Showdown looming over Chevy Chase vacant lot
Town changes guidelines that could impact three-house proposal
Developers and Town of Chevy Chase appear destined to butt heads over the municipality's largest residential property, now a vacant lot.
According to developers, the town's decision at a March 10 meeting to change an ordinance appeared to be motivated solely by a desire to stop the construction of three homes on the lot at 7206 Meadow Lane, although town officials denied this allegation.
At the same meeting, the town also adopted standards that would inform its opinion on subdivisions and re-subdivisions of residential lots. These general guidelines state that subdivided properties should share several characteristics with adjoining lots, such as which direction they face, the general shape and size of the lots, and suitability for homes.
The developers, Chevy Chase Green Vision and Peterson and Collins builders, said they don't know how this standard would impact their project, while Mayor Kathy Strom said passing the guidelines was not directed at their plans.
Town officials said an alley on the western side of the Meadow Lane property in question had previously been called a street. But then they received a question from resident Sally Kelly, who lives next to the 7206 Meadow Lane property, about a neighbor's desire to put up a fence along the alley, and that this question alerted them to the fact that their definition of a street did not conform to the county's.
"We didn't understand what the rules were," said Kelly, who added that she didn't agree that the ordinance was directed at the 7206 Meadow Lane property.
Through a 4-0 vote, the Town Council decided to change the definition of a street so that it would more closely align with Montgomery County's definition, which is that a street must contain at least 30 feet of public right-of-way.
"To me, the more we're in line with the county the better, because it makes things simpler," said Councilman Al Lang.
But the developers argue the town's new definition would scuttle their project. The lots and homes they have proposed on the western side of the Meadow Lane lot will have to be at a 165-foot distance from the alley, instead of the 25-foot setbacks that previous homes had used. This would move the houses onto the side of a hill or onto environmentally-sensitive land on the east side of the property near Meadow Lane, developers said.
The 1.33-acre property is valued at $1.7 million with no improvements, and has been vacant since 2007, when the remains of an unfinished home begun about seven years prior were demolished.
While the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has approval power over subdivisions and re-subdivisions, the town can submit comments and opinions on such proposals.
Property owner George Collins of Peterson and Collins said because of the new street ordinance, he will need a variance to build the project. Collins said he was doubtful that he would get this variance.
"That seems like we're being singled out," Collins said.
If the development plan is ultimately approved, Collins and his partner Ted Peterson plan to sell the property to Chevy Chase Green Vision.
Collins questioned why the town didn't grant the resident the variance to put up a new fence, instead of investigating its definition of a street, changing the definition to fit the county's definition, and severely impacting his project. He also said it was "a bit suspect" that the town passed its guidelines about the size and character of lots as his project is getting underway.
But like her colleague Al Lang, Mayor Kathy Strom said the town wanted the guidelines to help it conform to county standards. She said it was the first subdivision or re-subdivision case the town had seen in several years.
"What we've been trying to do, and I think it's really a service to the community, is to make our policies and procedures transparent," she said.