PoP Recap: Pivotal Planning Commission Meeting

The August 30th Planning Commission (PC) meeting proved pivotal with a 3 to 2 vote to NOT recommend use of the Village Overlay Zone (VOZ) for the proposed Willshire Development. Thanks to all of you who voiced your thoughts at meetings, in letters, and through the petition--your involvement in the process has made a difference. While the PC vote is a win for those who believe dense development is at odds with our town, this is likely not the end of the story. PoP will continue to watch for developments with the Willard parcel and keep you up-to-date. 

Our bullet points below provide a brief account of the recent PC meeting; a more detailed, lengthy account is included after the bullet points if you wish to read more.

  • Miller & Smith presented a new Willshire proposal with 61 homes on 1/10th acre lots.
  • This was arguably the most well-attended PC meeting thus far. The overwhelming majority of resident testimony asked the PC to: 1.) not grant to the VOZ for Willshire, and 2.) re-visit the VOZ and re-tool. 
  • In response to the motion to approve the VOZ for the Willard property, there were 2 ayes (Calvin Sneed and Bryan Bupp) and 3 nays (Michael Tims, Kevin Schramm, Chuck Stump). 
  • The PC did not recommend approval of the VOZ for the proposed Willshire Development.
  • The decision to not grant the VOZ does not preclude Miller & Smith (or another developer) from applying again with a new proposal.

Poolesville Planning Commission Meeting: August 30, 2017

Builder’s Presentation

  1. Tom Hive, Vice President, Miller and Smith 
    1. The original plan (2016) with 96 homes missed the mark.
    2. The 2nd plan (Jan. 2017) reduced homes to 75. The plan was reworked in response to objections to the townhomes.
    3. The 3rd plan (March 2017) had 63 single family homes.
    4. The 4th plan (Aug. 2017), had 61 single family homes.                                                                                  
  2. Dave Ager, Design & Planning
    1. Master plan was adopted in 2011, identified small town character as most important. With 4 objectives:
      1. Residential with supported commercial
      2. Should be compact
      3. Should be easily distinguishable from surroundings
      4.  Encourage social interaction
    2. Master plan emphasized compactness at the center of town, to avoid sprawl at the edges. Town center was imagined to have more housing added. The village overlay zone’s purpose is to give more control than the original zoning and for the development of the town center to be more in line with the master plan vision.
    3. Newest plan has 61 units. Green buffers are expanded and the visual impact of the parkland around the John Poole House will be “2 acres.” Left edge parkland widened to 35 feet. The original zoning would allow 40-50 single family homes. The new proposal is “a slight increase.” Under the original zoning, townhouses, apartment buildings would be allowed. Under the overlay, detached homes are a better option. Increased setbacks along Fyfe and Fisher, treescape improvements.
    4. Previous discussion involved pedestrian linkages and encouraging people to socialize while also improving Fisher Avenue. The new plan has a widened sidewalk for Fisher, as well as walkways and internal sidewalks connecting everything.
    5. Overlay sets a maximum setback, which builder has used as their minimum in planning. Parking ratio is 3.6, parkland is 100% of the requirement. Forest conservation is 50% on the lot and 50% off-site. Over 25% of the land is open space.
    6. Addressing the letter from PC and their four specifications:
      1. Forest conservation area has been expanded so that it can accommodate conservation and additional landscaping, screening, etc. Existing hedgerows will be reinforced
      2. Road requirements for width have been met. There are sidewalks on both sides.       
      3. Fyfe road, widened with 3 lane section.  
      4. Access to John Poole House will be provided through the park to connect to the parking lot. The connection has been provided in the new plan.
    7. The perimeter of the development (along Fyfe and Fisher), will have homes with porches in front, garages in back.
  3. Patty Wynkoop, Vice President, Miller and Smith, Product Development
    1. Addressed VOZ guidelines with respect to architecture: Miller and Smith is willing to meet all architectural detail requirements. Some homes have garages that are rear-load, some homes have garages that are in front. The-rear load garage homes will be placed along the border of Fyfe and Fisher. There will be a variety of architectural styles, architectural details to match Poolesville’s style, natural materials and enhanced color palette.
  4. Landscape Planner for Miller & Smith
    1. Setback on Fisher Ave increased to 25 feet. Connection with the Fyfe trail is being improved, connected to children’s playground that will be there, too. Rain gardens along Fyfe and throughout the rest of the community, provide visual interest and address stormwater issues.
    2. Founder’s Park (the developer's name for the proposed park next to John Poole House) will be connected to the Willshire community, and there will be connections to tie everything to Whalen Commons, Town Hall, and the rest of Poolesville. There will be many ways to walk through the community. The existing lawn in front of the Willard house will hug the John Poole House. 
  5. Attorney representing Miller and Smith
    1. The concept plan satisfies the master plan for walkability, connectivity, and infill development.

Commissioner Questions and Comments

  1. For the front-load houses, they have 4 parking spaces each (2 in the garage, 2 in the driveway). Is that realistic?
    1. Reply: most HOA’srestrict using garage for storage, so if HOA enforces that, 2 car spaces would be available in the garage.
  2. Minimum for sidewalks is 5 feet. Promenades (such as along Fyfe) will be wider than that, currently shown at 7 feet.

Audience Comments

  1. We are a crossroad village. What this plan does is hide a bad suburban neighborhood behind a pretty street front facade “thing.” This plan is a facade with junk behind it.
  2. Concern about overuse of Whalen Common. The facade on Fisher is Federalist, so the homes would need to be Federalist in order to match. Safety problems- snow removal and emergency vehicles will be hard. Everybody will be on Fyfe road through Fisher. Please don't vote tonight, must go through parks board first: it’s in the code. Parkland isn’t just space we can’t use or space left over- until the parks board reviews the plan, it’s in the code that a vote can’t be taken. Town government should follow rules everyone else has to follow.
  3. The planning commission has been ignoring the resident’s desires, we’ve been silenced and ignored despite attending every meeting. Petitions, community organization, etc haven’t been acknowledged. How is 61 homes, in addition to 100+ already approved, incremental growth? Parents have made sacrifices to live in this small town. If this development goes through, the small town feel that makes Poolesville special will be lost. Who will want to move out here if it feels just like everywhere else? 61 homes will not increase the attractiveness of the downtown area. Hold Miller and Smith accountable. Hold a charette. Thoughtfully create a development that works for Poolesville.
  4. Great sales pitch: a $42 million dollar development presented with a battalion of subject-matter experts to our volunteer board, who have no subject-matter experts of their own. We brought our own subject-matter expert, who coaches the Poolesville youth soccer team, and he was limited to 3 minutes. He is still willing to volunteer his time to take all of this new information and review it, in a charette, assist the planning commission in making an informed decision.
  5. Erin Bettinger, Executive Board Member, Poolesville Mom's Club: Lived here for 4 years, husband grew up here, family moved here because of Poolesville's unique qualities. Our club has 70 families in this area. The survey shows that members within the Mom's Club, overwhelming, do not support the proposed development.
  6. There needs to be a dialogue, people feel disrespected and not heard. A way to set up a respectful dialogue is to look at the master plan and overlay zone together. “Village concept with small town character”- very subjective, what is the sweet spot? 25 homes? 35-40 homes? People feel that their voices have not been heard, a vote tonight would be highly premature.
  7. Resident from the parks board: a little further down the line, the developer needs to meet with the parks board to determine where parks will be, how big, etc. All the “green slivers” along the exterior edges don’t count as parkland. Park names, like “Founder’s Park”, need to be approved by the parks board too; names are not made by the developer.
  8. Resident who lives in one of the new Poolesville townhouses on Fisher, Wootton Woods: when we bought our townhome it looked a lot different in the plans than it does right now. Many appealing, softening exterior features that were presented in the plan, don't exist with the real built product. It’s easier to use clipart than it is to plant a tree and wait for it to grow. Please aim for a higher standard when talking about trees, landscaping, parkland.
  9. A decision should not be made tonight. The town needs it own project planning expert/manger to handle this proposed development. Also, what is the Town Commissions ability to affect changes to the plan?
    1. Reply from Town of Pooleville Lawyer: this is not a plan approval here, what is pending is whether the PC is making a recommendation to the Town Commissioners to grant use of the overlay zone. Usually concept plans aren’t this detailed. All the details will be worked out after you start doing site planning and getting approval on various things.
  10. Abby Clouse-Radigan presented paper copies of the updated POP petition to all on the PC and stated that the petition now has 742 signatures. 90% are Poolesville residents. The petition gets a bump in signatures every time Willshire is on the agenda. Residents’ concerns are not abating--despite the decrease in units, concern continues to mount. Residents are concerned about how the buildings will occupy the space (not just the numbers of buildings). A 3D rending without trees should be requested so that the PC has a clear sense of the relative size and scale of the units, how they blend with the surrounding area, and how they're positioned vis-a-vis each other.
  11. Former planning commissioner involved in the last 3 master plans asks the town people to place some faith in the planning commission.
  12. The sidewalks will get plowed in with the snow the way they’re set up. The snow will be too heavy to move. Says there is more than enough water available and asks where all the people complaining were 15 years ago?
  13. Master plan calls for incremental growth, but there are already 100-200 homes in the process of being built or coming online. Surveys clearly show that town residents want a small town rural feel. Everyone will experience this community everyday- everybody wants to “do the right thing.” Focus on incremental growth, what the community will feel like if Miller and Smith builds this. Without a 3D rendering without mature trees, the only thing to do is to go see a similar Miller and Smith community looks like. Go see it.
  14. Came to Poolesville 6 years ago for the small town feel. We have something special, not opposed to all new development but does think this is too dense to fit into our current community and small town feeling. If we build this it’ll erode what’s special about Poolesville. The current proposal doesn’t sit well.
  15. Don’t vote for the overlay zone. I’m downstream of the proposed development--I live in the river now, and this plan will not help.
  16. As far as the town feel and spacing of the homes, 1/10th of an acre doesn’t work with the surrounding homes on 1/3rd to ½ of an acre. How will the roads deal with so much traffic, with up to 4 cars per home? Roundabouts won’t help. Young pedestrians will be in danger from all this increased traffic.
  17. Caroline Taylor of Montgomery Countryside Alliance: do any of the provisions (35 feet, green bits, etc) address stormwater management concerns? The adjacent property owner has a video of the water she deals with. What is the carrying capacity of the development in regards to water? We have a finite supply of water, we should watch and wait to see what happens with water before adding this new development to strain those resources. Wait and see how the things already approved tax our resources. Dense development such as the proposed one costs more to service than it generates in tax revenue.
  18. The proposed homes are inconsistent with the surrounding properties. Was density discussed in the last letter to Miller and Smith? (Reply from PC: overlay zone doesn’t specify a particular housing density, that’s why it wasn’t specifically mentioned in the last letter). If density is what most of the resident comments addressed, it should have been in your letter. A lot of the community feels that this plan is still too dense. Please do not to vote until a more appropriate density is reached.
  19. Moved here 6 years ago. Looked at Reston and got sticker shock. We were looking for more green space. Poolesville is completely different from other communities- this will definitely change the character of Poolesville. This concept is not in keeping with the character of Poolesville, which is unique in this area. If the concept is not good, don’t let the concept as-is go forward.
  20. Lived here 15 years and kids grew up in Poolesville. Came from a very dense area and loves Poolesville. Houses on 1/10th of an acre are just townhouses divided by 10 feet of grass. You are here for the people of Poolesville, not for the really nice people of the development company.
  21. Cal’s article in the Monocacy Monocle about people with “agendas” was belittling. The town is speaking, please listen. We haven’t had a stormwater drainage study--it’s very concerning. What about the traffic study? My house is right on the front-line of these issues. The residents of Tama do not want that street connection to their community, re: Glass Way.
  22. Watched how Olney grew and it pushed her family out. These new expensive homes will push people out. Don’t want to watch Poolesville lose its friendliness.
  23. Changes suggested about adding greenspace. As gatekeepers, it is the planning commissions duty to listen to the people who live here. You are being nickeled and dimed with small concessions. Opening Glass Way will not encourage walkability, the children who walk through there to school will not be able to walk through anymore if there are cars. Conversations of what the HOA might do, that’s passing the buck. If the point of this meeting is to get input of whether this plan should be recommended to the town commissioners, I say no, There are sections of the Great Wall of China that are smaller than the height of these houses.
  24. If you vote tonight, please vote against. The two egresses on Fisher have been changed to open up Glass Way, and it doesn’t make sense. The school children who currently walk on Glass Way will not be able to do so if it’s open. “Line of sight” issue doesn’t seem correct.

Individual statements from PC members:

  1. Bryan Bupp: fear of losing small town charm shouldn’t have that much impact on our decision. People have opposed additional homes being built throughout the years but those home were built and Poolesville is still a small town. Place trust in Master plan and Overlay drafters.
  2. Michael Tims: struggled with the prospect of change in the character of Poolesville. I don’t think we got the overlay plan right. This development will change the character of this town, it’ll have a strong effect, it’s too large and will be talked about for years. We need more conversation before I feel like the rural historical character of the town is preserved. That density is out of character. The plan may meet the minimum standard set by the overlay, but the standards of the overlay need to be re-examined.
  3. Kevin Schramm: when we created the overlay I thought it would give us more control but it hasn’t. We’ve been able to negotiate sidewalks, parks etc in other developments without the overlay zone. The overlay zone has opened up a Pandora's box. We need to spend more time thinking about what we want from the overlay zone.
  4. Chuck Stump: density was discussed when we were writing the overlay plan. Every single way to control density up-front could have holes poked in it, that’s why they decided not to limit density up-front. Trying to come up with a one-size-fits-all density cap would not be able to be done for all the parcels the overlay would affect. Think we should have another working session with Miller and Smith where density is addressed and negotiated, instead of having more of these meetings. Recommend not to vote tonight, instead have a meeting and discuss properly. The overlay should be revisited.
  5. Calvin Sneed, PC Chair: agrees with Bryan Bupp on everything. The POP petition doesn’t mean anything- the signatures were collected when 93 dwellings were proposed [PoP Note: it was created when it was 75 homes]. Some signatures are from people under 21 years of age [PoP Note: there’s no legal age requirement for petitions]. I represent everyone, those who come to the meetings and those who don’t, the Willards included. When we wrote the overlay zoning, we were all overwhelmingly in favor of the overlay, we spoke about wanting something like downtown Frederick.
  6. Poolesville’s Legal Counsel: we can make a motion to vote (it can be tabled) but caution against trying to force a work session. PC can give a recommendation to the commissioners, positive or negative. It would be up to the applicant whether to present to the town commissioners, regardless of whether the vote of the planning commission is positive or negative. The town commissioners are the ones to make and initiate changes to the VOZ, not the PC. The PC only interprets the VOZ.

Motion to approve the VOZ for the Willard property. Vote: 2 aye (Sneed and Bupp), 3 nay (Tims, Schramm, Sneed).


*Please keep in mind that we strive to make accurate records, but this is a human taking notes during a fast-paced meeting.