It appeared to be a good decision by the Montgomery County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee (T&E), but in fact it was outrageously bad. It was a hoodwinking of epic proportions. If not corrected by the full council, it will have immediate adverse impacts on Glen Hills homeowners and ramifications on land use policy throughout the county.
On a vote of 2-1 (Councilmembers Berliner and Hucker for, Councilmember Floreen against), the T&E Committee sent to the full council a recommendation to adopt Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposal for what had been the limited expansion of sewer into the Glen Hills neighborhood.
The vote followed months of committee deliberations including a T&E public hearing, submissions of hundreds of pages of testimony, and multiple work sessions that raised a variety of important, complex questions regarding the use of septic vs. sewer in low density areas such as Glen Hills. Although raised in the context of Glen Hills, the issues have broad impacts on sewer and land use policies throughout Montgomery County. The consensus seemed to be that these issues should be decided on a county-wide basis, not by singling out Glen Hills homeowners for different treatment.
But no, in the end, a last minute “clarifying” change in language, that was not in the County Executive’s (CE's) proposal and was never subject to public comment, was adopted by the committee. The “clarifying” language in fact establishes a different process and new standards for Glen Hills for designating public health problem areas. Even though the county has repeatedly stated that there are no public health problem areas in Glen Hills, these new standards, taken together, target the entire community as one of “septic system concern” triggering a new sanitary survey of all properties. Not only does this “clarifying” change negate the CE's proposal, turning it upside down, it trashes the facts and sound science, and resurrects the discredited, bogus Glen Hills sewer study. Implementation of the language would be inconsistent with the Potomac Subregion Master Plan, Montgomery County’s Comprehensive Water Supply and Sewerage Systems Plan and Policy, and Maryland’s land use policies and laws. It will greatly increase the probability of sewer lines costing upwards of $100,000 per household and negatively impact the value and marketability of Glen Hills houses.
The CE’s original proposed text amendment carefully tracked the requirements of the Master Plan and the specific applicable sections of the county’s sewer policy. The proposed amendment provided for sewer expansion in three circumstances: septic system failures; properties that abut existing sewer mains; and, “[p]roperties included within a specifically designated public health problem area” pursuant to Sections II.B.5.a (area wide public health hazard) and II.E.2 (larger scale, chronic public health problems) of the Countywide Sewer Plan. Properties located in the Piney Branch Watershed would continue to be subject to the Piney Branch Sewer Restricted Access Policy. WMCCA strongly supported the CE’s proposed text amendment. It was reasonable, logical, reflected the actual conditions in Glen Hills, and was consistent with the Potomac Subregion Master Plan, the Countywide Sewer Policy and Plan, and Maryland’s Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act.
Instead of following the county’s established procedures governing the designation of public health problem areas, the T&E Committee adopted a brand new policy that only applies to Glen Hills, but has implications for all low density areas. It is clearly designed as a back door way to fast track sewering all of Glen Hills, presumably even the portion in the Piney Branch Restricted Sewer Service Area. Contrary to the County Sewer Plan, there is no requirement for documentation that a true area wide public health hazard or a larger scale chronic health problem exists. Even if a property owner has no septic problems, they can request a sanitary survey just because they have “septic system concerns.” It doesn’t even have to involve their property or impact their property. Under this new policy, the existence of a septic system permitted before 1975, even if fully functioning, is now de facto determined by the T & E Committee to be a “septic system concern.” Given that 52 percent of the Glen Hills systems were permitted before 1975, any property owner could force over half of the homeowners into a sanitary survey by just listing those dated before 1975. (Since half of the 22,000 septic systems in the county may have been built before 1975, such a de facto designation would have major impacts if applied countywide.)
All properties that are currently functioning and have just one feasible replacement system are also now a “septic system concern.” The condition of unimproved, undevelopable lots, many of which are in wetlands, stream valleys and flood plain, will be considered. Added to this is the fact that priority will be given to properties in the infamously flawed Review Areas, predominantly flood plains and stream valleys, and all properties adjacent to them as well. With such flimsy, all-encompassing and scientifically unfounded criteria, within minutes the entire Glen Hills area could be designated a potential health problem area, thus triggering a sanitary study of the entire area. Wasn't that just what the county should have accomplished when it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Glen Hills Study?
Conspicuously absent in this new Glen Hills text amendment is any requirement that a health hazard or chronic health problem must actually exist before approval for sewer will be granted. There are no standards of any kind, but instead a focus on how quickly sewer can be granted. It contains nothing with regard to the rights of homeowners who do not want or need sewer and who have been erroneously and unjustifiably targeted as a “septic system concern” or a health problem area. There are no procedures for public notice and input regarding the process and the definition of critical terms. Yes, it was a last minute epic hoodwinking that we will urge the full County Council to reject.
‘NO’ TO BRICKYARD ROAD INDUSTRIAL SCALE SOLAR FACILITY
Larry Bowers, the interim superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools, has decided not to recommend that a utility grade solar facility be installed at the Brickyard Road school site. He also rejected similar proposals for school sites in Laytonsville and Olney. In so doing, he cited public opposition to the proposals. Over 120 people attended the public meetings and more than 110 written comments, including those of WMCCA, were submitted with 80 percent opposed to the proposals.
The specific reason given for rejection of the Laytonsville site was its current use as a golf course and for the Olney site it was its proximity to houses and their view onto the site, a feature of the Brickyard site as well. The reason given for the Brickyard Road site: “SunEdison made a business decision to withdraw its proposal to develop PV systems on that particular site.”
WMCCA To Meet
The next meeting of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association will be held Wednesday, Feb. 10, 7:15 p.m. at the Potomac Community Center.
Speakers will include Mark Pfefferle, chief, Development Applications and Regulatory Coordination, and Stephen Peck, forest conservation inspector, certified arborist, M-NCPPC, Montgomery County Planning Department on the yopic of Montgomery County Forest Conservation Law 101 – Forest Conservation Activities. What activities trigger the forest conservation law? What activities are exempt from the law and what activities are subject to the law. A property has a conservation easement, what does that mean? How can one learn more about development activity in one’s neighborhood?
The meeting is open tot he public.
If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.