Montgomery County officials determined this week that Ourisman Honda’s new garage construction on its Bethesda Avenue property is encroaching on the county-owned Georgetown Branch easement area where the Capital Crescent Trail is located.
Judy Stiles, a county spokeswoman, said in an email Friday that the Department of Permitting Services (DPS) “will issue a stop work order to address the work in the easement area.”
Stiles said DPS officials met with representatives from the county parks department and Ourisman to discuss the issue Thursday and the county has asked Ourisman to revise its plans. The county will then make a decision on how the car dealer can proceed with construction of its new garage.
“The next steps are under review,” Stiles said in the email.
Ourisman officials did not immediately respond Friday morning to a phone call or an email seeking comment about the issue.
DPS Director Diane Schwartz Jones said Ourisman failed to include the easement boundaries on the building plans it submitted to the department to obtain construction permits. She said there would have been “no way” for the plan reviewer to know about the easement by looking at the plans and so the department issued construction permits for the project. The department’s website notes two building permits for structures valued at about $3.6 million as well as electrical and fire permits were issued to Ourisman in December 2015.
Jones said inspectors weren’t aware of the right-of-way issue until a complaint was filed about the garage construction. She said the dealership’s construction plans did not go through the planning department’s site plan approval process.
Jones said now that Ourisman has been notified about the issue, the next step will be for the dealership to present revised plans that correct the easement encroachment.
“We’re protecting our interests,” Jones said. “We just need to sort it out and work it through now.”
Crews were setting up cones inside the garage expansion on Friday, but that was the only work that was visibly ongoing. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Bethesda residents who are members of the private Facebook group East Bethesda Citizens Association first noted that the car dealership was building its garage in close proximity to the trail.
On Friday, group member Katya Marin, who had pursued information from the county about the issue, posted that she had been told by DPS the construction is in violation of the easement.
Robert Wilen, another member, posted he believed the dealership should be fined for the violation and said he didn’t believe the construction was the result of an oversight.
“It’s a shame that citizens have to be a watchdog over the county’s responsibilities,” Wilen wrote.
Mike May later added on the thread, “The only acceptable solution is to restore the buffer around the trail. If the trail isn’t restored to its previous state, we will hold Ourisman’s willful disregard for civic features and green space and the county’s (from DPS to Council to Executive) slipshod oversight responsible and make this entire debacle very transparent.”
A rear view of the garage construction. Credit: Andrew Metcalf