Takeaways from PoP Community Meeting

Thanks to all who came out to the Oct. 19th Protect Our Poolesville Community meeting. There were approximately 75 people in the audience; it was heartening to see so many people from our community make the time to be there, discuss possible solutions, and share concerns. We are especially grateful to St. Peter's Episcopal Church and Rev. Ann Ritonia for allowing PoP the use of their sanctuary for the meeting.

Executive Director of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance (MCA), Caroline Taylor, opened the PoP Community Meeting with a brief presentation. She provided important background information about the Agricultural Reserve and the town including the Ag Reserve’s creation and changing boundaries, and the loss of historic buildings in the town (see her PowerPoint here). She discussed Poolesville’s water supply and the need to be careful as three out of four of the watersheds that provide water to the town are at capacity. Taylor also discussed the importance of monitoring water usage in town, as it affects the Ag Reserve outside of the town’s boundaries. She also discussed the Overlay Zone and the timeline for its creation. Taylor also discussed Jerry Klobukowski’s work on the Rural Schools Policy, which would ensure that schools within the Ag Reserve are not held to thesame population requirements as other schools in the county. Additional concerns were raised including: the results of a traffic study showing that during peak hours Fischer Avenue is at capacity between Cattail Rd. and Elgin Rd.; the fact that the Upper Montgomery County Fire Company does not have the proper equipment to reach 3rd and 4th stories (like those you see in the proposed townhomes) and would have to rely on equipment from stations further afield; using numbers provided by Town Hall explained that the current population estimate (5,437) + the population of the homes currently approved or being constructed (6,029) + what would be added by the current Willshire proposal, would bring Poolesville to 6,326.6 people (see chart here, the top of page 2); and concerns taxing our sewer system (she noted that raw sewage was inadvertently released into Dry Seneca Creek last February).

Richard Klein, Founder and President of Community &Environmental Defense Services (CEDS) presented after Taylor (see his PowerPoint here). He stated that his organization’sgoal is to find equitable solutions that meet the needs of towns, landowners, and residents. He started by reviewing Miller & Smith’s current proposal, which features 93 homes on 13.88 acres. Miller & Smith has quoted a starting price of $439,000 for the townhomes and $670,000 for the single-family homes. Klein reminded the audience that the Commissioners have the final say in the plans. After a review of the current plan, Klein showed parts of the 2010 Survey of Poolesville Residents, which indicate that the current Willshire proposal is out of sync with the community. Klein also showed a map of the neighborhoods surrounding the Willard parcel, contrasting existing densities with that of Willshire: 1.4 homes/acre verses Willshire’s proposed 6.6 homes/acre. Klein also highlighted parts of the Town’s Master Plan that encourage the construction of senior housing in the business district (the Willshire property is in the business district). Two alternative plans drafted by an architect familiar with Poolesville and preservation issues were shared (see here). One of the plans includes senior housing, which Mr. Klein stated would help to put older homes back into the Poolesville market thereby providing additional lower cost housing options. He highlighted how the Willshire proposal and the 2 alternative plans would differently affect traffic, schools, and water, and sewage. Klein also asserted that as a town grows, its tax rates increases. Residential options use $1.15 in public services for every $1 of taxes paid. Klein concluded his presentation by stating that Willshire is one of the last big development plans that will occur in Poolesville, based on the population cap (6,500 people), and that all parties involved need to ensure that it is the best deal for everyone. Once the formal presentation was complete, the floor was opened for questions from the audience.  (You can view the POP Fact Sheet, compiled by Klein, here.) 

Audience Questions and Comments:

-  Many people discussed what residents could do to ensure the proposal was changed to be less dense.

- When the proposal is brought to the Planning Board and Commissioners there will be public hearings and the residents will need to be present and question or provide feedback on the proposal. (NOTE: Planning Committee Meeting with the Willshire Proposal as an agenda item is scheduled for Wednesday, October 26th at 7:30 pm at Town Hall.) 

- Town residents can also ask for a referendum to bring the use of the Overlay Zone to a vote. Although this is an option, it is a last resort. Ideally, the town will hear the resident’s input and make changes to the plans accordingly.

- History was provided about how residents previously stopped the annexation of land outside of the town’s boundary by attending meetings and eventually bringing the land annexation to a vote.

- Multiple residents also brought up their concern with at least two commissioners having a conflict of interest and whether they need to recuse themselves from voting on this proposal. One resident stated that Commissioners need to file financial disclosures at Town Hall.

- A few town residents discussed the lack of responses from emails to the Commissioners, difficulty finding Town Commissioner contact information on the town website, and their lack of knowledge of what was going on during town meetings due to limited notes in the minutes and lack of detail in the agendas. One town resident said that he met in person with one of the Commissioners about the proposal and felt that the Commissioner was very receptive.

- One resident asked if there would be a candidate survey going out to residents running for commissioner. PoP will be generating (and posting) a survey. A resident also stated that the Poolesville Area Chamber of Commerce will be holding a Candidate Forum on Sunday 10/30 at 6:30 pm.

- Another resident questioned who the potential buyer for these homes would be. They questioned buyers moving to Poolesville for such high-density homes and the demand for this type of housing so far from the city. 

- A resident questioned if there had been an economic impact study to evaluate how this proposal would affect the struggling businesses in town. Taylor noted that there were at least two businesses, Dollar General and Tractor Supply, that are exceeding their expectations in revenue.

- Kevin Schramm, the only member of the Planning Committee to attend the meeting, provided some information on the timeline of the adoption of the Overlay Zone. He also clarified that the purpose was to provide the town with more authority over development projects in the business area.

- Concerns were brought up about whether we know that we will have enough water in the aquifer for this kind of growth. Caroline Taylor highlighted a study by the InterstateCommission on the Potomac River Basin, which indicates that we will have 35% less water by the year 2035.

- Questions were raised about legal thresholds and whether developers have access to maximum total density if they meet specific requirements (green space, water reserve, stormwater management, sewer). It was noted that the Overlay Zone is discretionary (landowners must apply for its use, commissioners must approve).


- Jerry Klobukowski, the only sitting Town Commissioner to attend the meeting, reminded residents that the Miller & Smith proposal is currently only a concept plan and there is a process that will look at many aspects of the plan before a final vote takes place. He reminded residents that they need to attend meetings so that Commissioners know where the residents stand.

- A resident noted that Jerry Klobukowski and Martin Radigan are both running for Commissioner and are the only candidates in attendance to hear the concerns that residents have with the current proposal. An election-savvy person advised that voting for two candidates (instead of three) makes your vote more valuable, and called this “target” or “bullet voting.”

Willshire is on the agenda for the Wednesday Oct.26, Planning Committee Meeting: 7:30 pm at Town Hall: tomorrow! See you there!