County Council Passes Bill Restricting Country Inn Locations
Measure could block project to build banquet hall near Old Angler’s Inn in Potomac
Via Old Angler's Inn
County council members have agreed that opening country inns should no longer be an option on hundreds of Montgomery County properties, a decision that could spell defeat for a proposed project in Potomac.
Legislation that would restrict the placement of the facilities in certain residential zones was approved in an 8-1 County Council vote Tuesday. The measure could derail a hotly contested proposal to build a banquet hall near the historic Old Angler’s Inn in Potomac.
The chairman of the Brickyard Coalition, a community group that opposed the project, welcomed its passage.
“We’re very pleased with where we ended up,” Curt Uhre, who chairs the civic organization, said Tuesday in a phone interview.
The Brickyard Coalition and other community groups have opposed the Old Angler’s Inn owners’ plan to construct a 8,700-square-foot venue with four overnight suites. Opponents worry the project would disrupt a peaceful, residential area.
The bill introduced by Council members Marc Elrich and Tom Hucker seeks to clarify current zoning law, which states that country inns should be located in “rural areas.” Neighbors of Old Angler’s Inn have said the language creates a loophole for restaurants and banquet halls to open up in suburban areas, generating traffic and noise near neighborhoods.
The measure states that opening a country inn is possible in a certain residential zone only on properties that border a more rural zone. About 1,900 properties in the county have this zoning, the R-200, and of those, only 400 would be eligible for the country inn under the bill’s provisions.
The 7-acre site where Old Angler’s Inn owners want to open a new country inn is surrounded by residential zoning, so it would not meet the bill requirements.
Mark Reges, co-owner of Old Angler’s Inn, did not respond to a message requesting comment.
County planners cautioned that the tightened restrictions could deprive some property owners of a historic preservation tool. Council member Nancy Floreen voiced a similar concern before casting the single vote against the legislation.
Floreen said it was “really sad” that the county would prevent the owners of Old Angler’s Inn, which has a history reaching back into the 19th century, from expanding their business with the new banquet hall.
“I don’t think this is our greatest moment,” she said.
A council committee amended the bill to create an exemption to the restrictions if a property owner wanted to open a country inn in a building the county has deemed historic. In these cases, the proposal still would have to 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 brought forward by Mark and Sara Reges, owners of Old Angler’s Inn. The examiner has postponed a hearing on the Old Angler’s Inn case while the council considered the bill adding new restrictions. A county staff report states that the examiner could not approve the project application if the bill passed as introduced.
A county zoning attorney said the exemption for historic buildings would apply to 21 properties in the county.
Elrich on Tuesday suggested an amendment that would reduce this total to four by limiting the historic preservation provision to more rural parts of the county. He said some community members are worried that property owners would use the exemption to justify major expansions to their historic structures.
However, other council members said they didn’t believe the additional restrictions were necessary, and Elrich’s amendment failed 5-4. Elrich, Hucker, Council President Roger Berliner and Council member Sidney Katz voted yes. Floreen and Council members Craig Rice, Nancy Navarro, Hans Riemer and George Leventhal voted no.
A spokesman for County Executive Ike Leggett did not immediately have information Tuesday about whether Leggett would sign the measure.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.