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Frequently Asked Questions

Special Protection Area (SPA)

What is a SPA?
Where are the SPAs located in Montgomery County?
How can I determine if my property is in a SPA?
What does it mean if I am in a SPA?
Can I install a pool, deck, shed, gazebo, or tennis court on my residential property if I am in a SPA?
What is an Environmental Overlay Zone?
What is the SPA sales addendum or disclosure?
What does it mean if I am outside a SPA?

What is a SPA?
A Special Protection Area (SPA) is an area designated by the Montgomery County Council within a watershed where streams, wetlands, and related natural features are of very high quality and where special measures (over and above standard environmental laws, regulations, and guidelines) must be applied to land development and to certain land uses in order to protect the high quality conditions of these natural features.

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Where are the SPAs located in Montgomery County?
Currently, there are five SPAs: Upper Paint Branch in the eastern part of the county generally west of route 29, north of Fairland Rd., East of New Hampshire and south of Spencerville Rd.; Piney Branch near Shady Grove and Travilah Road in Potomac; Upper Rock Creek generally covering the area north of Muncaster Mll Road and south of Route 108 between Woodfield Road and the North Branch of Rock Creek; Clarksburg generally covering the upper portions of Little Seneca watershed east and west of I-270, north of Old Baltimore Road and roughly east of Clarksburg Road; and the portion of Ten Mile Creek watershed that lies within the Clarksburg Master Plan and is not zoned for agricultural uses.

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How can I determine if my property is in a SPA?
This website contains adequate information to determine whether most properties are inside or outside a SPA. Simply locate your property on the county map, click on the closest SPA map, and determine whether your property is inside or outside its boundaries. If very close to the boundary, we advise declaring that you are possibly inside the SPA with an exact determination to be made pending detailed topographic review. If any part of the property is within the SPA boundary the whole property should be declared within, although any SPA-related restrictions will only apply to the portion of the land within the SPA.

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What does it mean if I am in a SPA?
If you own or purchase a single family home in a SPA and you plan to keep it as a residential use, the SPA regulations will not affect the use of your property. Expansions and additions by the homeowner are allowed, consistent with zoning regulations and any lot-specific restrictions on the record plat such as conservation easement (coming soon: revision process).

However, certain types of land development projects are subject to the provisions of the SPA law if land disturbance activities are proposed. Activities triggering the law include a new or amended development plan, diagrammatic plan, schematic development plan, project plan, special exception, preliminary plan or site plan.

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Can I install a pool, deck, shed, gazebo, or tennis court on my residential property if I am in a SPA?
Yes, if consistent with zoning laws and any lot-specific restrictions and if the use is accessory to an existing single-family residential dwelling. The SPA regulations and guidelines are intended to incorporate stringent water resource protection measures in new and expanded land development projects. The regulations are not intended to be applied to properties with existing single-family residences, or other legally existing land uses if such uses are not changing or expanding.

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What is an Environmental Overlay Zone?
An environmental overlay zone is a type of zone in the County zoning ordinance that applies to the following SPAs: the Upper Paint Branch, Upper Rock Creek, and Ten Mile Creek SPAs. In the Upper Paint Branch, it restricts or prohibits certain land uses to protect natural resources. It also limits the impervious surface to 8% for new development and certain expansions of existing uses within the Upper Paint Branch SPA. An impervious surface is any surface that prohibits water from naturally infiltrating into the soil and precludes the establishment of vegetative cover. Examples of impervious surfaces include buildings, roads, and highly compacted areas.

The Ten Mile Creek SPA is covered by two environmental overlay zones. The overlay zone west of I-270 has a 6% imperviousness limit. On the east side of I-270, the overlay zone covering this SPA has a 15% imperviousness limit.

In the Upper Rock Creek SPA, imperviousness is limited to 8%.

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What is the SPA sales addendum or disclosure?
The SPA sales addendum is a disclosure form that the seller of the property must complete with assistance from their realtor in accordance with Montgomery County Council Emergency Bill 24-00. This form must be completed and signed by the seller/s and acknowledged with the signature of the buyer/s. The addendum is part of the sales contract and discloses to the buyer whether the property lies within or outside a SPA. Copies of the addendum are available only from a realtor’s office. Realtors: please refer to the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors at www.gcaar.com for more information.

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What does it mean if I am outside a SPA?
SPA requirements and guidelines are applied to land development activities within SPAs only, and are over and above “standard” environmental laws, regulations, and guidelines that are enforced throughout Montgomery County. These standard laws, regulations, and guidelines are specified in the County Code and in the Planning Board’s Environmental Guidelines. The buyer should check their record plat for any restrictions unique to their particular lot or property, such as conservation easements (coming soon: revision process).

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