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January 3, 2020

Glebe Heights Public Meeting

On December 30, 2019, Jesse Iliff, South RiverKeeper, visited the Edgewater library for a public hearing on a proposed development along Glebe Heights Drive. Given the timing between holidays, I expected to be one of a very few intrepid folks to turn out. I was surprised upon entering the parking lot to see a line of people extending about 100 feet out the door. Despite the likelihood of people being away on vacations, and due to the organizing prowess of the Neighbors of the Mayo Peninsula, literally hundreds
of people came out to ask questions and voice their concerns with the development.

In case you missed the meeting, the proposed Glebe Heights development would clear 26 acres of mature forest located in a designated County Greenway to build 42 houses. The development would be in close proximity to the recently completed Southpointe development off Loch Haven Road, which has already caused significant drainage and flooding issues for neighbors in older houses, as well as the new houses themselves.

The greenway in question is the Glebe Branch-Muddy Creek Greenway, so named because it connects the large contiguous forests of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center off Muddy Creek Road with the South River Farm Park forest located off Loch Haven Road. Together, these two forested areas provide habitat for hundreds of species or plants and animals, as well as invaluable infiltration of stormwater. As some readers may recall, inclusion of Greenways in the County’s recent Forest Conservation Act was scrapped in amendments by the County council. In addition, the County Executive’s proposed language regarding grandfathering was loosened by the Council, thereby giving this project a pass on the new, more stringent forest conservation requirements.

During the public meeting, residents peppered the developer’s representative with questions and criticisms. In one notable exchange, the County Executive’s recent policy change to require that any modification to environmental regulations requested by a developer must be offset by some mitigation effort was brought up. The questioner asked the developer how, in light of the many modifications sought for this project, any environmental benefit could accrue. In a moment of rare straight talk, and to
his credit, the developer said “Quite frankly I think everyone in this room knows that no development helps the situation the way it is now.” Straight from the horse’s mouth folks.

Tomorrow, January 4, 2020, is the deadline for the developers to submit the fourth sketch plan in this development process. The last three have all been found inadequate for a variety of reasons, not least being insufficient treatment of environmental features, inadequate public facilities, and deficient treatment of traffic impacts. As noted by the Director of Planning and Zoning, Steve Kaii Ziegler in response to the third sketch plan “This Office is not inclined to continue reviewing inadequate submittals.” Dare we hope that the paradigm of outsized political influence on County government by developers has shifted? We shall see.