Dear Council President Andrews and Members of the County Council:
The Montgomery County Sierra Club is writing to express its strong opposition to the elements of Bill HPA 09-01 that would establish a separate and more rigorous process for addition to the Master Plan for Historic Preservation when the current owner of the property objects, and would make the Planning Board's judgment final if it chose not to recommend a property or district for historic designation.
We would like to add our voice to that of the majority of the witnesses at the March 31 Council hearing who presented strong arguments against this bill. We agree with them that the procedural changes in the amendment are not in the long-term public interest.
On separate process: Surely the legal arguments you heard from several speakers make this element of the amendment a nonstarter: a separate process would insert something in the Master Plan for Historic Preservation that does not exist in any other, where zoning changes always affect someone. To be consistent, should we now say that any property owner who objects to a zoning change in connection with a master plan gets a separate process requiring more rigorous review and a super majority on the vote for that particular property? Would this principle of separate process if owner objects apply also to other county laws having to do with land and buildings? Stream buffers? Conservation easements? Forest Conservation Law? Building codes?
On making the Planning Board the final arbiter: The Planning Board in its own discussion of HPA 09-01 rejected this part of the amendment, as well as the separate process discussed above. As an appointed body, its role in every other master plan process is to review and recommend to the Council, which is subject to the voters. Yet under this amendment, it could cut the elected officials and the public out of the process. Combined with the super majority requirement for properties where the owner objects, this would permit just two appointed commissioners to cut the elected officials and public out. If this is not illegal, it is certainly bad policy and should be rejected.
Public benefit of historic designation: As a county we are rightly proud of having preserved and remodeled for modern purposes the Silver Theater and adjacent shopping center, now historic centerpieces of Silver Spring, as well as the award-winning Montgomery Arms Apartments and the B&O Train Station. These pieces of our history were preserved over the vigorous objection of their owners. Under HPA 09-91, as pointed out by Mary Reardon in her testimony, the owners would probably have succeeded in efforts to destroy them for easy, immediate financial gain.
Amendment HPA 09-01 also includes many language revisions that do not change meaning, but rather improve the readability of the law. I therefore urge you to reject the current amendment, but introduce another that addresses only these stylistic changes.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.