Some residents in East Rockville who want to keep their neighborhood’s midcentury architecture intact are exploring their options for keeping property owners from tearing down old homes and building new ones that are much bigger than their neighbors’.
One possibility is a conservation district, a set of standards that goes beyond the underlying zoning ordinance and can be tailored to a specific area.
“It can be based on what exists on the ground in a particular neighborhood and what’s worth preserving in terms of the character,” said Jim Wasilak, Rockville’s chief of planning.
Chas Hausheer, president of the East Rockville Civic Association, said in an email that the association has asked to amend East Rockville’s neighborhood plan.
“To our great disappointment, it does not handle the issue of mansionization as we had thought it would,” he said.
“Mansionization” is what some call building houses in old neighborhoods that are significantly larger than those around them. Some Rockville residents and officials have called for new zoning rules to curb the practice citywide, while others have been hesitant to impose more rules on homeowners.
Montgomery County in 2008 passed a mansionization bill, effectively making it illegal to build homes that tower over others in some of the county’s oldest neighborhoods.
While that discussion is going on at the Mayor and Council level, Hausheer said his association is considering ways to address overly large homes being built in its part of the city.
One possibility is a conservation district modeled after the one for the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Lincoln Park implemented a conservation district in 2007, along with its revised neighborhood plan.
Wasilak said East Rockville residents who want a conservation district could take a similar route, but revising a neighborhood plan or the master plan takes time. A local initiative, where property owners in a certain area petition for a conservation district, is another option.
“The issue, I think, with the local initiative is getting everyone to agree on what the standards are going to be,” Wasilak said.
To implement a conservation district via local initiative, 40 percent of the property owners in the proposed district would have to propose conservation rules. Then, the Mayor and Council would have to approve them as a zoning action.
“At that point, 85 percent of the property owners would have to agree to implement the conservation district,” Wasilak said.
The likelihood of getting neighbors to agree on a conservation district depends partly on how the district’s boundaries are drawn, Wasilak said. Instead of trying to conserve the entirety of East Rockville, residents could try to create a conservation district for a smaller area or subdivision.
If a conservation district is implemented, it also would have to allow for larger or newer homes that already are there, Wasilak said.
Hausheer said the East Rockville Civic Association hopes to form a committee to look into creating a conservation district, although it is hard to say now whether a conservation district eventually will be adopted.