Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Planners say developers must restore watershed

Board debates balance between community’s needs and growth

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Builders in Germantown must bear responsibility for the area’s deteriorating water quality, though increasing the cost of development in the community could stifle the next phase of growth before it begins, county Planning Board members said last week.

Finding a balance between protecting the needs of residents and encouraging the redevelopment that would also benefit the community was one of several items discussed by the board at its March 27 briefing on updating Germantown’s 1989 Master Plan, its third meeting since work on the update began in 2006. The amendment, which focuses on 2,450 acres stretching from Crystal Rock Drive and the CSX railroad tracks to Route 355, is expected to be approved by the County Council in 2009.

Watershed quality in that area has declined significantly between 2001 and 2006, according to data collected but not yet published by the county Department of Environmental Protection. The change is mostly due to an increase in impervious surfaces and a decrease in forested land, according to Steve Findley, a county environmental planner. And that downward trend is expected to continue, he told the board.

County planners hope to correct the situation by adding more green space, reducing the amount of impervious surfaces and improving stormwater management systems as properties redevelop, but some board members wondered how quickly that redevelopment would occur and if stricter environmental controls would cause further delays.

‘‘It seems like it may become an important factor in how we may have to control the pace of growth in Germantown,” Findley said of the water analysis results.

Planners have discussed restoring some of Germantown’s stream valleys to prepare the watershed for future development, though no decisions have been made, he said.

‘‘There will have to be an emphasis on whoever comes in to not only mitigate but to recapture some of the damage that has happened,” said Commissioner Allison Bryant.

Bryant and other board members cautioned that requiring developers to spend more on protecting Germantown’s water could come at the cost of other amenities that would benefit the community, such as streetscape improvements or playgrounds. The board also noted that money spent on sustainable building would benefit the developer as well by raising the property’s value.

‘‘One of the features of Germantown has been its green setting and the fact that it sits in these two watersheds,” Chairman Royce Hanson said. ‘‘It seems to me that what we’re aiming for is, as redevelopment occurs, to be as aggressive as we can be in terms of reducing the damage that has occurred.”

The board also expressed approval of county planners’ recommendation to provide more guidance on the aesthetics of development, such as restricting building heights in certain areas, but members asked for more information about density and land use at the board’s next master plan briefing, which has not yet been scheduled. They asked planners to provide specific rationale for its zoning recommendations.