County Council Dives Into Battle Over Legal Definition for a ‘Country Inn’

County Council Dives Into Battle Over Legal Definition for a ‘Country Inn’

Community groups team up against plans for a banquet hall near Old Angler's Inn in Potomac

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Via Old Angler's Inn

A coalition of community groups is lauding a County Council proposal that could derail plans to build a banquet hall with guest rooms near the historic Old Angler’s Inn in Potomac.

Council members Marc Elrich and Tom Hucker on Tuesday introduced legislation to tighten restrictions on the placement of “country inns” in residential areas of the county. It was a move that came as welcome news to a number of civic associations and community alliances seeking to block an inn project they worry would disturb the peace of their River Falls neighborhood.

Curtis Uhre, chairman of the residents’ group Brickyard Coalition, says the legislative change would close a loophole that allows restaurants to open in residential areas.

“They don’t want the noise. They don’t want the other aspects that come with a restaurant,” Uhre said of the group’s members. “You wouldn’t want it next door to you, either.”

Elrich and Hucker have suggested altering county zoning law so that country inns could only exist in residential areas if they were next door to a more rural zone. The change could jeopardize the Potomac inn project because it’s proposed for a 7-acre site surrounded by residential zoning.

Uhre said while current zoning law limits country inns to “rural areas,” it leaves the definition of “rural” open to interpretation. The facility envisioned by Old Angler’s Inn’s owners is situated in a forested area, near national parkland, but the traffic and parking issues that it would create would cause strife in surrounding neighborhoods, Uhre argued.

The Brickyard Coalition, River Falls Civic Association, Woodrock Civic Association, Civic Association of River Falls, West Montgomery County Citizens Association and Montgomery County Alliance have all endorsed the council proposal. An online petition supporting the measure had garnered more than 220 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

The proposed zoning change also is supported by council President Roger Berliner and members Sidney Katz, Craig Rice, George Leventhal and Hans Riemer.

“I used to live for 20-something years next to the Old Angler’s Inn. I don’t consider the Old Angler’s Inn to be a country inn, and I don’t consider a banquet facility to be part and parcel of a country inn,” Berliner said during a Monday press briefing.

Berliner said his notion of a country inn is a building with three or four extra rooms for lodgers.

The development plans submitted by Mark and Sara Reges, operators of Old Angler’s Inn, call for a 9,000-square-foot building with event space and four overnight guest rooms. Mark Reges has said the new building would look similar to Old Angler’s Inn, the restaurant his family has managed for six decades. The historic inn dates from 1860 and over the years has functioned as a lodging space, eatery and beer garden.

Reges wants to build the new event venue on heavily wooded land surrounding Old Angler’s Inn on MacArthur Boulevard. The C&O Canal National Historical Park lies across the street, and the River Falls subdivision sits across a stream valley to the northeast.

Reges’ attorney, Jody Kline, declined to comment on the new council proposal. But during past county planning meetings, Reges has said the new inn would be three football fields away from the nearest homes and would be designed to minimize noise. He also has downscaled his original proposal in response to community concern.

His request for permission to build the inn is slated to go before the Montgomery County Planning Board in July for a recommendation. A hearing examiner with the county’s office of zoning and administrative hearings is scheduled to review the matter in September, Uhre said.

Meanwhile, the proposal introduced by Elrich and Hucker is scheduled for a Sept. 12 public hearing. Uhre said his coalition will ask the hearing examiner to hold off on making a decision on the inn project until the council votes on the proposed legislative change.

Staff writer Andrew Metcalf contributed to this report.

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