directing the Planning Board to produce an amendment to the Potomac Master Plan just for Glen Hills, presumably to be able to allow the wholesale sewering of the entire area. This first cracking open of the Master Plan foretells a very rough ride ahead and WMCCA will be actively involved in the process.
- In another wild ride, on March 21, County Hearing Examiner Martin Grossman approved the conditional use application for the 140-bed Brandywine Senior Living facility to be constructed on a four acre parcel in an RE-2 zone (2 acre residential). The location is the current site of the Potomac Tennis Club adjacent to the Falls Road Golf Course on the big bend on Falls Road. In so doing, he rejected WMCCA’s arguments that such intense commercial facilities cannot be placed everywhere in residential zones throughout the Potomac Subregion.
The Master Plan carefully delineates where more intense uses are to be located while maintaining the overwhelming character of the Subregion as a residential green wedge. The plan specifically lists five sites to be used for senior housing: Potomac Village, Stoneyhurst Quarry, Cabin John Shopping Center, Fortune Park, and a site in Avenel. The Brandywine site is clearly not one of them, nor does it have any of the characteristics that make these other sites suitable for such development. It also violates the Master Plan provisions regarding excessive concentrations of special exceptions (conditional uses) and the Plan’s noise restrictions.
WMCCA joined with the Brickyard Coalition and engaged the law firm of Knopf and Brown for an appeal of the decision in the form of a Request to Present Oral Argument before the County’s Board of Appeals. The request was filed on March 31 as was a similar request by abutting property owners.
Help support our efforts in defending the Master Plan. Renew or become a new member of WMCCA. Look for your renewal notice in the mail or go to our website to download a membership form or join using PayPal: www.wmcca.org.
Artificial Turf Update
By Carol Van Dam Falk
Members of WMCCA and the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition testified on March 11 in Annapolis before the Ways and Means Committee in support of Del. Aruna Miller’s Warning Signs Bill HB 883. The bill would have simply required that warning signs be posted in front of synthetic turf fields used by public elementary and secondary schools describing precautions advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as follows:
“All those using this synthetic turf field should take the following recommended precautions:
“1. Keep beverages closed and in bags or coolers when not drinking to minimize contamination from field dust and fibers.
“2. Be aware of the signs of heat-related illness and dehydration. This field can get excessively hot on warm, sunny days. Take all necessary precautions.
“3. Wash hands and exposed body parts aggressively after using this field.
“4. Remove shoes and clothing as soon as possible after using this field to avoid tracking rust and infill to other locations.”
Unfortunately, Anne Kaiser, chairperson of the Education Sub-Committee refused to even bring HB 883 up for a vote. Kaiser and others on the sub-committee have synthetic turf fields being built in their districts at public schools, and don’t want that activity to stop. It appears that many lawmakers believe the untruths being disseminated to them by the synthetic turf industry; that it’s just as safe (untrue) and more cost-effective (untrue) than natural grass fields.
There are many known toxins in the infill and plastic blades of these fields, and until further research and tests are completed by the federal government, we believe that, at the very least, signs should be erected to warn parents and players about the potential health risks, as they already are doing in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia. The health risks from elevated temperatures and other related health effects from playing on artificial turf fields are also well documented. As Bailey Condrey of the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition (safehealthyplayingfields.org) has pointed out: “Great durable grass can be grown that benefits both the users and the environment … It can be done at the county's high schools and elementary schools, but there is no commitment to make it happen.”
We urge you to write to your locally elected representatives and request that they press for a vote on HB 883, and further investigation of the toxins in synthetic turf. Help our locally elected officials realize that we can grow great durable grass fields with maintenance costs kept well below that of the cost to install and maintain synthetic turf fields.
WMCCA: ‘Hot Topics’
The next meeting of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association will be held at the Potomac Community Center, Wednesday, April 13, 7:15 p.m. A Hot Topics Roundtable will include a discussion of issues, priorities, and strategies with Susan Fitzpatrick and Naomi Yount of the North Potomac Citizens Association, the Brickyard Coalition, and Steven Lehrman on the proposed wedding/conference venue at Old Anglers Inn.
If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.