Potomac Column: It Often Is and Should Be Political

Potomac Column: It Often Is and Should Be Political


WMCCA was called out by Montgomery County Councilmembers during the April 18 meeting of the Planning, Housing and Economic Committee for somehow creating problems and causing sewer policy to be a “political” issue. Politics is defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary as “the activities of the government, members of law-making organizations, or people who try to influence the way a country is governed.” Keep in mind that WMCCA studiously avoids engaging in partisan politics. However, we take very seriously our role in communicating, educating, and yes influencing legislators about the impacts — good and bad — of decisions being made by governmental officials about our communities. Our primary focus is most often on environmental impacts, but always on the facts, sound science, and applicable laws and regulations.

Rather than shying away from the political process, we encourage our members to participate. The more light that shines on the process, the better the decision making. That is why we have been so adamant about disseminating critical, fact-based, information about the Glen Hills sewer amendments and policy. On May 9, the County Council will vote on funding for a Master Plan Amendment to allow sewer expansion into Glen Hills, an environmentally sensitive low density area. Although done in the context of one neighborhood, this major change in sewer policy will have impacts on low density areas throughout the county. It comes on the heels of the council’s recent text amendment declaring septic systems built prior to 1975 to be public health concerns triggering sanitary surveys and potential declarations as public health problem areas. These new sewer policies have grave implications for rural and low-density residential, watershed protection, and Agricultural Reserve areas everywhere in the county. They will likely impact almost all property owners now on septic. Such a fundamental change in land use protection must be done within the context of the Countywide Water and Sewer Plan with a fully transparent public process open to all. It should not be buried in a Master Plan process designed to focus only on the homeowners on septic in Glen Hills.

Extending public sewer lines into rural areas is a virtual guarantee of increased density and pollution of our clean drinking water supplies. The cost of sewering 1 and 2 acre lots is excessive per house and the environmental benefits are non-existent and could be made worse with sewer — both in construction and later when there is a leak or a failed pump station. Moreover, putting such areas in such a service category makes them vulnerable to requests for rezoning to higher densities, claiming a change has occurred in the character of the neighborhood and that the cost of service is too high unless houses are closer together. The low-density zoning and continuing use of septic systems are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Take away one and you undermine the other.

So yes, this process must be political. As a result, we are working with the Audubon Naturalist Society and the Montgomery Countryside Alliance in urging the County Council to:

  • Address any Glen Hills septic-sewer policy issues within the Countywide Water Supply and Sewerage Systems Plan.

  • Keep Glen Hills out of the Planning Board's Work Plan; and,

  • Renew and reaffirm the county's commitment to protecting drinking water supply watersheds, the Agricultural Reserve and other rural and low-density areas, through continued and strengthened use of the entire range of protection tools, laws, and policies, including those that prohibit placement of public sewer lines in sensitive watersheds. It is an environmental benefit to utilize and maintain functioning septic and other waste treatment systems. These tools are vital in retaining agricultural, rural residential, drinking water supply, and other low-density areas of our county.


By Susanne Lee

The county’s hearing examiner approved this application for a conditional use for the construction of an assisted living facility for 140 residents at the site of the Potomac Tennis Club on the curve between the Falls Road Golf Course and Normandie Farm.

WMCCA opposed the application and along with the abutting property owners and the Brickyard Coalition requested and were denied oral argument by the Board of Appeals on April 26, 2016.

WMCCA has decided to appeal the decision to the Circuit Court. We believe the decision incorrectly interpreted key provisions of the Potomac Subregion Master Plan and the new county zoning ordinance. If not challenged and reversed, these erroneous interpretations will have long term adverse impacts on land use throughout the Subregion.


The Nominating Committee proposes the following slate of officers and directors to the membership for a vote at our May 11 meeting. Nominations may also be made from the floor.

President: Carol Van Dam Falk

Immediate Past President: Susanne Lee

President Elect: Ginny Barnes

Vice President: Mark Isreal

Treasurer: Kathy Pettit

Secretary: Barbara Brown

Newsletter: Nancy Madden

Directors serving second year of a two-year term: George Barnes

Nominees for a two-year term: Alison Mrohs, Barbara Hoover, Ken Bawer

Nominees for a one-year term: John Yassin, Jill Phillips

WMCCA Meeting

The next meeting of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association will be held at the Potomac Community Center, Wednesday, May 11, 7:15 p.m. The speaker with be Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-15) will update the membership on the work of the state legislature. As always, the public is welcome to attend. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.