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Damascus November downtown meeting results

On November 12 and November 19, 2002, M-NCCPC staff provided an open forum for community residents to learn about future activities of the upcoming Damascus Master Plan Amendment process. Community residents were also given an opportunity to ask staff specific questions about the planning process, the role of M-NCPPC staff/planning board and other issues that could affect their community. The following, lists questions and answers as discussed during the meetings. Further information on any of these topics can be provided by M-NCPPC staff.

Land use
Rural Open Space/Environment
Master Plan Process
Other comments

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Land use

  1. Concerned about the future capacity of schools in the Damascus School System.
    School capacity within the Damascus School system is an important issue that is a responsibility of the Montgomery County School Board and outside the Master Plan review process.
  2. Will transitional zoning be addressed in the Master Plan?
    As in the 1982 Damascus Master Plan, this amendment will consider land use policies and existing zoning within transition areas. The need to preserve and enhance this community's rural character will be maintained throughout the master plan process
  3. How can the community play a more active role in the Special Exception process?
    The best way for a citizen to become involved in the County's regulatory process is to contact your neighbors and area citizens associations if there is an application that concerns you. Discussion of mutual problems, concerns, and issues involved with a proposed application is a basic first step. Informal community meetings are also a good way to reach agreement, to assign tasks, and to coordinate a response to an application. Meeting with the applicant is also encouraged to discuss the proposal and to provide basic information and to clarify issues.
  4. Is there any recourse if the community disagrees with the Board of Appeals decisions on a special exception?
    The Board of Appeals hears requests for special exceptions as provided in the Zoning Ordinance. The BOA also reviews variances from the development standards, holds public hearings, and rules on appeals from administrative actions of certain governmental departments and agencies. Any decision of the BOA may be appealed to the Circuit Court within 30 days of the effective date of the written decision in accordance with Section 2-114 of the County Code.
  5. What is a Special Exception and how does it affect the County's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance?
    All the land uses permitted in the various zones in the county are listed in the Montgomery County Zoning Ordinance. By legislation, the County Council has specified which uses are permitted by right and which are permitted by special exception. By enacting such legislation, the County Council has determined that if certain standards are met, a special exception is compatible with the uses permitted by right in the zone.

    The Zoning Ordinance has tables for each zone that specify the uses permitted by right (P) or permitted by special exception (SE). Any use not listed is simply not permitted at all. The County's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) was adopted by the County Council with the goal of synchronizing development with the availability of public facilities. In the subdivision process, a preliminary plan must not be approved unless the Planning Board determines that adequate public facilities (through the APFO) will be available to serve the proposed area. Similarly, a special exception that is not also required to meet subdivision regulations must be found to meet APFO requirements as a part of the approval of the special exception.
  6. Need to develop a vision statement for Damascus to help guide planned development.
    As stated in the Purpose and Outreach Strategy document that was distributed at the November 12 and 19 town meetings, a design charrette for the Damascus town center will be one of the six task forces offered during 2003. During the design charrette, under the guidance of M-NCPPC staff, community residents will create a comprehensive vision of the town center.
  7. Grave concerns about HOC/low income housing projects-if planned, will change the character of Damascus?
    The provision of affordable housing in Montgomery County has been a major issue since the early 1990s, when housing for low-income households neared crisis proportions. Although there are county-wide efforts to provide more housing options for low to moderate income households, studies have shown that market rate housing options in Damascus tend to be more affordable than in most areas of the County. Therefore the overall mix of housing types and prices in Damascus is appropriate for a community of its size. However, the one area of potential need is senior housing. The Damascus Master Plan amendment will address the provision of more senior housing as well as how to maintain the existing rural character of the community if and when this new housing is built. In addition, subdivisions in Damascus - as in the rest of the county - must meet the MPDU (moderately priced dwelling unit program) provisions for moderate income housing.
  8. Need further explanation about the sewer capacity for Damascus. How does this relate to planned and future development?
    Future development density is predicted by the availability of water and sewer. The existing sewage service is near capacity and could not handle the demands of significantly more intense development in the Damascus area.
  9. Damascus needs to be established as a rural community.
    The land in and around Damascus has already been designated "Agricultural Reserve" by the Agriculture and Rural Open Space Master Plan. This master plan has helped to preserve farmland from residential development pressures. The amendment of the Damascus master plan will support this policy and continue to maintain the rural character that residents of Damascus value.
  10. Need further information about the Miller Farm property development.
    This property is currently in the midst of a proposed rezoning from the RE-2C Zone to the PD-5 Zone. This zone was recommended for this property in the 1982 Master Plan. The proposed rezoning has been to the Planning Board twice. The first proposal was recommended for denial. The second proposal, showing considerably fewer dwelling units, was recommended for approval with a number of issues to be resolved at time of site plan and subdivision review should the rezoning be approved. The hearings before the Hearing Examiner are in process, and the proposed rezoning should go before the County Council at some time in 2003.
  11. Is it true that an 88,000 square foot commercial building is going up in the middle of the town?
    A site along Lewis Drive is zoned for light industrial uses, and has had that zoning for many years. The proposed development is a permitted use in the zone. The Planning Board reviewed the property for subdivision compliance, but the use is permitted.

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  1. Need the Bypass around Damascus to get through traffic out of Damascus.
    The potential need for an eventual bypass or other type of roadway to route through traffic around Damascus has been studied several times beginning with the 1982 Master Plan, and more extensively with the 1994 Master Plan Amendment. That Plan found a need to wait for completion of Woodfield Road Extended to evaluate how much it would affect traffic in central Damascus by splitting the traffic between Ridge Road and Woodfield Road north of town. However, to assure that the need for a Bypass will be addressed in a timely way after completion of Woodfield Road Extended, the following two specific elements are proposed for this Master Plan amendment:
    1. Within 1-2 years after the completion of Woodfield Road Extended (A-12), the M-NCPPC staff will commence a workprogram task to evaluate current traffic conditions at that time and work with the community to determine whether a Master Plan Amendment process is warranted to evaluate the need for a bypass.
    2. To ensure a timely process for the above evaluation, the Master Plan should recommend that the Council authorize and direct the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation to conduct, within two years a study of the longterm traffic load implications of growth patterns in these adjoining counties.

    This study would be available as a resource for the evaluation of Damascus through traffic to be conducted after the completion of Woodfield Road Extended, as noted above.

    These actions are recommended instead of another full study of the need for a bypass during the master plan process, because completing such a study would add at least a year to the master plan timeframe, and would still be an incomplete study until the Woodfield Road Extension was completed.

  2. How are we going to work with staff on transportation issues, when we need to address Country roads, State roads, road alignments, like Valley Park and Oak and the need for traffic lights.
    There are significant safety issues on Rte 27 that the MP should address. The Master Plan should address the need for shoulders, bike paths, and sidewalks. During the amendment process of this Master Plan, the Transportation Task Force (one of the proposed master plan task forces) will address specific transportation related issues within the Damascus area. After assessing the issues, the recommendations of this task force will be presented to the general public for comments; and subsequently presented within the staff draft of the amendment of the Damascus Master plan. The community will be able to consider and comment on the preliminary findings and the Staff Draft before it is presented to the Planning Board. This process will be modeled for all task forces at work during the Damascus master plan process.
  3. There should be a tunnel onto Oak Drive for bicycle riders across Ridge Road versus a stop light.
    Methods to provide a safe environment for pedestrians and bicyclists will be addressed by the Transportation Task Force. Recommendations from this task force will be discussed in the Damascus Mater Plan amendment.
  4. Current and future development around Gue road needs to be addressed-concerned about getting 'boxed in'. Gue Rd. needs to be designated as a Rural Rustic Rd.
    The Rustic Roads functional master plan uses specific criteria to promote the rural character of communities, such as Damascus, within the County. The criteria used to designate a rustic road (primarily related to character on the west end and volume) do not support the consideration of Gue as a Rustic Road. Any concerns about development on or around Gue Road can be discussed during the Damascus Master Plan amendment task forces.
  5. Want state scenic byways designated parkways?
    The Transportation Task Force will consider issues such as this one.
  6. Concerned about the connection between Hawkins Creamery Road and Woodfield Road?
    A proposed connector road between Hawkins Creamery Road and Woodfiled Road is indicated on the current master plan map; but subsequent development and environmental regulations have precluded the ability to build that road.

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Rural Open Space/Environment

  1. Broadcast towers will decimate the views and vistas of Damascus.
    Although an official proposal for the placement of 6-7 Broadcast communication towers within the Damascus vicinity has not been formally received by the Commission, the rural character of the community of Damascus will be one of the criteria considered during any future special exception process. Since broadcast towers such as those that may be proposed would decimate views and vistas anywhere they might be proposed, the special exception process is the format to protest this use, not the master plan process.
  2. Scenic viewshed needs to be established.
    Draft maps of potential scenic viewsheds have been created by a Damascus resident. These draft maps will be discussed during a Task Force process.
  3. Need new devices for preserving additional open space.
    The functional master plan for Legacy Open Space has been a successful program in identifying and protecting, natural resources, open space, farmland and historic lands for conservation within the County. During the Damascus master plan amendment, a study identifying and reevaluating sites within the Damscus vicinity will be conducted. The results of this study will be discussed in the Damascus Master Plan amendment to lend support and recommendations to Legacy Open Space, Rural Legacy and other open space preservation programs.

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Master Plan Process

Concerned that there will be no MPAG. Are the issues in the Purpose and Outreach Report the same as the issues that would have been raised if an MPAG existed?
A major reason that the M-NCPPC is using new methods for master plan processes is because on some occasions Master Plan Advisory Groups (MPAGS) have become more of a voice for those in the group rather than representing the general community. This method has sometimes tended to limit input from the broader community, resulting in a plan that was not fully supported by the community at large, or reflective of the necessary balance between local desire and countywide needs.

The task force concept proposed for Damascus represents an opportunity for those interested in one or two topics to be fully engaged in any part of the process, as well as allowing those with the time available to engage in all elements of the process. The task forces will be formed to address specific issues in detail. Issues proposed were identified based on information from the 1982 Damascus Master Plan, staff input as well as many contributions from the residents of Damascus - particularly the input of the Damascus Alliance which has been operating for several years. It is believed that this process will engage a broader spectrum of the community and ultimately provide a more widely supported plan for the Damascus Community.

A full 6-8 months is allotted for the work of the Task Forces, which will culminate in the recommendations to be in the Staff Draft of the Master Plan. That Staff Draft will be presented to the community for comment, and subject to revisions before being presented to the Planning Board. Thus, this process will offer multiple opportunities for the input and influence of community members.

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Other Comments

  1. Concerned that communication between staff is not working as represented by the staff coordination on the infamous HOC housing site.
    The situation with the previous HOC (now Elm Street development) site is more a case of the trap of existing regulatory processes than lack of staff coordination. This site was approved for development by HOC a number of years ago, before the Magruder Trail was constructed. Elm Street agreed to develop essentially as was authorized for HOC, but exchanging lower income multi-family housing for more expensive (although still moderately priced) townhomes. The site of this change is not the focus of the problem however. The concern is with the removal of trees and the construction of a stormwater pond, that is as was approved previously. The staff of MNCPPC (subdivision and parks natural resources) are working closely with the MC Department of Permitting Services to ensure that all required methods are followed to ensure that there will not be runoff and pollution into Magruder Branch. The staff had little leeway to force changes on this type of element of an already approved plan.
  2. Howard Chapel road should not be upgraded to a primary road.
    The impact on Howard Chapel of the potential of the proposed "P-2" connector road between Howard Chapel and Woodfield Road Extended will be a part of the Transportation review process of this Master Plan. For reasons of safety, the status of a road is a function of its current and potential future traffic.
  3. Worried about decisions being made that will preclude this master plan such as the rezoning on the Cook property, baseball fields and their traffic problems, and the Ride-on bus lot. The residents have little input and unsure that the master plan process will be valid.
    None of the issues listed above are outside the recommendations of the current master plan. Rezonings, subdivisions, and special exceptions are authorized regulatory functions that may be legally requested as a part of our system of zoning and property rights. Approval of these requests is delegated to the Board of Appeals, the Planning Board, and the County Council as appropriate. No master plan may preclude a property owner from proposing a regulatory change that is authorized in the zoning ordinance or the subdivision regulations.

    The purpose of a master plan is not to attempt to circumvent these legal processes, but to provide a general guide for future development via methods such as what zones are proposed and what roads are proposed, and providing a "vision" of the community. Similarly, the Ride-On "park and ride" lot has been promised to the Damascus community for many years, and is a part of the county's overall transportation strategy of allowing opportunities for use of mass transit.
  4. Need a list of Staff names that can answer specific questions-SE, future development, etc.
    This list will be created and posted on the website.
  5. Planning Board needs to meet with the Damascus Community to address its concerns.
    The Planning Board commissioners will take one or more trips to Damascus during the process to familiarize themselves with the issues facing the community. However, due to their relationship to the process they generally do not meet in the many communities in the county. Community members will have ample opportunity to address their concerns to the Planning Board at hearings and meetings related to the Master Plan process.

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