Planners Lodge Concerns over 'Inn'

Planners Lodge Concerns over 'Inn'

Zoning change on River Road sought.

The new owners of the property directly across from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission filtration plant on River Road have applied for a zoning change that would them to operate a restaurant, a 12-room inn, and several shops there.

The “Potomac Inn” site at River Road and Lake Potomac Drive belongs to Frances Koh, who submitted a rezoning application and development plan to the Montgomery County Planning Board. Koh is also expected to come to the Feb. 9 general meeting of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association to answer questions about his plans.

The property is currently zoned RE-2 (residential with two acres per dwelling) with several special exceptions that allowed now-defunct business on site. The country inn zone was designed to allow small businesses, primarily for dining, in historic buildings in rural areas that would not normally be approved as restaurants. The zoning designation also allows for a limited number of guest rooms and certain other “accessory uses.”

Koh has so far kept his plans mostly under wraps. Some citizens familiar with the plans have expressed concern.

“I told him we were not enthusiastic about this plan,” said George Barnes, planning and zoning chair for West Montgomery. “I thought the thing was totally uninteresting. There was not anything in there that would make the community say, ‘Oh, that’s a nice idea.’”

WEST MONTGOMERY has long sought to maintain Potomac as a mostly rural “green wedge” between the more developed areas of the county and the upcounty agricultural reserve. And that has meant working to keep commerce within Potomac Village.

West Montgomery would only want to allow commercial development farther out if it offered something truly attractive to the community, Barnes said. “If he wants to make it something the association might even support, they’re going to have to go a long way to make it an amenity for the community … not just a low budget effort to make use of every opportunity the ordinance provide to make a little money.”

Callum Murray, Potomac Team Leader for the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, said he had no objection in principle to allowing the country inn zone designation, but that plan presented a number of issues that needed to be addressed. “We thought the development should have been more concentrated, should have had less parking,” Murray said. “In my opinion it seemed appropriate to remove at least two of the existing buildings."

Murray also said that because it confronts the WSSC plant, the development should be set back as far as possible from River Road and should be oriented towards the stream valley to the north, away from River Road. In reviewing the plan, he also asked for a stormwater management plan to be submitted and for certain protections to be imposed on the stream valley.

"There were a lot of things we didn’t like about dev plan, which they agreed to change," he said.

UNDER COUNTY ZONING ordinance, country inn zone developments are subject to more scrutiny than most others. “Since this zone permits commercial uses in a rural location, approval of this zone shall be based upon certain restrictions not imposed upon other uses in rural areas nor upon restaurants and inns in commercial areas,” the ordinance reads. “Construction and development of a country inn zoned site must ensure that the proposed uses permitted in this zone will be compatible with and will not adversely affect the rural character of the surrounding area.”

In October, Normandie Farm applied to be rezoned as a country inn. A scheduled hearing on the possible rezoning has been suspended until summer while the owners work to resolve issues related to parking on the site.

West Montgomery had expressed concerns about the accessory uses allowed under the zoning, which include operating an antique shop, saddlery, and blacksmith shop. The owners of Normandie Farm have said they do not intend to take advantage of those uses, and have been “making an effort” Barnes said, by working to keep development set back from adjoining property owners and using lighting appropriate to the character of the area.

"That’s a positive step that we're supportive of,” he said.