Positions on Issues

of Deborah A. Vollmer, Candidate for Town Council, Town of Chevy Chase


Mansionization.  The builders and developers, and the real estate agents who represent them, have entirely too much control over our Town.  We need to have a Town Council that is willing to stand up to development interests, to protect the unique character of our Town.  Existing ordinances simply do not provide sufficient protection to residents from the ravages of teardowns and new construction, which continues, even as nationally the market for new homes has cratered.


Many good people put in many long hours and a lot of hard work to craft the new building ordinance.  Yet, while I submit that the new ordinance is a positive step forward, I do not believe that it goes far enough.  Homeowners are completely helpless, when a builder/developer decides to build next door, with total disregard to for the rights of the owner of the adjacent property.  The PrePAC meetings are of little help, as the homeowners on adjacent land have no real input into the decision as to what is to be built next door to them, but can only listen to the plans as set forth by the builder/developer.  


Our tree canopy is being destroyed bit by bit; the neighbors of the new huge houses are being deprived in some instances of sunlight and in some instances, the established use of shared driveways is seriously impaired by the new construction.   We are also losing much of our history as, one after another, older, well-built, modest-sized houses are demolished to make way for huge monstrosities.  One would think that this trend would have been curbed by the downturn in the housing market, but in fact, the trend continues, to the detriment of our Town. 


Some of the changes to the building code that I have in mind include:  procedures to give homeowners of properties adjacent to contemplated new construction more of a voice in opposing projects which have a negative effect on that homeowner’s right to quiet enjoyment of his/her property.  I would strengthen provisions protecting our tree canopy, and I would codify the right of a homeowner not to have sunlight blocked unreasonably by new construction.  I would reaffirm in the code the right to unobstructed access via shared driveways, and ban the construction of such abominations as a two-car garage fronting at a right angle to a six foot wide shared driveway, to replace a one-car detached garage.  I would strengthen the rights of a homeowner to oppose building permits that have an adverse effect on that homeowner’s rights, and on the environment, generally.


Historic Sites.  I would develop a program for designating properties within our Town to be historic structures, worthy of preservation.  Residents would have a procedure whereby they could petition to have well-built, older homes preserved.  This would supplement the already existing procedure for historic designation in Montgomery County.  I believe that the County program is inadequate, because the County will rarely use historic designation to protect isolated older structures, or even small clusters of two, or three, or four houses, but in much of our Town this is all that is left of our architectural heritage.


Appointment of Commission to Study and Make Recommendations: re: Affordable Housing.  Many of our older homes, if they could be preserved, just might be affordable to some of the folks we like to have around, but who cannot afford to live here.  I am thinking of people like school teachers and firefighters, who do not happen to be independently wealthy.  We should make it possible for people like this to rent or buy within our Town, and the older homes that have been well-maintained just might be suitably affordable to some of these people.  The Commission would study just how such a program might be implemented, and make recommendations to the Town Council.



Voting rights in Town Elections.  To be eligible to vote in Town elections, a person must be a U.S. citizen, over the age of eighteen, registered to vote in the State of Maryland, and a resident in the Town for at least thirty days.  In many respects, these rules are progressive.  But we have residents in this Town who are citizens of other nations, some of whom are homeowners, who have been here for many years. These people are affected by actions taken by our Town government, and they should be allowed to vote.  It can be done; we should follow the example of Takoma Park.


Dog Parks.  There is a lot of interest in this Town for the establishment of a dog park, where dogs could be allowed to run free, while their human companions socialize.  Opponents are concerned about such issues as dog poop, trampled grass, and fencing.  Proponents say that all of these problems can be addressed, and that dog parks can be kept clean and enjoyable.  I would encourage the proponents to gather relevant information regarding the feasibility of having a dog park in our town, and having it managed in such a way that it is an asset to our community.  If elected to the Council, I am willing to work with the proponents toward the end of establishing a dog park.  As park land in our Town is limited, I would explore the option of having fixed hours, allowing for multiple uses of the chosen park.  Zimmerman Park has been suggested as the possible site for a dog park, but other locations should also be considered.



Saving the Trail.  I support the efforts of our Town Council to save the Capital Crescent (Georgetown Branch) Trail as the linear park that it is.  I oppose the plan to put a light-rail train on the surface of the Trail. The Trail is like an oasis in overdeveloped Bethesda and Chevy Chase.  We should cherish and preserve the trees and the greenspace that make our Trail special.  I would favor addressing the transportation issue by expanding the use of buses over existing roadways, and making them as clean, energy-efficient, and comfortable as one can make a bus, and running them with enough frequency that people can rely on them. 


Some consideration should also be given to the fact that the consolidation of Walter Reed with Naval Medical (BRAC) may well mean that it would make more sense to have any transportation link be with the Medical Center Metro rather than downtown Bethesda.  Buses have the advantage of being flexible; routes can be changed to meet actual needs. 


In the long run, I would be open to considering an underground Purple Line, but only if the need in terms of actual ridership is established, and only if the political will exists to spend the money necessary to make it happen. 



Conversion to Digital Television.  I was concerned and disappointed recently when I switched on one of my favorite television stations (Maryland Public Television, Channel 22) to watch the Newshour, and to discover that all I could receive was “snow!”  I have expressed my disappointment to Channel 22 for making the digital switch early, depriving those with analog televisions and without converter boxes of this programming.  It makes no sense to require people who have cable (in my case, Comcast) to get a special box in order to receive one station, when (we are told at least) all one will need to do when the switch by all of the stations to digital is complete is to keep one’s current cable hook-up. 


I think Channel 22 was very shortsighted to take the step of switching early, but I also think the blame is to be shared with Comcast Cable and the Federal Communications Commission.  I am also concerned that the cable companies offer us a huge number of channels, but relatively little real choice.  I anticipate that there may be future problems as we move closer to the digital switch, and the Town should be ready to advocate for the residents of our Town, if such problems do arise.



Regulation of the use of Propane and LPG heaters at construction sites.  The fire in January of this year at the construction site on Oakridge Avenue raises a number of concerns in my mind.  I am not satisfied that the fire has been properly investigated, and I think that liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) heaters, which I understand are commonly used at construction sites, constitute a danger to our residents and to their homes.  That explosion and fire not only destroyed the structure under construction, but also damaged the house next door.  It is fortunate that nobody was injured, and that nobody died.


While the information circulating on the “grapevine” was that the explosion and fire were caused by an LPG heater that was left unattended overnight.  I have been informed by Mayor Strom that the investigation that was conducted was inconclusive.  Montgomery County requires that LPG cylinders used for heating be kept outdoors.  I am informed that the investigation did not establish whether the cylinders in this case were indoors, or outdoors.


If the cylinders were indoors, then the County law was violated.  If the cylinders were outdoors, then the County law was not violated, but if that was the case, it also is true that the use of these LPG heaters were the cause of the fire, which would indicate that existing laws on the subject are inadequate to protect the residents of our Town.  I would press the Fire Marshall for more answers, and I would consider enacting a new Town ordinance banning the use of these heaters, or establishing strict regulation of them, if in fact there are procedures which, if in place, would make the use of them at construction sites, safe.  Certainly, heaters like this should never be left unattended.  But I do not know whether they can be used safely at all, and if they cannot be used safely, the use of these heaters at construction sites should be banned altogether.



These are just a few ideas that I have, that I would pursue if I am elected to the Town Council.  Please feel free to contact me by e-mail at dvollmer@verizon.net, or by telephone at (301) 652-5762 if you have any questions.  Thank you.


                                                                   Deborah A. Vollmer

                                                                   Candidate for Town Council,

                                                                    Town of Chevy Chase

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