Neighbors are unhappy with latest plans for Casey Mill

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006

Neighbors of a proposed housing development on the Casey at Mill Creek property bordering Washington Grove and Rockville are less than thrilled with revisions in the project that increase density.

Toll Brothers Inc., a Horsham, Pa.-based homebuilder, bought the 132-acre parcel last summer and has made several changes to the preliminary site plan approved through lengthy and contentious public hearings in late 2004.

The project, now being called Piedmont Crossing, includes 65 homes.

At a meeting with residents last week, Toll Brothers representatives said the changes incorporate the suggestions that came out of the earlier Planning Board hearings — many of them made by concerned residents and civic groups like the Shady Grove Civic Alliance.

The key to their plan was to locate the densest housing in the center of the community. But the unhappy reaction from about 40 residents in attendance was unanimous.

‘‘The site plan has changed dramatically enough that I think we need to go back to the beginning,” said Washington Grove resident Heather Hoerle, who, like most in the audience, took particular exception to an increase in the number of townhouses from 12 to 30.

‘‘We’re getting a short shrift and we absolutely need to go back to the drawing board,” she said. ‘‘This is not what was approved. It’s not meeting with the intention of all the commentary thus far.”

Developers, county planners and concerned residents have wrangled over the property for more than four years, in large part because the land is a key component of two long-term development plans. Montgomery County Public Schools is in the process of buying nine acres there for an elementary school that will be made necessary by pending ‘‘smart growth” plans to redevelop 2,000 acres around the Shady Grove Metro Station.

The Intercounty Connector also figures into the property, with the State Highway Administration looking to acquire the southern portion of the property for access.

A 12-acre meadow, which abuts Washington Grove’s southeastern border, has already been dedicated into the Legacy Open Space program, a county effort to protect open spaces and heritage resources.

Those projects leave Toll Brothers to develop only the northern edge of the property.

The developer’s decision to clear all the trees along Ridge Road and replace them ‘‘dry creek bed” vexed many in the audience who said the bed was nothing more than a drainage ditch.

Some residents were concerned that construction will disrupt the wells of several homes on Ridge Road. There is also an ongoing but so far fruitless search for the remains of a cemetery that appears only on certain maps.

The project should go to final site plan review at the Planning Board later this year.