Updated 12/15/22

Information

Design Guidelines – Why?

The West End Citizens Association has heard concerns from neighbors for a long time and supports the Design Guidelines process as a means to address these concerns. Here are some examples of cases that neighbors raised or asked for help with, that negatively impacted them:

  • Stormwater runoff from a newly constructed house or addition next door, that requires a neighboring resident to repair water damage to their own property.
  • Loss of mature trees on residents’ properties when new houses are constructed on adjacent lots, close to the property line.
  • Loss of resident’s investment in solar power generation when a three-story new house built on the adjacent lot blocked sun access.
  • Loss of privacy due to the practice of bulldozing to artificially raise a lot’s ground level height above that of its neighbors, before a new house is constructed on the lot.
  • Loss of tree canopy due to the practice of clearing a teardown lot of most or all of its mature trees prior to construction, even those outside of the footprint area eventually covered by the newly built house.

In response to these and other concerns from neighbors, WECA invited City reps to walk around the neighborhood with us. Staff agreed that Design Guidelines, which are policy in the new Rockville Comprehensive Plan, would be a potential way to address these concerns. The Mayor and Council approved the project. All of this was done knowing that a key feature of the City’s Design Guidelines process is resident ability to review and respond to drafts for extended timeframes, and provide feedback at multiple points in the process.

To support the project, a WECA committee was created as a connection for the City to the larger community. In collaboration with the City, a survey was sent to all households in spring, 2022 to determine what residents value about the neighborhood. From that, and an earlier survey, we learned that residents value:

  • Friendly, walkable streets under a canopy of trees
  • Backyards mostly composed of trees and green space
  • Limiting impact of newly constructed houses overshadowing or adversely affecting existing homes

Having heard these views, the WECA Design Guidelines committee, working with City staff, drafted an initial design guidelines strawman. The Draft West End Design Guidelines are posted to the Engage Rockville site for community review and feedback. These are, and always were intended as, the starting point for further dialogue with neighbors.

Design Guidelines – Process and Next Steps

The Design Guidelines project is a City of Rockville initiative. It is policy recommended in the City’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the City’s public process to ensure residents’ feedback is heard is being followed. Read the City of Rockville letter to residents HERE.

A committee formed by the West End Citizens Association after several rounds of public outreach has partially drafted a strawman for neighbors to provide feedback. The first public comment period on the draft began on October 13 and is happening now. The Design Guidelines are not a done deal! The City’s process involves multiple comment periods and opportunities for resident input.

  • The current draft Guidelines document is posted at the City’s Engage Rockville site for resident review and comment.
  • City staff have established open office hours to engage with residents and/or answer questions between now January 20, 2023. Staff have reserved time from 12PM to 1PM, and 4PM to 5PM, during work hours, for in person or virtual meetings. Staff will also be available in the evenings from 6:30PM to 8:30PM. Please email Chris Davis at cdavis@rockvillemd.gov to schedule a time that is convenient for you.

More Feedback Opportunities

There will be at least FOUR more public commentary opportunities going forward, between now and the City calendar target closure timing for feedback of September 2023 (as of 12/14/2022). These include:

  1. A public round-table discussion meeting tentatively scheduled by the City for January, 2023
  2. Formal second public meeting, when an updated draft will be presented for additional comment, likely in late Q1 2023
  3. Public hearing if the Design Guidelines are sent to the Rockville Planning Commission for consideration
  4. Public hearing if the Design Guidelines are sent to the Mayor and Council for consideration

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Does the comment and review period end in December 2022?

Answer: No, the comment and review period does not end in December. Comment periods are slated to run through September, 2023.

Question: How can I get involved now?

We are in the middle of the first draft review period. This is the time! Please engage now.

  • The standards and guidelines are only in draft form and City staff welcomes your input on them by visiting the Engage Rockville Site (https://engagerockville.com/west-end). This site includes a survey for residents to provide their feedback on the initial draft of the standards and guidelines. Your valuable input will help shape a revised draft of the standards and guidelines. This site also includes a comparison of current zoning requirements to the draft standards and guidelines.
  • City staff are reserving time during work hours and in the evening until January 10th for West End residents to meet with us in person or virtually. Staff will also be holding a round table to discuss revised standards and guidelines with residents, tentatively scheduled for January 2023. Please email Chris Davis at cdavis@rockvillemd.gov to schedule a time that is convenient for you.
  • More community meetings are planned, including a round table discussion tentatively planned for January 2023.

Question: Why is this the first time I’m hearing about this?

Answer: Since 2020, multiple communications have been done about Design Guidelines and the project, by WECA and the City:

  • Two major presentations with guest speakers at WECA General meetings (Oct 2020 and Oct 2022). Shorter project updates were made at the May 2022 and Oct 2021 General meetings
  • Four articles in WECA semi-annual newsletters, which are hand delivered to all households in the West End
  • Multiple emails to members of the WECA community Listserv of over 600 subscribers
  • May 2022 Neighborhood Survey
  • Updated information on WECA website
  • City of Rockville Postcard to all West End households in April 2022
  • Two City-sponsored virtual outreach sessions on Webex in August and September 2022

We know everyone’s inboxes and lives are busy. We used multiple different channels (meetings, newsletters, website, community emails, neighborhood survey, postcard, Webex outreach sessions) over a two-year period of outreach in a committed effort to give the best opportunity to reach as many people as possible in the community and get their input.

Question: The draft standards and guidelines seem to be already set. Why should I get involved if decisions have already been made?

Answer: The draft standards and guidelines are NOT already set. In fact, they are far from it. City staff wants and needs your involvement to share what you think and any recommendations you may have.

Question: Aren’t these guidelines just limiting what a person can do with their property? Why should we limit those individual freedoms?

Answer: These design guidelines are designed, in part, to help homeowners retain the full use of their property when there is development in neighboring lots. The West End Citizens Association has heard concerns from neighbors for a long time. Here are some examples of cases where development in neighboring lots impacted residents of the West End on their own properties:

  • Stormwater runoff from a newly constructed house or addition next door, that requires a neighboring resident to repair water damage to their own property.
  • Loss of mature trees on residents’ properties when new houses are constructed on an adjacent lot, close to the property line.
  • Loss of resident’s investment in solar power generation when a three-story new house built on the adjacent lot blocked sun access.
  • The practice of bulldozing to artificially raise a lot’s ground level height above that of its neighbors, before a new house is constructed on the lot.
  • Loss of tree canopy due to the practice of clearing a teardown lot of most or all of its mature trees prior to construction, even those outside of the footprint area eventually covered by the newly built house.

The aim of Design Guidelines is not to suppress development or change existing structures, but to ensure that newly built homes or additions contribute positively to the quality of life and environmental health of the neighborhood, and to promote complementary and context-sensitive development between new and existing structures while also allowing creative design.

Question: Do Design Guidelines negatively impact property owner rights?

Answer: All property owners have rights to enjoy their property. This initiative helps protect all residential property owners from being unfairly impacted, for example, by stormwater concerns they cannot control but must pay to resolve. It can help maintain neighborhood property values by ensuring there are sensible guidelines and standards for new construction contributing positively to the neighborhood, while allowing for creative design. It helps provide balance within a neighborhood of owners who all have the right to enjoy their properties.

Question: Are Design Guidelines an HOA?

Answer: No, Design Guidelines are not an HOA. An HOA is a covenant agreement that impacts the owner every day and through the life of their ownership. Design Guidelines only affect at the point of permit issuance for exterior construction.  Unlike Design Guidelines, an HOA has a say in changes to existing houses that go far beyond construction permitting. For example, HOAs can dictate specific paint colors, roof materials, window/door replacements, mailbox size, etc. which are not related to Design Guidelines. HOAs charge fees for providing maintenance, landscaping, and common facilities. Design Guidelines provide or require none of those things, including fees.

Question: Do Design Guidelines restrict diversity or affordable housing in our neighborhood?

Answer: Design Guidelines do neither. Many neighbors have expressed concern that, as smaller, more affordable homes in the West End are lost to the teardown/rebuild cycle and developers maximize the square footage of the replacement homes, it becomes harder for our neighborhood to be a viable choice for missing middle families who cannot afford very large, new homes. However, Design Guidelines do not seek to restrict teardowns or creative design in additions and infill homes.