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RCHCA February 2014 Electronic Newsletter

By February 5, 2014 No Comments

Dear Members,

The RCHCA annual meeting will be held on February 27, 2014 at 7:30 at Grace Episcopal Day School, 9411 Connecticut Avenue in the Multi-Purpose Room. The agenda includes two voting items: (1) the election of officers, and (2) policy issues related to the covenants. There will also be the treasurer’s report, a discussion of Association activities and programs (including the need for volunteers), a report on the status of the proposed middle school to be built at Rock Creek Hills Local Park and the related litigation, and a limited discussion of traffic issues related to the Rock Creek Hills Local Park site if time permits.

Election of Officers

Your Board has prepared a slate of officers for the February meeting including Jim Pekar for president, Maria Marzullo for Treasurer, and Jill Gallagher for Secretary. Sam Statland is stepping down as vice-president and at this point there is no replacement. Joe Rosenberg will being going off the board after many years of service and John Robinson will become an ex-officio officer as the ex-president. John Robinson will continue to work with the board on legal and government issues. The board welcomes additional nominations and hopes that there will be a volunteer for vice-president.

Treasurer’s Report

Cash in hand for the general operations on January 31 was $6,307 in checking and $11,250 in savings, including the receipt of $1,320 in 2014 dues to date. Cash and savings in hand for the litigation fund on January 31 was $2,830. A brief update will be provided at the meeting. The 2014 dues for operating purposes only are $40 and will be used to finance the Association’s community activities, its administrative functions, and any legal or governmental matters that are not related to the proposed conversion of Rock Creek Hills Local Park to a new middle school. As discussed below, matters related to the proposed middle school are separately funded and have been for the last two calendar years.

Community Activities

The Association supports a range of activities that go beyond matters that may be of immediate concern such as covenant or land use and transportation issues. These include the maintenance of three planted intersections, the signs for the entrance to our community, and at time tree planting and other open space maintenance. The Association also has activities to keep its members informed such as three regularly scheduled meetings, meeting notices, the newsletter (some of which must continue to be in hard copy), the directory, the website, and material provided by our welcoming Committee. There are at least two major community wide events – the Mother’s Day Picnic and the Halloween Parade and Party. Funds are required to support these activities, and in 2014 we will have the additional expense of a new community directory. We have an immediate need for someone to manage the two parties and relieve Marilyn Emery of that responsibility, which she has graciously performed for many years. Marilyn is quite willing to provide any volunteers with pointers on how to organize both functions, but there is no firm commitment for a replacement yet. The directory is normally done by a committee and the board will ask for a committee chair and volunteers at the meeting. Mike Baker and John Robinson will help update the mailing list and explain how to check current ownership names against the County’s public tax records. Home owners are of course free to opt out of the directory or to decline their telephone numbers or email addresses. In addition, the Village program that supports community wellbeing, particularly the elderly residents, is looking for volunteers. Please contact John Robinson if you are willing to undertake this program.

Covenants

The RCHCA covenants are essential to maintaining the appearance and quality of our community and apply to almost all lots located west of Stoneybrook Drive and the Mormon Temple. While the language varies slightly, all of the covenants address four essential points: fences, the prohibition of business activities, the subdivision of lots, and proposed construction of structures or external improvements to existing structures. The first three of these are reasonably easy to enforce for several reasons.

Fences are a critical issue because of their visual impact on the community. For this reason fences are prohibited from being further forward than the front line of the house, materials are reviewed by the board, and landscaping to soften or conceal the fence may be required. In the case of fences, the requirement to obtain approval is well established, and if a fence is constructed in violation of Association policies regarding such construction, it is possible to require the removal or modification of the fence without undue financial burden to the lot owner.

Businesses can be enjoined if detected and the Association in the past has allowed a reasonable period of time for the business to relocate. Recognizing that many people work out of their homes electronically or by mail and telephone, the Association’s board has adopted the “no impact” standard contained in the County zoning code. The revised code prohibits employees at the residence and limits all visits, including deliveries, to five per week. This permits a reasonable amount of professional consultation and FedEx type deliveries without imposing traffic or a commercial environment on the community. The County Council draft makes clear that the storage or loading of commercial landscaping equipment in an R-90 residential zone such as ours is prohibited. RCHCA will post the text of the new zoning code on home occupations on the RCHCA website when it is available.

The board believes that pressures for subdivision are likely to increase as land values escalate due to the locational advantages of our community. All subdivisions must be approved by the RCHCA board and by the Park and Planning Commission. Since public notice is required, this should be easy to monitor but the large lot size is an important RCHCA quality.

The most difficult covenants issue is the requirement to have all improvements or structural modifications excepting landscaping approved by the Rock Creek Hills Covenants committee. This requirement is absolute and has important implications for the owner because failure to comply is a breach of a condition attached to the owner’s deed and may affect the quality of the owner’s title. Moreover, failure to comply raises the possibility of hard feelings among neighbors and aesthetic impacts on the community. The board emphasizes that it does not want to engage in intrusive review of the details of proposed construction and improvements as some communities with obligatory home owner associations are known to do. But recently the board had two situations where the failure to obtain approval could have caused conflict with neighbors or had significant visual impact on the community. Both were resolved through accommodations or design review, but the issues would have been avoided if the approval process had been followed. Most importantly, if construction is begun before approval is obtained, the owner will have already spent substantial sums on permits and the work to date and may be firmly committed to a contract with strict time frames and other potentially costly provisions.

Finally, we should discuss the definition of landscaping. As houses get larger, the terrain in Rock Creek Hills means that retaining walls, large stair cases, and similar improvements have become more pronounced. Unlike vegetation, such permanent structures cannot be readily removed and could be considered to be an extension of the house. As such, I believe that they should be subject to review to ensure that there are not undue impacts on the neighboring houses, and most importantly, that those owners are able to comment.

Status Report on Rock Creek Hills Local Park and related litigation

The Montgomery County Board of Education completed its initial public design review of the middle school it intends to build on Rock Creek Hills Local Park in early November 2013 and has posted the relevant materials on the construction portion of its website at http://montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/construction/projects/bms2.shtm. The County Board will begin detailed design work this summer, construction is scheduled to begin in August 2015, and to be completed in time for the August 2017 school year. The litigation over the pending conversion of Rock Creek Hills Local Park to a new middle school has entered its appellate phase. The RCHCA initial brief was filed on December 4, 2013 and we received the government parties’ answering brief on January 24, 2014. The RCHCA reply brief is due February 19 and oral argument is scheduled for March 5, 2014. After reading all the appellate materials and the supporting record, Bil Chen, our counsel, and those Rock Creek Hill citizens working on the appeal, continue to believe that the appeal has a great deal of merit. In addition, all the legal bills and costs incurred prior to the drafting and filing of the December 4 brief have been paid and the only costs outstanding are for the appellate phase of the litigation. However, the costs of the last three months are considerable and an additional contribution would be helpful. In the past RCHCA has requested a special payment of $250 to support this litigation and many have provided this or more. Any amount would be welcome and we would hope that you can repeat your past contribution if possible. The contributions can be sent to our Treasurer Maria Marzullo at 9801 East Bexhill Drive, Kensington, MD 20895 or to the Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association PayPal account at http://tinyurl.com/ca9kp5m. These funds will be placed in a separate account and expenses for this litigation are not paid from the RCHCA general operating accounts.

In closing, I would like to thank the RCHCA board and our members for the generous support they have provided over the last three years. These have not been easy and I could not have fulfilled my responsibilities without that support. At this point in time I look to move on toward other things. For example, I serve on the board of the Montgomery Parks Foundation and am looking forward to helping its fundraising efforts for the expansion of the Josiah Henson Park historical site on Old Georgetown Road. I would encourage that anyone interested in helping with this significant matter of African-American and local history to contact me at 240-997-4447.

Hope to see you at the meeting,

John M. Robinson

President