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2 April 2008 | Approved: 7 May 2008

Chairman McClelland called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m. In attendance were Commissioners Charlie Challstrom, Joe Clark, Peggy Ebner, Bob Evans and alternate Missy Yachup. Also in attendance were Town residents Bob Booher, Ann Briggs, Georgette Cole, Meredith Horan, David Neumann, Jean Potmusil, David Stopak, Tom Stricklett and Ken Stricklett.

Approval of Minutes

The minutes for March were approved.

Building Permits

The following building permits were reviewed by the Planning Commission (PC):

  • 403 McCauley Street – A 4-foot fence was approved unanimously per Article 7, Section 3.328.
  • 213 Washington Grove Lane – A permit was requested by owners to demolish and replace an existing porch including foundation, piers but not including the roof. The Commissioners discussed whether a Town permit was necessary since the rebuilt porch would be the same as the existing one (except for code updates) and there would be no structural alteration to the house. The PC unanimously approved the application so that the owners can apply for a County permit but agreed that per Article IV, Section 3 no Town permit would be required because there would be no changes to the exterior of the house.

Town Encroachment

The Commissioners discussed the following encroachments by residents onto Town property.

  1. New fence at 215 Washington Grove Lane (Price) encroaches more than 8 feet onto
  2. Center St right of way, and more than 10 feet onto WG Lane right of way. This encroachment was noticed as a result of the County plans to replace the WG Lane sidewalks. The fence was installed in October of 2007 with an approved permit based on the replacement of an existing chain link fence. The owner has been notified that the fence needs to be moved and that a boundary survey would be prudent. This issue sparked a discussion regarding who should be financially responsible for moving encroachments if the owner had an approved Town permit. Chairman McClelland noted that the Town attorney has stated that the property owner is always responsible for determining their property boundaries and had previously recommended that all building permits with property boundary issues require the submission of a boundary survey.
  3. Old fence at 301 First Ave (Styles) encroaches several feet into intersection of Grove Road and Center St; pieces of fence remain; new Block 9 survey initiated; property owner contacted to schedule meeting to discuss intersection safety improvements, removal of remaining fence, location for new fence, and plantings on Town property.
  4. Porches along Second Ave at 315 Grove Ave (Kirtz) and 203 Second Ave (Polston)encroach as verified by recent surveys; Town Council members active in exploring options, evaluating criteria as per Town policy and precedent; interest prompted by recent Town legal cost associated with Declaration prepared to enable title insurance.
  5. Recent removal of propane tank from Town property (at 315 Grove Ave) as per order issued by Mayor; Mayor’s action prompted by condition in sales contract for home.
  6. Corners of home at 315 Grove Ave encroach slightly on Grove Ave right of way as verified by recent surveys; will discuss long-term view with new property owner.
  7. Propane tank along Second Ave at 2 Circle (McCathran) on Town property as verified by recent survey; front steps also on Town property; Town Council members active in talking with property owners.
  8. Plantings (boxwoods) along Second Ave at 6 Circle (Roberts) on Town property as verified by recent survey; Town Council members plan to talk with property owner.
  9. Plantings in front of 8 Circle (Range) on Town property; discussions with property owner for assistance in removing significant plants from Town property.
  10. Corner of home at 407 Acorn Lane (Rothrock) encroaches about 2 inches onto Johnson Alley; no further action currently planned.
  11. Back of home at 410 Fourth Ave (Bell rental) encroaches more than 2 feet onto Johnson Alley; significant hindrance to safe emergency access.
  12. Plantings along Hickory & Brown St at 112 Chestnut Ave (Appleby) more than 5 feet onto Town property according to recent survey/boundary marker.
  13. A barrier to prevent vehicles from driving on grass installed just off Grove Ave gravel near Brown St intersection at 103 Grove Ave. Town Maintenance is working to move “Walkway Only” sign.
  14. Old fence at 301 Washington Grove Ave (Gillis/Partington) encroaches several feet onto WG right of way.
  15. Saybrooke subdivision encroachment along west woods.

Commercial Corner – Update

The PC discussed the following issues regarding the renovation of the Commercial Corner.

  1. Façade reconstruction plans reviewed by HPC and comments issued; meeting with property rep (Steve Beck), architect, and others to discuss design; efforts underway to obtain photographs of Odd Fellows Hall design; PC action to await submission of Application for Building Permit
  2. Odalis Hair Salon has moved to front location; Agape Florist is now open.
  3. Rear location is vacant; can this space be internally combined to give Post Office more space? Ann Briggs noted that Victor (from the Post Office) has stated that they really don’t need more space because they still have open PO boxes and even if they did, the rear space is so much lower than the space they currently have that he doesn’t think that it would work for them.
  4. Rear parking area (straight-in parking spaces) not in compliance with Article VII, Section 6.221 (b) Separation from Streets and Walks:

    1. All parking spaces and driveways must be guarded by curbs or other protective devices so arranged and installed that parked cars cannot project into streets, walkways, or sidewalks.

    2. In the commercial zone, curbing constructed of Portland cement concrete, and having a vertical face of not less than 8 inches high, must be constructed and maintained (i) between any public street and any parking lot used by the general public, except at designated vehicular entrances and exits, and (ii) in front of any fence separating any parking lot used by the public from adjacent residential property, at a distance of not less than 5 feet from such fence.

      Rear parking area not in compliance with Article VII, Section 6.221 (h) Screening:
      Where an off-street parking facility containing more than 10 spaces is located less than 50 feet from any land in any residential zone, it must be screened from such land by a continuous opaque fence, wall, or evergreen hedge at least 6 feet in height and so located as to provide a maximum of visual screening.

      Ann Briggs suggested that the rear parking area is a wasteland and that there is a need for compliance and enforcement at this time. She noted that this area has a big impact on the Town entrance. The Commissioners discussed the possibility of making the spaces angled or having them parallel to the building but decided that there really isn’t enough room to accommodate either idea.

      David Neumann suggested a wave effect with trees and plantings mixed into the straight-in parking spaces. This would reduce the number of parking spaces, provide a visual screening and introduce a natural (green) element. As this idea was well received, Chairman McClelland stated that he would talk to the property representative about this idea.

  5. Exit from front parking lot onto Washington Grove Lane not in compliance with approved Site Plan, i.e., a Left Turn onto Washington Grove Lane is NOT permitted; “Right Turn Only” sign needed; also barriers in median of Lane to inhibit left turns. Chairman McClelland suggested closing this entrance to traffic but leaving it accessible for emergency vehicles.

    Commissioner Clark mentioned making sure that the WG Lane side of the building is renovated and updated as well.

Master Plan Update

Commissioner Challstrom introduced the following issues from Section 9 – Development and Preservation Strategies, for discussion by the PC. The proposed version was received from Bob Booher on March 5; edited versions were then prepared by both Commissioner Evans and Sheldon Bierman.

  1. Property Maintenance Subsection – Proposal to add reference to compliance with existing Town and County property maintenance requirements; blight, fire, safety. The Commissioners agreed that this section should be moved elsewhere in the Master Plan.
  2. Mansionization – Proposal to acknowledge Town’s rejection of floor-area-ratio proposal and limited Town resources when pursuing solutions to mansionization. The Commissioners cut this section out of the Master Plan.
  3. Historic Character – Differing viewpoints on how to characterize; commonalities vs. diversity and the “eclectic spirit.”
  4. Neighborhoods/Districts – Differing viewpoints; concern that dividing up Town into neighborhoods or districts is divisive; implies inconsistent application of standards and restrictions, would impose additional restrictions on districts identified by historic criteria.

    There was much discussion between the Commissioners and the HPC members that were present at the meeting (Bob Boohrer, David Neumann and David Stopak) regarding these 2 sections (C and D). There was a difference of opinion regarding whether the section should identify the Town as diverse or concentrate on the commonalities in Town and whether to include verbiage that might allow for historic districts to be created in the future. Commissioner Challstrom cautioned that the wording in the Master Plan regarding an historic district could allow the State to make unintended changes to our governance of homes in the historic district – legally requiring the Town to impose mandatory preservation requirements administered and overseen by the HPC. The HPC members argued that leaving a reference to the possibility of considering these actions in the future would not cause the state to intervene and that there wouldn’t be any unintended consequences to having it in the Master Plan. The HPC members stated that taking it out would then not allow the Town to even consider these options till the Master Plan was reviewed again in 10 years. The Commission did not agree with this assessment but did not believe there is a consensus in the Town to go in this direction at this time and therefore did not want to condone the approach in the Master Plan. It was agreed the last paragraph of section C and the last recommendation in section D should be removed.

  5. Scale of Homes – Differing viewpoints on whether scale is a common and applicable element; diversity noted.

Operational Procedures – Compliance Officer

Commissioner Challstrom initiated a discussion of the following issues relating to Compliance Officer procedures.

  1. Larry Plummer, under contract as Code Enforcement Inspector, provided samples of procedures, forms, checklists, and notices used in other jurisdictions: Town of Somerset, Town of Chevy Chase
  2. Washington Grove provides a package in response to web-based request–includes Application (County form), Information for Applicants, Building Permit Worksheet, Flow Chart, Historic Preservation Commission Information.
  3. House Location Survey – Information from Montgomery County for Wall Check Inspection says “Owner must have a house location survey prepared and certified by a Maryland Registered Land Surveyor or a Registered Professional Engineer…” Town of Somerset Building Inspection Schedule also requires this certified survey. Our Town Attorney has recommended the Town require such a certified survey where boundaries, setback issues are potentially significant. This requirement could avoid problems, could be required for any construction within xx feet of property line, could exclude “Special Structures” as per Art IV, Sect 5.
  4. Inspections by Town? – Currently no required Town inspections; opportunity to begin to use Larry Plummer for inspections. Town of Somerset requires four:

    1. Pre-construction,
    2. Wall Check (with House Location Survey),
    3. Framing Inspection, and
    4. Final Inspection.

    The Commissioners discussed this issue and decided that there should be a “sliding scale” of inspections based on the complexity of the building permit to be decided when the permit is discussed at the PC meeting. For complex renovations, 3 inspections may be required: 1. foundation/wall 2. framing 3. final. For simple permits (fence, shed), a final inspection may be all that is required.

  5. Town procedures to be updated after PC decisions on above.

Report From Town Council

Commissioner Challstrom stated that budget constraints have indefinitely delayed the County’s plans to replace the asphalt walkway along Washington Grove Lane with a concrete sidewalk. Ann Briggs noted that the bus stops on either end of WG Lane need to be upgraded, especially the one near the Commercial Corner. Commissioner Challstrom also briefly discussed the Woodward Park Regulations Update whereas the Town Council introduced Ordinance 2008-02 to make changes to permitting process and improve enforcement.

Other Business

Commissioner Challstrom stated that the Block 10 boundary between Lots 5 and 6 (between Betty Knight and Ken & Joli McCathran) to be adjusted using “Line By Agreement” process; property owners meet simultaneously with surveyor (Joe Snider) and agree to boundary location, sign field worksheet, markers installed, Town gets revised plat for PC Chairman signature. Joe Clark could potentially be elected to TC. PC is looking for potential replacements for Joe’s vacated PC spot.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:55 p.m.

Missy Yachup

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