What Are Special Protection Areas?
A Special Protection Area (SPA) is a part of the County that has high-quality or unusually sensitive water resources or other environmental features. Examples of such resources are high-quality streams, sensitive wetlands, and soils prone to erosion. Special measures—especially around construction sites—and land-use controls are implemented to protect these resources and features.
The SPA Program was established in 1994 by Montgomery County Code Chapter 19, Article V (PDF, 15 pp, 41K).
Return to Top
Water Quality Protection Measures in SPAs
Regulations and Guidelines
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) provides guidelines for which best practices should be used during urban development and on construction sites to minimize stormwater pollution and to protect water resources. In Montgomery County, local authorities such as the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services and Department of Environmental Protection administer these state-mandated design guidelines.
State regulations for stormwater management are included in the Maryland Department of the Environment Stormwater Design Manual, which requires the use of three basic management techniques to control stormwater from new development and construction activities:
- Treat the first flush of rainfall for pollutants.
The first inch of rainfall that falls on impervious surfaces (surfaces that water cannot pass through, such as asphalt, brick or stone) must be captured and treated using techniques such as sand filters, biofilters and other structures.
- Provide sufficient storage volume.
Enough storage volume must be provided within stormwater management structures to capture the one-year-frequency storm, which is a storm severe enough to cause damage to stream channels from erosive flows (2.5 to 3.0 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, depending on the county).
- Provide sufficient groundwater recharge volume.
Runoff from impervious surfaces must be managed a way that allows soil infiltration so that the groundwater table is recharged.
The requirements of the SPA Program (as specified in the Montgomery County Code) are more restrictive than the regulations established in the MDE Stormwater Design Manual and apply only to areas within Montgomery County designated as SPAs.
The following are examples of best practices and stormwater management techniques mandated in the SPA requirements to minimize impacts on water resources. They are designed to limit disturbance of the earth and to promote rapid stabilization of disturbed areas.
See examples of stormwater management techniques that can be used in SPAs.
Review Process for Development Projects
For all construction sites in the County, the Department of Permitting Services requires a Stormwater Management Concept Review. In the review the contractors specify, at the preliminary design stage, how they will prevent damage and pollution to local streams and waterways. For new construction sites within SPAs, a Water Quality Inventory and/or a Water Quality Plan is required instead of a stormwater concept review.
Return to Top
The County Council has designated four areas within Montgomery County as
SPAs. New SPAs are officially designated by the County Council, but anyone may propose an area for designation.
Each SPA falls within one of the Master Plan Development Areas. Montgomery County has developed master plans for these areas, which provide a comprehensive view of land-use trends and future development opportunities.
Use the Special Protection Area watersheds map below to locate them and learn about their waterbodies. Click within the red boundaries area of the map or type in a street address below to see:
Certain watersheds in the County have been identified as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) due to the high-quality of the water or the unusually sensitive water resources or other environmental features found in the watershed.
- Start by entering your address in the search bar or clicking on one of the colored watersheds.
- Some areas within the SPA boundaries were not monitored in which case no data will appear
- A pop-up with more information will appear with more information.
- Click on the "View Larger Map" link to open the map in full screen.
View Larger Map
||Clarksburg SPA is the northernmost SPA. It generally encompasses the Little Seneca and Great Seneca watersheds east and west of I-270, north of Old Baltimore Road, and south of Comus Road. In 1994 the Clarksburg Master Plan established the first SPA, the Clarksburg SPA.
||Currently, a 15% impervious limit is recommended for specific sites on the west side of I-270.
|Upper Paint Branch
||Upper Paint Branch SPA is in the eastern part of the County, generally falling east of New Hampshire Avenue, west of Route 29, north of Fairland Road, and south of Spencerville Road. Established in 1995, it is part of the Master Planning Areas of Fairland and Cloverly.
||In July 1997 an ordinance (environmental overlay zone) was established for Upper Paint Branch to prohibit certain land uses and limit impervious surface to 10% for new development and certain expansions of existing developments. In 2007 the environmental overlay zone was amended, reducing the impervious limit to 8%.
||Piney Branch SPA was established in 1995, and it falls within the Potomac Master Plan Area near Shady Grove and Travilah Roads.
||There is currently no impervious limit in Piney Branch SPA; it is nearly at maximum build-out.
|Upper Rock Creek
||Upper Rock Creek SPA is the most recently designated SPA, established February 24, 2004, under the Upper Rock Creek Master Plan. It generally includes the area north of Muncaster Mill Road and south of Route 108 between the North Branch of Rock Creek and Woodfield Road.
||In the Upper Rock Creek SPA, the impervious limit is 8% for private development or subdivisions that are served by community sewer (well and septic are exempted).
Return to Top
Living within SPA Boundaries
What Does it Mean if I Live in an SPA?
The SPA regulations are not intended to be applied to properties with existing single-family residences or to other legally existing land uses if such uses are not changing or expanding. There are very few limits on what private homeowners may do on their land. If you own or purchase a single-family home in an SPA and maintain it as a residential property, SPA regulations do not affect the use of your property. Expansions and additions by the homeowner are allowed, consistent with zoning regulations and any lot-specific restrictions on the record plat, such as conservation easements. You may install a pool, deck, shed, gazebo or tennis court on your property if it is consistent with zoning laws and any lot-specific restrictions and if the use is accessory to an existing single-family residential dwelling.
What about New Development or Expanding Existing Development in an SPA?
The SPA regulations and guidelines are intended to incorporate stringent water resource protection measures into new and expanded land development projects. If land-disturbing activities are proposed on existing property, they might be subject to the provisions of the SPA regulations. Activities triggering the regulations include a new or amended development plan, diagrammatic plan, schematic development plan, project plan, special exception, preliminary plan, or site plan.
Return to Top
Montgomery County Planning Department Resources
Read a Special Protection Areas (SPA) overview
Return to Top