Council Member Proposes Historic Building Exemption to Bill Restricting Country Inn Sites

Members of a County Council committee are concerned that a bill restricting the location of country inns might block an avenue for preserving certain historic buildings.

The proposed zoning text amendment seeks to clarify existing law stating that country inns should be in “rural areas.” Some county residents have argued that his language is too vague and creates a loophole for restaurants and banquet halls to open in suburban communities, bringing unwanted traffic and noise.

However, Gwen Wright, the county’s planning director, said Monday that limiting the placement of these establishments could eliminate a historic preservation tool in some cases.

“Country inns are a way for historic buildings to actually be saved and not suffer demolition by neglect,” she told the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.

Council member Nancy Floreen, who initially co-sponsored the legislation, said she agreed and would not support the measure introduced by Council members Marc Elrich and Tom Hucker. Her committee colleague, Council member Hans Riemer, expressed general support for the bill, but said he’d like to create an exception for historic structures.

The bill was introduced amid a controversy over a proposed country inn project on 7 acres near MacArthur Boulevard in Potomac. In that case, the owners of Old Angler’s Inn want to build a roughly 8,700-square-foot event venue with four overnight guest suites. Neighborhood groups in the area have argued that the proposed establishment is inappropriate for a residential area and have urged county officials to deny the project.

The legislation, as written, would state that country inns only could exist in a particular residential zone, the R-200, if it abutted a more rural zone. Legislative analyst Jeff Zyontz said about 1,900 properties in the county carry this specific residential zoning, and of those, only 400 would be eligible for a country inn if the bill is approved.

The measure would not allow a country inn on the site near Old Angler’s Inn, since it’s surrounded by residential zoning.

Wright said residential zones cover many historic communities in the county, including Sandy Spring, Dickerson and Jerusalem. Opening a country inn lets property owners in these areas put an older structure to use and generate revenue without having to redevelop, she said.

Riemer suggested a bill amendment that would leave open the possibility for country inns on properties surrounded by residential zoning if they were in buildings that the county deemed historic.

“I don’t think we want to close the door everywhere,” he said, adding that he supports the legislation overall.

To establish a country inn on these and other residentially zoned properties, the proposal still must go through a review process and be approved by a county hearing examiner. The hearing examiner has yet to make a final decision on the plans advanced by owners of Old Angler’s Inn.

Council member George Leventhal, the third member of the committee, acknowledged the complexities of the issue and voiced “regret that the PHED committee is being put in the middle of a neighborhood dispute.” However, he said he sees the need for the legislation and plans to vote for it.

Zyontz said the country inn bill with Riemer’s amendment is scheduled to come before the full council for a vote on Oct. 31.

 

As featured in Bethesda Magazine 

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