This Year in Montgomery County, Keep Your Eye On….

Agricultural Reserve

Will the Agricultural Reserve be preserved in perpetuity, as intended, or will County Council press forward in 2021 to permit industrial solar power on agricultural land in its effort to combat climate change?

The Council has a goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent by 2035.

But despite its lofty goal, Montgomery County Council is in danger of opening the Agricultural Reserve to industrial solar use. The 1980 Council permanently set aside the 93,000 acres of land specifically for agricultural use, a land use initiative praised across the United States.

Council postponed a vote on the zoning text amendment in November to create a working group. Council hoped that advocates on both sides of the debate would reach some consensus during discussions.

But the group, which met more than 10 hours during the holiday season, didn’t leave one farmer feeling festive.

“I’m not the one leaving the workgroup with a warm fuzzy feeling. I appreciate each and everyone of you all that has participated in it. I’ve learned a lot from all of you. But my frustration level is huge. What the hell is the hurry? Why is this County Council on such an accelerated track to approve alternative energy in a zone that has been 50 years in the making? It is imperative to get it right,” said Randy Stabler.

The Council is scheduled to hold a committee meeting on Jan. 14, and has voiced intent to vote on the amendment by the end of January.

See past Almanac Stories:

Solar Shines Spotlight on Montgomery County Ag Reserve

Stopping the Combine: Farmers Can’t Compete for Land in Montgomery County

Clean Energy or Farmland? Or Both? in Montgomery County: Solar Could Supplant Agricultural Reserve

Key Dates

Thursday, Jan. 14

Montgomery County Council, Public Housing and Environmental Committee, ZTA-20-01, Solar Collection Systems, Agricultural Zone Standards

Luxury Lanes Speeding Through?

More than 140 people testified during a series of virtual and live meetings this summer on the State Highway Administration’s 19,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement that accompanies Gov. Larry Hogan’s $11 billion-plus private-public partnership plan to add four toll lanes from the American Legion Bridge, around the Beltway to Prince George's County, and up 270 to Frederick.

About 127 voiced opposition to the plan, recommending the “no-build” option. Approximately 15 people spoke in support of the plan.

Key Dates:

Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, 7:30 p.m.

Joint House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve, Del. Marc Korman, and Del. Jared Solomon plus representatives from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, CABE, Sierra Club and others to hear the latest on the outlook for legislation and action on the $11 billion I-495/I-270 toll lane proposal and MDOT's efforts to accelerate the project.

Covid Surging

With a population of 49,194, Potomac 20854 has had 1,270 covid cases, including 115 in the last 14 days, and 47 deaths. Montgomery County has had 48,089 cases and 1,097 deaths (as of Jan. 5) since the beginning of the pandemic. Maryland has reported 285,319 cases and 5,826 deaths. Currently Maryland has a 9.15 positivity rate, as of Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, and 1,709 people are currently hospitalized in Maryland due to Covid.

Black people are disproportionately affected, accounting for 36.6 percent of cases, despite being just 20.1 percent of the county’s population.

Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services received the first round of vaccine doses, which are to be earmarked for County health staff engaged in managing the pandemic response, according to county press releases.

Montgomery County is following the priority designations outlined by Gov. Larry Hogan and that all Maryland counties will follow:

1A: Frontline health care workers; staff and residents of nursing homes; and first responders

1B: Essential workers and residents over the age of 75

1C: Individuals over the age of 65

The second priority group includes people in critical, essential infrastructure roles as well as those people at moderately higher risk of severe illness.

The general public will have the chance to be vaccinated when the initial priority groups have been fully vaccinated. It is estimated that the general public will have the opportunity to receive the vaccination sometime in the spring of 2021.

Retirement Community on River Road

Spectrum Retirement Communities seeks to transform Potomac Petals and Plants (formerly Behnke’s) into a 100 unit retirement community on a 5.04-acre property located at 9545 River Road.

Montgomery County’s Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings is scheduled to hear the proposal on Jan. 15, 2021.

“We have been looking on the east coast and in this area for several years and Potomac continuously rose to the top of our list,” said Mike Longfellow, with Spectrum Retirement Communities, a company based in Denver, Colo.

Neighbors voiced traffic and safety concerns, and originally objected to the plans for a three-story, 152,655 square foot building. “This project could be among the very top of conditional uses in size and bulk,” said David Brown, land use attorney who represents neighbors and West Montgomery County Citizens Association.

But after negotiations with Spectrum, neighbors agreed to revisions to turn the facility to two-stories instead of three, and for enhanced landscaping and screening.

“In order to support the neighbors’ extensive efforts to reach an agreement on the revised plan, [West Montgomery County Citizens Association] agreed to withdraw its opposition as well,” said Susanne Lee, of West Montgomery.

Upcoming Dates:

Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, 9:30 a.m.: Public hearing before Montgomery County Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings

https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/ozah/

School Resource Officers

High school principals in Montgomery County unanimously support police officers in public high schools; other people point to the disproportionate treatment of students of color and say the School Resource Officer program is part of the school-to-prison pipeline.

During the 2018-2019 school year, Black students were arrested 73 times and Hispanic students 55 times of the 163 student arrests that school year, compared to 32 White students, and 2 Asian students, according to MCPS data. Discipline including suspensions also disproportionately impact Black and Latinx students.

In the 2019-2020 school year, shortened by the pandemic, Black students and HIspanic students accounted for 62 (34 Black students and 28 Hispanic students) of the 71 arrests.

Black and Hispanic students are suspended twice as often as their white peers in elementary, middle and high schools. Special education students are suspended twice as often as other students.

Montgomery County’s Board of Education is scheduled to discuss measures the school system can take to address the disproportionately treatment at its Board meeting on Jan. 12, 2021.

Meanwhile, Will Jawando of Montgomery County Council introduced a bill calling for the termination of the SRO program. The Council will hold a public hearing also on Jan. 12, 2021, before it begins its own deliberations on Jawando’s proposal.

Key Dates:

Jan 12, 2021, 1:30 p.m.

Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education, Business Meeting, 1:30 p.m., Discussion of Student Arrest Data and the School Resource Officer Program

Jan. 12, 2021, 7:30 p.m.

Montgomery County Council, Public Hearing on Bill 46-20, Removal of School Resource Officers

Bill 45-20

Will Jawando spearheaded Bill 45-20, cosponsored by all other councilmembers, that aims to ensure greater transparency in the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) and to create publicly available data related to the race, ethnicity, gender and other voluntarily provided information about residents involved in policing actions. Council deliberations begin in January in a Public Safety committee meeting.

Key Dates:

Thursday, Jan. 21, 9:30 a.m.

Montgomery County Council, Public Safety Committee meeting, Community Policing, Bill 45-20

No-Knock Warrants

Duncan Lemp, 21, expected a no-knock search warrant to be executed against him, according to a 17-page report released last week by the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office. Lemp was fatally shot five times by one officer of a Montgomery County SWAT Team in the early morning of March 12, 2020, in his Potomac home on St. James Road. Three bullets were recovered inside his body, and two left exit wounds in his shoulder and elbow.

Police recovered ghost guns, assault weapons, at least 50 boxes of ammunition as well as magazines of ammunition for the assault weapons. Police conducted a similar search of the home in 2016, according to the report, and Lemp was prohibited from owning firearms.

Howard County exonerated the officer and cleared police, offering details of devices, including booby traps and trip wire that Lemp manufactured inside his home.

In the last 20 years, no-knock warrants have resulted in three shootings and one death, the killing of Lemp.

Last July, Montgomery County Council passed a Use of Force Policy that prohibits a police officer from using deadly force except when absolutely necessary, and limits no-knock warrants. The legislation requires the Montgomery County police chief to adopt a Use of Force Policy aimed at safeguarding all community members from excessive use of force by police.

According to the investigation of Lemp’s killing: “The pre-raid plan indicated that the house was to be ‘dual-breached,’ meaning that two members of the raid team would conduct a ‘break and rake’ on Duncan Lemp’s first-floor bedroom window while the rest of the team entered the house by using a battering ram on the main front door. These actions were to occur simultaneously with each other. According to the team leader of this raid, he gave the order to dual-breach at 4:42 a.m.

“As the dual-breach was occurring, other members of the SWAT team were tasked with deploying “flashbangs” outside the residence to disorient the senses of the occupants of the house as to what was happening,” according to the report.

Zoning and Social Equity

On Dec. 1, the Montgomery County Council unanimously enacted legislation which will require a racial equity and social justice impact statement for each new zoning text amendment. Councilmember Nancy Navarro was the lead sponsor of this legislation, which aims to help ensure that all County zoning decisions undergo evidence-based assessments of their potential impacts on Black and Latino residents and other communities. All other Councilmembers are cosponsors.

West Montgomery

Every Potomac resident or advocate should join or be aware of the efforts of West Montgomery County Citizens Association, which was founded in 1947 as a forum for local issues, and is Potomac’s voice in the halls of government. Board members serve on government advisory committees and testify at public hearings before the Planning Board, County Council, and the Board of Appeals, as well as in Annapolis. When necessary, WMCCA retains Counsel in legal issues.

Monthly public meetings October through May feature speakers, citizen concerns, development proposals, and environmental issues relevant to our community. WMCCA’s Board of Directors meets monthly year-round, and three committees shape its agenda – Environment, Planning and Zoning, and Roads, Bikeways and Sidewalks.

See www.wmcca.org and a letter from West Montgomery highlighting this month’s efforts.

Get Involved

What’s keeping your attention, what’s gotten you riled, what are you advocating for, volunteering to do, and passionate about? Email Ken Moore, Almanac reporter, at kmoore@connectionnewspapers.com.

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