3 September 2008 | Approved: 1 October 2008
Planning Commission Chairman John McClelland convened a public hearing to receive input from Town residents with respect to the draft Master Plan. Commission members in attendance were Charlie Challstrom, Peggy Ebner, Robert Evans, Steve Werts, and Alternate Missy Yachup.
Commissioner Challstrom reviewed the process for consideration of the Master Plan. He noted that notice of the public hearing had been duly provided. He said that the County Planning Board had asked that Town representatives meet with their Chairman, Royce Hansen, and that Chairman McClelland and Commissioner Challstrom had held a preliminary meeting with him on July 21. A follow-up meeting with the full Planning Board is scheduled for October 20. He said that following this meeting, the Commission will consider all input it has received and make its final recommendations to the Town Council.
He noted that the following issues remain open: Water Resources and the hump-back bridge. On the former issue, he said that the County wishes to see more commentary on our storm water plans. He distributed a detailed memorandum prepared by Jim Fletcher in 2000 on this issue which he believes will fully satisfy the County’s concerns, and the memorandum was entered into the record of the public hearing. As to the bridge, he distributed a memorandum and draft Master Plan language relating to a possible “no bridge” alternative approach. He also noted he had received helpful wording suggestions from Ann Briggs and Tom Land.
Ann Briggs complimented all who had worked on the Master Plan for having done a superb job. She particularly commended the thread running through the new Plan relating to the Grove’s taking its appropriate place in the broader community surrounding it. She made the following comments and suggestions on the Plan:
- She noted that the discussion on page 9 of land use and lot coverage provided a good beginning for the Town’s efforts to address Mansionization.
- She cited the reference on page 11 with respect to woods recordation and emphasized the importance of moving forward on this front.
- With respect to municipal growth and boundary enhancement on pages 16 and 17, she said that the need for buffer areas should be further emphasized.
- With respect to the issue of further annexations on page 17, she urged that a Town Meeting be held to discuss the plusses and minuses.
- With respect to environmental concerns on page 39, she suggested that paved swales be converted to “natural” ones for better absorption, and that additional ways be considered to avoid erosion in the woods from run-off.
- She suggested the “turtle project” should be taken on in a more official manner.
- With respect to the Commercial Corner, pages 52-3, she said we should work with the City of Gaithersburg on improving the intersection, and the code enforcement officer should be directed to pay attention to problems on Hickory Road.
- With respect to development and preservation, pages 58-9, she urged that, in addition to the language regarding the economic value of preservation, there be language emphasizing the importance of individuality.
Ed Roberts inquired when the comment period would end and was told it would be kept open until October 20. He suggested the hump-back bridge be converted to foot traffic only and that it would be desirable to close the grade-crossing.
David Stopak inquired what the process would be for consideration of the Master Plan going forward. Commissioner Challstrom said the Planning Commission will finalize its recommended Master Plan, probably at the November Commission meeting, and forward its recommendation to the Town Council for its consideration. He said it is not clear if the Council can amend the Plan or only adopt or reject it, and it is also unclear whether the Council would want there to be additional public hearings.
There being no further comments, the public hearing was closed.
Chairman McClelland then convened the regular monthly meeting of the Commission. The Commission members noted above were all present, as were numerous Town residents.
A proposed ordinance dealing with lot coverage limits in the RR-1 and RR-2 zones was presented by Commissioner Challstrom. The ordinance is designed to change the current standards to a sliding scale to reduce incompatibility throughout the Town and avoid encroachment on neighboring properties.
John Compton inquired what problem the new ordinance is intended to address. Chairman McClelland said it seeks to create a more equitable system based on lot size rather than zone since the current system is not rational. Chris Kirtz asked whether we should simply have lot size determine the zone. Commissioner Challstrom said the zones regulated not only lot coverage but set-backs, accessory buildings and other items. David Stopak asked if this constituted overlay zoning. Commissioner Challstrom said it did not since the other zoning regulations would remain as they are now.
John Compton inquired whether there is an issue of “character” of homes with which we should also be concerned. Chairman McClelland responded that yes, and that this ordinance would not pressure a homeowner on a smaller lot to feel they have no option but to build vertically, and it would also discourage Mansionization in some cases. Sheldon Bierman inquired whether the proposed sliding scale schedule could be made available and was told it would be. Ann Briggs inquired what impact the changes would have on total greenspace; Commissioner Challstrom said he had not made that calculation but would think it would largely even out over the Town. David Stopak inquired what impact it would have on the open porch issue, and Commissioner Challstrom said it would help to resolve that issue.
Paula Puglisi said she thought the proposal was very practical. Mayor Darrell Anderson noted, however, that it would permit a homeowner to expand both horizontally and vertically; he suggested a spreadsheet showing the impact on properties be expanded to include this consideration.
The Commission agreed to consider the draft ordinance at its November meeting.
A draft ordinance to permit homeowners on 2nd Avenue to purchase surplus Town property adjacent to their lots was presented. The draft ordinance has been posted on the Town website and noticed in the Town bulletin. Commissioner Challstrom noted that two homes currently have porches which encroach on Town land; the ordinance would remove this problem. A public hearing is to be held on September 22 on the ordinance. Chairman McClelland said that the ordinance should apply to all encroaching properties throughout the Town. He also expressed concern over the potential for building a second story on top of the current open porches if a sale/purchase took place.
Commissioner Werts raised a concern that if these adjustments were made, other residents would want to have similar adjustments made to benefit their properties. Commissioner Challstrom said that was possible and that this was a first step toward addressing any remaining such issues in Town. Chairman McClelland said he would prefer to have the issue resolved by long-term lease rather than sale so as to avoid other zoning problems and the difficulty of enforcement of various deed conditions. Chris Kirtz raised a concern regarding a catastrophic event and the homeowner’s ability to rebuild in such a circumstance. Sheldon Bierman suggested there be an exchange of quit-claim deeds, as was done in the 1960s. John Compton said he would favor a lease because it can be terminated if need be, while a sale and deed can’t be.
Commissioner Werts said he also favors the lease approach. He also expressed concern about plantings along the avenue and possible impact on emergency vehicles. Commissioner Challstrom said the new alignment would satisfy emergency vehicle needs.
David Stopak asked if this was a patchwork, and what would happen with respect to the Uhlendorf, O’Connor and other similarly situated properties elsewhere in Town? Commissioner Challstrom said this was an effort to do for 2nd Avenue what was done in some other Town areas in the 1960s but certainly other areas of Town could and should be considered as well.
The Planning Commission took no action on the proposed ordinance.
Deer Park Bridge
Commissioner Challstrom distributed a proposal for a “no bridge” option. Ann Briggs noted that this would be counter to the current and proposed draft Master Plans and could not be done without a Town meeting. David Stopak said he did not think we should be proposing this to the County and that they would seize upon it to build a road we do not want to see built. Jean Myers wondered if ICC traffic could be channeled on to Crabbs Branch Road and hence on to Railroad Street under this proposal.
Commissioner Evans said the current Master Plan opposition was to prevent a heavily-trafficked thoroughfare being created by connecting Railroad Street and Crabbs Branch and that any benefits the proposal offered would be far outweighed by the problems that would be created.
The Planning Commission took no action on the proposal.
The owner of the property at 344 Ridge Road has expressed interest in building a wind turbine on his property. Problems were noted with respect to height, setback and noise in a residential area like Washington Grove. The Commission decided it would not act on this unless there was a specific proposal from a citizen or citizens.
115 Chestnut Avenue
An exception had been sought from the Board of Zoning Appeals to build a new home on this property; the BZA had denied the appeal because there would not be sufficient side set-back. The property owner, Carolyn Luxford, said she is going to have the plans for the home modified so they will meet the BZA requirements and will re-submit them to the Commission.
Excess vehicles on the property in violation of Town ordinances have now been removed.
Chairman McClelland noted that problems have occurred with respect to the height of accessory buildings and there is a need to address the issue by permitting such buildings to have 1-1/2 stories rather than the current 1 story, while retaining the 20′ height restriction.
There were no building permits to consider. Commissioner Challstrom submitted his report on Town Council matters in writing.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:15 p.m.