The Montgomery County Council this week overwhelmingly rejected a proposal for construction of moderately priced homes on part of the Falls Road Junior High School site in Potomac.
At the same time, the council tentatively approved plans to study construction of moderately priced homes on part of the affluent community's Bradley Junior High School site.
The actions came at a meeting called this week to consider a package of proposed changes in the newly revised draft of the Potomac Master Plan, intended to boost the county's stock of affordable homes.
The two school sites were purchased by the county for junior highs that were never built.Planners proposed moderately priced housing for portions of both, in keeping with a new county policy that requires the council to consider building inexpensive homes on any surplus school site.
Council members were swayed by the more than 400 Potomac residents who turned out at a public hearing last month to protest the Falls Road proposal.
They charged that the county was reneging on a two-year-old promise to build three soccer fields on the 20-acre tract of land at Falls Road and Falls Chapel Way.
Unter the proposal, 60 moderately priced homes would have been built on 10 acres, leaving only enough land for one soccer field.
"We have a strong and it seems a longstanding commitment to this community to build soccer fields," said Council Chairman Scott Fosler, explaining his opposition to the housing proposal.
The soccer fields were approved by a 6-to-1 vote with council member Elizabeth Scull casting the only dissenting vote.
"I have no objection to soccer fields," Scull said, "but I do object to our failure to even consider sharing the site with homes."
A similar proposal for the Bradley school site narrowly won council approval, despite objections from a few area residents who said moderately priced housing would destroy the character of their community of estate-like homes on two-acres lots.
Four members favored the proposal and three abstained. The vote was tentative and is subject to reversal until the council gives its final approval to the newly revised Potomac Master Plan. Such votes are rarely reversed, however, Fosler said.
Final approval of the proposal would not mean that low-cost homes will suddenly spring up on the site near Potomac Village on Logan Drive, north of River Road.
It would mean only that the County Council endorses beginning a cumbersome process of public hearings and planning sessions to find out whether affordable homes should be built there.
That process would not begin until the site has officially been declared surplus by the Montgomery County school board. Council members said they did not know how long that might take or whether the school board will ever vote to turn the tract of land over to the county.
If the homes are built, Scull stressed, they will not be for low-income families who require federal assistance to help pay their rent.
Instead, middle income professionals, teachers and retirees will be able to buy them. Prices would be kept down because the county will own the valuable land on which they are built. Mortgage payments would be kept to a minimum, Scull said, by low interest loans, guaranteed by the county.
The school site proposals were part of a package of proposed changes in the Potomac Master Plan, tentatively ruled on this week by the Montgomery County Council.
The council rejected two shopping centers proposed in the plan -- one on Falls Road and the other on the north side of River Road, west of Seven Locks Road.
The shopping centers were intended to cut down on time Potomac residents must spend driving to the grocery store in the gas-short days ahead. Area residents opposed the centers, however, presenting market surveys and studies supporting their claim that Potomac does not need more grocery stores. s
"I was not convinced that there was a clear need for the shopping centers," Fosler said, adding that unneeded new stores could draw customers from old ones, precipitating the decline of healthy shopping centers.
The council also approved a conditional increase in the number of homes that can be built on a 3,000-acre stretch of land south of Rte. 28.
Under terms of that proposal, a developer could build as many as 3.4 homes per acre instead of the two now allowed. Higher density development would have to be concentrated along major roadways, and a developer would be required to seek detailed site plan approval from the county before building the larger number of homes.
The proposal is intended to increase the number of moderately priced homes in the county.
Changes voted on by the County Council will be included in the revised draft of the Potomac Master Plan, which will govern development in the Potomac area. In about three weeks, Fosler said, that draft will return to the council for added discussion and a final vote.