A measure that would ban new medical and dental clinics in residential areas of Montgomery County has met resistance from physicians and dentists who are organizing an effort to defeat it.

Edward Shanbacker, executive director of the Montgomery County Medical Society, said his organization and the Southern Maryland Dental Society are lining up members and patients to testify against the proposed zoning text amendment at a public hearing Jan. 26 before the County Council, which is considering the legislation.

Under the amendment, the county zoning appeals board would no longer be able to grant special exceptions for opening clinics in residentially zoned neighborhoods. The legislation would permit existing clinics to stay open, but would prohibit them from expanding. If a fire or other disaster were to severely damage a clinic, owners could rebuild only if the Board of Appeals completes a lengthy process to determine whether the neighborhood still needs the facility. An alternate proposal under consideration would prevent clinics from being rebuilt if 50 percent of more of the building were to be destroyed.

The proposal has pitted health-care providers against the county's planning board. Joan Yamamoto, an analyst for the county's planning board, said the measure is necessary because the clinics are commercial facilities that have created traffic and parking problems for surrounding neighborhoods.

"The original rationale for putting offices in neighborhoods was that patients would come from the nearby community," Yamamoto said. "But this is not true anymore. Any doctor has patients coming from all over the metro area." Yamamoto said clinics are "office uses and they belong in commercial areas." She also said Montgomery County is the only Washington-area jurisdiction that still allows medical and dental clinics in residential zones.

Neither the county nor the medical and dental societies has statistics on the number of clinics in residential areas.

Doctors and dentists said the measure would force them to move to commercial areas where they would have to pay higher rents, passing the increased costs on to patients. This would further add to the skyrocketing cost of health care, they said.

The doctors and dentists also contended that the zoning amendment, along with another planning board proposal to regulate professional offices in homes, would force ill patients to walk long distances because of a lack of sufficient parking near physicians' offices in crowded central business districts.

"It's dangerous legislation," said Stanley Wolf, an allergist who owns two medical buildings in residential zones off Georgia Avenue near Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. "We take care of a lot of people in the community. Some patients just can't walk long distances. So close proximity of medical services and parking is certainly advantageous to them."

Wolf denied that clinics create problems for neighborhoods.

"We already have to provide one parking space for every 200 square feet of floor space," he said. "So we're not creating a parking impact. If the formula is wrong, change the formula. But don't push all our patients downtown."

Shanbacker said the clinic ban would hit upper-county residents and health care providers the hardest because much of the land there is zoned residential and patients would have to travel farther to get medical care. "And most clinics are on main roads anyways," so they would not affect traffic that much, he said.

County Council president Mike Subin said his first inclination is to vote against the zoning amendment. "But the whole special exception process has gotten out of hand. One of the biggest places they have let go so far has been for medical and dental offices. The Board of Appeals has granted special exceptions without looking at the cumulative effect of what they have done," he said.

"The council needs to give some stronger signals on how it {the board} should operate," Subin said. "Doctors are major components of the problem, so that's why the planning board is dealing with them first. But others will be affected."