Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Council’s Clarifying of Zoning Ordinance

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Council’s Clarifying of Zoning Ordinance

Last week the Potomac Almanac published a letter by Sara and Mark Regis, owners of Old Anglers Inn, regarding their conditional use application to build a commercial country inn on property along MacArthur Boulevard and behind the restaurant in an otherwise suburban, residential neighborhood. The property is zoned R-200 meaning that it is intended for single-family residential houses on at least 20,000 square foot (about 1⁄2 acre) lots. The conditional use application requests a special exception to the zoning so that Mr. Regis can build a country inn for hosting private events and banquets.

The proposed building would be 8,700 square feet, 160 feet long by 54 feet wide by 28.5 feet tall, and would include a banquet hall, commercial kitchen, and four guest rooms that can be rented on a nightly basis. This building is several times the size of a typical single-family home. In addition, the proposed new driveway and parking lot would cover over an acre with asphalt. The proposed building is not an addition or extension to the existing Old Anglers Inn. Rather, it is a new separate structure to be used for private weddings and banquets and will not be generally open to the public. As illustrated in the Planning Department report this is not a small boutique country inn and certainly not anything like the Inn at Little Washington.

The Zoning Ordinance defines a country inn as “an establishment for dining in a rural area.” The Potomac area bounded by MacArthur Boulevard, Brickyard Road, and Falls Road is a suburban, residential neighborhood with more than 1,000 homes and several thousand residents. Anyone who drives along MacArthur Boulevard during the morning or evening rush hours or on the weekends when the C&O Canal National Historical Park is in heavy use would agree that this area is not rural.

The County Council retains the right to amend or clarify the Zoning Ordinance when it is not properly being interpreted or applied. In June, the County Council introduced Zoning Text Amendment 17-04 that would limit conditional use applications for country inns on R-200 property to rural areas and not suburban, residential neighborhoods. The ZTA will clarify the established historic precedent that country inns in the R-200 zone be adjacent to rural zones. All existing country inns in the R-200 zone meet the standard required by the proposed ZTA. ZTA 17-04 is sponsored or co-sponsored by all nine councilmembers. Without the ZTA, there are many properties besides Mr. Regis’ property that are zoned R-200, are in residential neighborhoods, and may meet the current Zoning Ordinance requirements for a country inn. ZTA 17-04 would also protect these other residential properties throughout Montgomery County.

Mr. Regis is an attorney and he knows that his due process rights are not being abrogated. The Planning Board is scheduled to hold a hearing on ZTA 17-04 on Sept. 7. The County Council will then hold its hearing on Sept. 12. After that hearing, the council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee will hold a work session. The council is expected to vote on ZTA 17-04 in the fall. Mr. Regis and his attorney will have an opportunity to testify at these hearings.

Mr. Regis also accuses “rich and powerful people” from opposing his right to build whatever he wants on this property. This is poppycock. Our coalition represents a diverse group of Montgomery County stakeholders including local residents, hikers, cyclists, and people who enjoy the C&O Canal Park. The Brickyard Coalition, River Falls Homeowners Association, Civic Association of River Falls, Woodrock Homeowners Association, West Montgomery County Citizens Association, and Montgomery Countryside Alliance and their members have very real, legitimate concerns regarding building a country inn banquet hall in this area. The C&O Canal Association and cycling groups have also expressed their concerns. Mr. Regis is welcome to develop the property for its intended use — single-family residential houses on at least 20,000 square foot lots. This development of the property would be consistent with the Potomac Master Plan, zoning, and newer residential developments along MacArthur Boulevard. Mr. Regis has chosen not to do this and instead seeks a special exception from the zoning ordinance to build a commercial country inn banquet hall for private events.

We support ZTA 17-04 that would clarify the County Council’s intent that country inns be located in rural areas. Please go to https://brickyardcoalition.org/petition to sign our petition supporting the ZTA.

Drew Finley, Treasurer, River Falls Homeowners Association

Ted Duncan, President, Brickyard Coalition

Carol Van Dam Falk, President, West Montgomery County Civic Association

Caroline Taylor, Executive Director, Montgomery Countryside Alliance

Keith Williams, President, Civic Association of River Falls

Mark Moadel, Board Member, Woodrock Homeowners Association