To: Members of the Montgomery County Council and
The Montgomery County Planning Board and
Respective Staff Members
Re: Subdivision Staging Policy Updates
Dear Council and Planning Board Members and Staff,
Our interest in this update to the Subdivision Staging Policy is especially driven by the proliferation of Private Institutional Facility ("PIF"s), development applications being approved in our community and in neighboring communities. We do not feel there is adequate consideration being given to the associated environmental, infrastructure and community-character impacts.
Abundant examples exist on and near New Hampshire Avenue. Some of the PIF applications are for very large and active complexes. The results exceed the infrastructure and are directly counter to the Master Plan. Here is a case in point:
There is currently a PIF development application for a new campus in the low-density, "residential wedge" of the plan area. This is with the County’s Planning Department. The campus will include: A 1,600-seat sanctuary, office space, 400 parking spaces, a K-12 school, a gym, a ball field, bleachers, a multi-purpose facility, and an amphitheatre. While the capacity and program plans of most of the sub-facilities have not been provided to the community, we do know they are planning two Sunday AM services with just a short break between them. This means they are planning for 800 vehicles (3,200 people) to access or exit the narrow-frontage property during a very short time frame.
For a long list of environmental, infrastructure and community character reasons, the community is VERY opposed to this massive development. But the County Planners say their hands are tied…?
This problem project is a good example for discussing policy and planning issues. Since a fundamental objective of the SSP is to set forth rules that ensure adequate public infrastructure (including roads), we assert that the Council needs to consider the effects of its PIF policies, some of which make exceptions to the SSP rules. These exceptions result in "unforeseen" infrastructure overloads, when any one PIF is too large or if there are too many PIFs in a particular area.
Acknowledging that some of the issues we present below point primarily to zoning codes or other parts of the law, we request your review for Subdivision Staging Policy changes that either address the issues directly or lay the groundwork for subsequent code (or other) changes.
ISSUE 1: Dissimilar Entities are included in a Single Zoning Code
Referring to the referenced project, this PIF purchased land zoned RE-2, which allows low-density residential build-out or some PIF build-outs. If the land tracts including in this development were built-out as residential, then, according to the zoning code, the maximum development would be seven single-family dwellings. If each single family had three vehicles, there would be 21 new vehicles on the area roads. In contrast, the PIF is planning parking for 400 vehicles. (And since that assumes each vehicle carries at least four people, it is likely that there will be many more than 400). These are vastly different density outcomes. Why are they on the same code?
Proposals for Issue 1:
Most neighborhood lots should be zoned for residential ONLY (which MAY allow small, light traffic, owner-occupied home-based operations).
For any lots zoned for residential and/or PIF, the code must limit the use density and infrastructure loads (including traffic) and other impacts to approximate a residential build-out of the lot.
ISSUE 2: Weekends are Exempt from Traffic Analysis
Many of the PIFs coming to our area produce intense traffic peaks associated with scheduled group assemblies -- performances, meetings, worship sessions, festivals, classes, programs, etc. Large facilities draw significant traffic to the area, some weekly, daily, or multiple-times during the day. Weekends and especially Sunday mornings are popular for group assemblies and in some cases produce significant volumes of traffic individually and cumulatively between PIFs with similar schedules. Weekend (and evening) traffic impacts ARE relevant and need to be included in the traffic analysis.
Proposals for Issue 2:
Traffic studies need to include 7 days x 24 hours.
Traffic studies need to include aggregation for the area and projected over time.
ISSUE 3: Some PIFs are Granted Special Exemptions
There seems to be special exemptions for churches. We have heard from civic leaders who have preceded us, and even from the planning staff, that it is pretty much a futile effort for citizen organizations to try to challenge any "church" development plans.
We are generally aware of and respect constitutional protections. But it goes beyond constitutional protections when organizations are able to bully their way into a community over the concerns of the residents of that community.
Proposals for Issue 3:
The PIF policy review process needs to require a more rigorous concept plan review for any proposed PIF. The review would include an assessment of the potential effects on the surrounding neighborhoods, community input, a clearer (and perhaps tighter) set of contingencies under which approval is given, and revisiting the review process if there is a significant expansion of a PIF proposed.
Here are several other observations/questions we have that may have policy implications:
The policies, plans, codes and other laws need to produce results that agree with the Master Plan for each area. If an area is designated for low-density, then large, high-density, high-traffic PIFs should not be allowed in the area.
There are many similar PIFs on and around New Hampshire Avenue and numerous application notices posted. It is not apparent that the cumulative impacts are being projected and monitored.
In the county planning circles, there is discussion about "Smart Growth principles" which include the ideas that large institutions should be near transit and near the people they serve. Counter to these principals, we are seeing
PIFs based in other jurisdictions bringing in significant traffic from other jurisdictions.
Multiple major PIFs being approved on two- and four- lane roads.
Multiple major PIFs being approved prior to the availability of mass transit. The Z-2 bus that serves New Hampshire Avenue operates on a limited weekday schedule, while many of the PIFs generate their peak traffic on the weekends (and some evenings).
Regarding Storm Water Management, it seems that there are many exclusions in the surface-coverage calculations. This allows more surface coverage than is tenable for adequate stormwater management.
The community perception is that the laws and the Council’s sentiments are skewed too far in favor of the PIFs. Some of these operations are of little or no benefit to the local community.
New Hampshire Avenue and near-by roads seem to be the "Tax-Free PIF Zone". As much as we’d prefer residential neighborhoods, at a minimum, it seems a policy of collecting "Payments In Lieu Of Taxes" ("PILOT"s) to cover the costs associated with these PIFS and to off-set some of the lost property tax revenue should be implemented.
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.
Sample letter 10
This letter is written to the County Council Staff requesting
The new Mega Church has to apply for a new Water and Swer Category Exclusion
The Jesus House project cannot be compared to the project that Mr. Gxxxx made an application for a Water/Sewer category change and that Council approved in 1999 CR 14-334. The Jesus House project is double the size, adds a school to the property and there have been significant changes in regulations, rules, and procedures over the past 17 years.
Mr. Gxxxx’s clearly stated in the application that he wanted to preserve 8 acres of virgin forest land on the property. In 1999, if Mr. Gxxxx could get the Water/Sewer Category approval, the PIF, the Southern Asian Seventh-Day Adventist Church planned to build a facility of 750 seats, plan number 7-97018. One of the conditions approved by Council is “the church will establish a covenant preserving the forested area which would have been used for the on-site septic system.” The church never purchased the property and the exact area of the preserved forested area at that time is not known.
The Jesus House project did, in fact, make a new water/category change request in 2014. This was the correct decision since the previous project is not compatible with their project. This allows Council to consider a new application for the water/sewer category change to provide an accurate and up-to-date comprehensive analysis of the Jesus House application. However, DEP, DPS and M-NCPPC Development Review Committee (DRC) have decided instead to compare the Jesus House project with the project approved by the Council in 1999, CR 14-334. This comparison is difficult if not impossible. Alan’s response highlights and details, even more, problems for comparing the two projects. The following are some areas where the comparison fails including some of Alan’s responses that indicate that Council’s 1999 requirements do not compare to the new applicant’s requirements:
1.First comparative data a does not exist. Alan states, “DEP does not have the septic flow calculations used for the 1999 church proposal on this site.”
2.The first project did not propose a school and no calculation of the school’s septic use was even made. Alan says, “M-NCPPC staff is contacting the applicant to obtain information needed to determine required septic system capacity for the school use. “
3.In a meeting with Rose Krasnow, Deputy Director, M-NCPPC, staff stated that if there was high ground water on the property a larger septic field would be required. This was omitted from the comparison and would have doubled the size of the forest conservation area. No one kept copies of the PERC tests, although there are engineer drawings showing the larger required conservation area.
4.Are the school and the church never going to use the facility at the same time? Alan assumes that they would never be used at the same time and states, “If the school’s needed septic system capacity is less than that calculated for the church’s use, the 8,000 GPD septic system will represent the peak septic capacity flow needed for the entire facility.”
5.There are changes in the regulations between 1999 and now. Alan states that septic requirements have changed because of the requirement. for Kitchen/Warming Kitchen, “DPS Well and Septic staff have advised DEP and M-NCPPC that the County’s septic flow values for places of worship were modified several years ago to reduce calculated peak septic flows for facilities using either a warming kitchen or no kitchen. … I have requested more detailed information from DPS staff about when this modification took place.”
6.The two projects cannot be compared as Alan states, “Regardless, without having information about the septic capacity assumptions used in 1999 for this site, it is difficult to provide a septic capacity comparison of the two projects.”
A comparison between the two projects cannot be done and the applicant should be required to resubmit the PIF application for a water/sewer category change. The missing data should be recalculated such as the PERC tests since properties in the area are known to have a high water table. Council needs to make a determination on this project meeting the PIF requirements.
Our family lives at xxx Bryants Nursery Road, Silver Spring, MD. We moved to the Cloverly neighborhood in 2015 because of its scenic, tranquil setting, set amid lush foliage, rolling meadows, and acres of pristine forestland. We are therefore deeply troubled to learn of the proposed development in our immediate vicinity of RCCG Jesus House, a 1,600-seat mega-church with an associated K-12 school, athletic field seating 300 spectators, and parking for 400 vehicles.
We are not opposed in principle to the building of a religious institution in our neighborhood. There are any number of churches and mosques in Cloverly, including one minutes from our home at the corner of Bryants Nursery Road and New Hampshire Avenue. Our grave concern has to do with the enormous scale and size of Jesus House, the widespread destruction it portends to the ecology and abundant wildlife of the area, the misrepresentations concerning the sewer category change, the noise and traffic congestion, and the implications for those living in the neighborhood.
More than five acres of a ten-acre wooded area next to our home stand to be destroyed on the basis of a misrepresentation by Jesus House concerning a water and sewer category exclusion for its site. In 1999, at least 7.5 acres of this wooded area was to be preserved under a water and sewer category exclusion for another facility proposed for the same location. Please refer to County Council Resolution CR 14-334 and the following letter from Mr. Michael Grodin, excerpted below:
“At the time that I sought a sewer category change, I had conducted extensive Water Table Testing and Perc Testing on the property and all calculations and engineering was conducted by Wittmer Associates, Gaithersburg, MD. . . Witmer Associates calculated that to service a 750 seat Church (Southern Nation Church) . . . 7.4 acres of land was required. With sewer nearby, I offered to place 8 acres into a Conservation Easement in Perpetuity and the T and E Committee agreed. . . The County Council accepted this contingent agreement. It made no sense to denude a sensitive and pristine Forest Stand at the headwaters of the Northwest Branch. The sewer category change was granted with the understanding and agreement that 8 acres of forestland would be entered into perpetual conservation.
Southern Nation never went forward with their construction, having found a more suitable site on Randolph Road. Now comes Jesus House, attempting to use the same criteria that Southern Nation Church used, which at the very minimum required 8 acres of Forest Conservation Easement. Jesus House’ stipulation and misrepresentation that only four acres is required for septic trench is a gross misrepresentation and contradicts the granting of the sewer category change by the County Council...
A 1,600-seat church would require double the amount of trench than that which Witmer and Associates calculated with the water table at 10.5 feet below grade, in other words, 14.8 acres of septic trench. The misrepresentation by Jesus House that only four acres is required to service a 1600 seat church is flat out incorrect. That is a number that is pulled out of the air without any calculations taking into account state regulations as well as the high wet season water table on this property.”
We must honor the County Council covenant to preserve 8 acres of forest stand and place them into a perpetual easement. At a minimum, Jesus House should be required to recalculate the preservation acreage required for a 1,600 seat church. That was the intent of the County Council in granting and agreeing to the category change.
We strongly believe that staff cannot administratively transfer a categorical exclusion from a 750-seat church to 1,600-seat church, plus K-12 school and athletic field, without any testing, analysis, or justification for the exclusion, particularly after more than 15 years, and with no input from the public.
My neighbors and I were given no opportunity to express our opposition to allowing a property of this magnitude in our residential neighborhood, particularly given that the proposed facility will provide absolutely no benefit to local residents. With a congregation of this size moving from a downtown Silver Spring location, the majority of the congregation and school population will be commuting from well outside of the Cloverly neighborhood. This will create additional gridlock and parking congestion for residents of Cloverly and neighboring communities. The parking problems and traffic congestion, along with the impact on the environment and local ecosystems, the potential for flooding on side roads that are the only egress into our homes, and significant noise pollution in a quiet residential neighborhood, will significantly diminish the value of our properties and negatively impact our quality of life.
We respectfully request that RCCG Jesus House of DC be required to submit a categorical exclusion request for water and sewer for their proposed development. The process for approving such an exclusion will give community residents the opportunity to speak out with the hope of scaling down the size of this development.
Thank you for your consideration of our request.
Sample Letter 12
December 7, 2016
To Council Member Hucker and all other Council Members:
I am the current President of the Peachwood Citizens Association which represents the civic interests of the subdivisions of Peachwood, Colesville Park, and Windridge Acres. Our community of about 200 single family homes is located on the east side of New Hampshire Ave., just south of Briggs Chaney Road and north of Good Hope Road. We are within walking distance of the Clovery area where there is a plan by a church group called Jesus House to build a large church/school/ballfield campus complex at 15730 New Hampshire Avenue. We oppose this plan because the project as proposed would negatively impact the residents of our community. Many of our concerns, which mirror the concerns of all of our neighboring communities and their representative civic associations, and the residents of the Clovery area that will be heavily impacted by this project, fall in the categories of Transportation, Infrastructure, & Environment. I understand that you and the other Council members, as well as other County decision makers involved with this issue have received letters expressing these concerns.
Rather than reiterate in detail the nature of our concerns, I would like to summarize why we are opposed to the Jesus House plan as currently proposed: The project is grossly over-sized for the site and for existing transportation and other infrastructures. There are also numerous environmental concerns related to the general location and to the site itself which currently is a tree filled space. The church facilities would have to be be force fit into the existing property and we feel strongly that the project issues are not getting sufficiently rigorous review. Additionally, we are concerned that if the Council is not aware, in advance, of the issues and the significant community opposition to the project as proposed, that the Council will be pre-disposed to follow a Planning Board recommendation to approve the project.
We understand that this project should be brought up before the Council sometime in January.
For further information about this church project, please refer to the website at www.stopmegachurch.com that was created to detail project information and the concerns of the neighboring residents and communities.
Please be sure that all of your fellow Council members are provided with a copy of this letter.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Peachwood Civic Association
Opposition Letter 13
Decemebr 29 2016
Office of Zoning & Administrative Hearings
100 Maryland Avenue, Room 200
Rockville MD 20850
RE: RCCG Jesus House DC----it is going to be huge
I am writing this letter as a concerned tax paying constituent who feels that his local Montgomery County Zoning Administrators have not listened to the voice of the people in the Cloverly Master Planned Communities.
The RCCG Church, with the help of their land use law firm and Montgomery County Officials, have pushed through zoning changes that will allow this Mega Church to be built without any consideration for the surrounding community and the impact that it may have on the existing infrastructure.
It is my understanding that the property has in recent years gone through a series of owners. With each new owner their proposed projects have increased exponentially in scale many times over the original approval for a 750-member church building. The current RCCG facility will be for a 2,000 seat church, a K-12th grade school, a ball field, and a multi-purpose amphitheater. The intent of the RCCG facility is to be a regional facility not one that serves the local community.
Let’s break it down into several components that will make this project untenable for the local established neighborhoods and of course local tax payers.
1. This project will not be serving the local Cloverly Master Planned Communities
2. This facility will be a use of local tax payer’s money by increasing the traffic on New Hampshire Avenue. Heavier traffic means more accidents which then begets the need for more police, fire and ambulance services directed to the New Hampshire Avenue corridor. Furthermore, on busy event days it is expected that street parking will occur on New Hampshire Avenue which will spill over and into one of the lanes. New Hampshire is 2 lanes each way in that area, not 3. This will create an even greater public safety risk.
3. Environmental Impact: In addition, such a large facility will have a negative effect on the environment. Our sewers are not equipped to handle the storm water runoff from such a large facility, which will increase from 2% to 26.7%. Its presence will damage the stream beds and remove acres of trees, thus negatively impacting wildlife and tree preservation—both contrary to county environmental goals. We also anticipate overload on our aged water/sewer infrastructure, although the developer has yet to respond to requests on impacts and financial responsibility for any upgrades.
Communication with area residents has been ignored. As tax paying citizens, we ask that the detailed land use be looked at again because the plans have increased dramatically beyond the project as originally approved. Would you want this structure in your neighborhood?
Stonegate Area/New Hampshire Avenue
Sample Letter 14
My family lives in the greater xxxx neighborhood and appreciates the wonderful diversity of houses of worship along New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring. It makes me proud of my country to see these buildings. I am also a happy member of the xxxxxxxxx.
But this new proposal for the mammoth RCCG Jesus House DC is too much. I am asking you to significantly scale it down in order to maintain the quality of life for existing residents and visitors to our area.
New Hampshire Avenue is busy on weekdays during the regular commute. On Sundays and festival days it is gridlock and accidents waiting to happen. Cars park all along the New Hampshire Avenue and side streets including in traffic lanes when the shoulder becomes too narrow. We have to stop abruptly, with no warning, when the police are directing traffic out of the facility. This is incredibly dangerous and frustrating. I cannot imagine how much worse it will get on ALL days with this complex, 7-day-a-week facility.
We have borne more than our fair share of major institutions in a very concentrated area. I have lived in Montgomery County since moving here in 1987 and I am not trying to keep it as it was then. But this is NOT the intended use for this land, which was supposed to have single family homes on large lots. Your job is to protect people from unjust and inappropriate developments, and this is unfair to the residents as well as others trying to use the area. Please scale down this huge development