Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Planners say ‘neigh’ to horses near Northwest Branch

Property owners with land surrounding section of Willington Drive want parcel for their animals

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The paved section of Willington Drive in Silver Spring abruptly ends in the 300 block, asphalt giving way to a trail beside a stream among sloping, forested hills. The stream and trail, in Rocky Brook Park, stops when they meet the east side of the Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park.

Carey and Marilyn Hoobler own two 1.5-acre lots surrounding the end of Willington, which they thought would be a perfect spot for Diamond and Sky, the family’s horse and pony. All they needed was the county’s permission to take over the end of the road.

‘‘We really did think it would be kind of simple,” Carey Hoobler said.

But the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday unanimously recommended denying the Hooblers’ request to declare the last 150 feet of Willington abandoned, which would have given the Hooblers ownership and enough space for Diamond and Sky. The County Council, by law, will make the final decision.

The recommendation reinforces the county’s strict oversight of land use in environmentally sensitive areas. Planning Board staff said the Hooblers’ request would restrict public access to the Northwest Branch and could affect the Rocky Brook tributary and surrounding forest.

‘‘We’re very protective of these tributaries where we have development around the streams,” Commissioner John Robinson said before the vote.

The Hooblers have owned Diamond for five years and Sky for about four years. The horses are boarded on Ednor Road, Carey Hoobler said, but the family always planned to bring them closer to their home on Warrenton Drive, north of Willington. Previous property owners on Warrenton kept horses, but none in recent years, said Carey Hoobler, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than seven years.

Marilyn Hoobler attempted to obtain a special exception from the Montgomery County Board of Appeals in 2006 that would have permitted the horses on the family’s three acres. But the board told her the lots were not contiguous, separated by the public right of way along Willington, meaning the family did not have enough connected acreage for the horses.