Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

Transit, safety, and street trees

Dear Resident:

If you care about transportation, energy and environmental issues, this update is for you.

Zooming out, I am sure you are following the Governor’s proposal for I-495 and I-270. In a letter to Secretary Pete Rahn that I organized with Transportation Committee Chairman Hucker and the County Executive, the County has insisted that the State stick within existing rights-of-way and add transit to the project, which would protect our neighborhoods and parks. We have our work cut out for us as this discussion continues.

We also call for expanded MARC service on the Brunswick Line, including the possibility of MARC-VRE through-running so County residents could have a fast, one-seat trip to job opportunities in Virginia and visa-versa.

Zooming in, last week the Council’s Transportation Committee, where I serve along with Chairman Tom Hucker and Councilmember Evan Glass, worked on the Department of Transportation’s (MCDOT) budget for the upcoming year.

Following are our recommendations to the full Council. You can read the Council staff report here. Any new proposals will need to be funded by the full Council by reordering priorities within the overall budget. We will see where things end up and now is a great time to share your views at the Council.

Transit

Bus Service: Students Ride Free
The committee recommended that kids under 18 (or 18 year old students) should be able to board for free on RideOn and WMATA buses in the County during all hours of service. The initiative, championed by Councilmember Evan Glass and which I strongly support, will hopefully build a new generation of transit riders. I will never forget the freedom that the bus provided me when I was young and I want all kids to have that opportunity.

Currently, elementary and secondary school students can ride free from 2:00-8:00pm weekdays, a measure that I championed with Councilmember Navarro in my first term.

Rejecting cuts to RideOn
The County Executive recommended cutting service on RideOn Routes 26, 38, 49, 55, 57, 59, and 64. Cutting bus service is not the way to go. The Committee rejected those proposed cuts.

Bus Rapid Transit on Veirs Mill and 355
Earlier this year, I advocated for the acceleration of planning and design for BRT on Veirs Mill Rd, as I have for years. The Committee, however, has agreed to defer a decision on Veirs Mill BRT until MCDOT announces their recommended alternative for BRT on MD 355, which is expected early this summer. Should fiscal capacity not allow both, the fuller picture on MD 355 will allow the Committee to better weigh the relative priority of each corridor and decide which BRT route should go first.

Electric buses
To help us reduce emissions and meet our climate goals, the County has begun transitioning the RideOn bus fleet to fully electric buses. While the price difference between electric and diesel buses is narrowing, it is still quite substantial at about $350,000 per bus. Thanks to federal grants, 14 electric buses are on order and will be in service within the next year. I am committed to doing more, which is why I recommended an additional 5 electric buses. Note that plug-in buses would draw power from a 100% renewable County energy portfolio due to our County law.

Vision Zero – bicycle and pedestrian safety

Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPAS)
The County Executive has recommended cutting funding in the Capital budget that helps us meet our safety goals, including funding for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPA), a program I championed that allows us to make fast improvements in the highest need areas of the County. To make safety a higher priority in our infrastructure, I advocated to not only restore funding but to add new funding to those BiPPA programs. We also created specific BiPPAs for Wheaton, Veirs Mill Rd., Silver Spring, and the East County stops of the Purple Line. Now we need to keep it all together in the final budget.

Pedestrian Safety Audits
At Councilmember Rice’s initiative, the Committee recommended adding $100,000 to MCDOT’s budget for pedestrian safety audits. These audits target specific “high-incident” areas and recommend improvements to make them safer. We need more audits.

Street Trees

The County Executive recommended cuts to various programs that plant and maintain trees as well as remove stumps; the Committee did not agree and instead increased funding in future years. Due to funding, the backlog for removing a stump is currently 17 years. That is unacceptable.

Mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities

A few years ago, the County imposed a small charge on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to fund programs that provide transportation for those with disabilities and seniors of limited income. The charge has generated over $5 million for critical programs such as Call-n-Ride and Seniors Ride Free. One of our more challenging problems is ensuring that there are enough taxis and/or ride hailing vehicles that are wheelchair accessible. The Committee discussed ways to use funds from the charge to incentivize more wheelchair accessible vehicles in taxi fleets. We expect the County Executive to transmit an executive regulation in the coming weeks that addresses this issue.

We have a ways to go before we will know what we can afford to add into the final budget. But the Committee’s actions are the right calls.

Best regards

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large


Gaithersburg Book Festival
May 18, 2018

If you are a lover of great books and great writing, I highly encourage you to check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Meet authors like Jeffrey Deaver and Lulu Delacre, attend writing workshops for adults, teens, and kids, visit the Brew & Vine Cafe, and much much more. Best of all — entrance is free, parking is free, and it’s awesome all day long.

Pay raises we can afford

Dear Resident:

Today the Council took an initial vote on next year’s compensation for County employees, as proposed in the County Executive’s budget.

As part of our annual budget process, the County Executive is responsible for negotiating labor contracts with the unions. The Council then has the final responsibility of making sure that compensation is affordable.

While I support a raise for our employees, the County Executive’s proposal includes a 9.4% increase for many County employees in the MCGEO bargaining unit. (Increases for Fire and Rescue and Police officers are about 5.9%; teachers and school support personnel are scheduled to get 4.5% increases, on average.)

MCGEO members are the workers you will see driving a bus for long hours, inspecting rental housing, or providing health services. Like other public employees, they keep this county humming, and they deserve a raise.

But after careful consideration, I voted no on the 9.4% raise, as did my colleagues.

I cast that vote because I take my obligation seriously to look to the future as a steward of our tax dollars.

Under the County Executive’s agreements, total compensation would grow at nearly double the rate of county revenue. When compensation grows faster than revenue, it consumes more of the budget over time, leaving less for new initiatives.

I think you will agree that we must be careful to preserve funds for goals such as reducing MCPS class sizes, expanding pre-k and afterschool programs, improving transportation and fighting climate change, to name a few.

By comparison, Federal employees, who make up a large share of our taxpayers, are receiving increases this year that are less than half of that amount.

While there is no doubt that the Recession was tough on our employees, with pay freezes for several years, since then, they have received steady raises.

The County Executive’s proposed 9.4% raise is all the more difficult because it is plain now that our budget has a structural deficit. The only way the budget achieves balance is through an extraordinary measure — using revenues from last year identified for the retiree health benefit fund.

Like a large ship, the County’s budget changes direction slowly. I think this is an important moment to begin to “turn the ship” and express the Council’s strong desire to start taking steps to resolve our structural deficit.

The County Executive talked about our fiscal challenges on the campaign trail, as did Council candidates. The County Executive’s mantra was that as a leader trusted by the County unions, he could work with them to right-size County government — recognizing that it is more affordable to provide raises to a smaller workforce.

He’s right about that, and I hope he follows through. I am prepared to work with him.

The budget we received, however, adds 90 new positions, exacerbating the impact of compensation increases.

I share the County Executive’s stated desire to make County government more efficient, and I also strongly believe that we can do more to promote economic growth in the County. If we achieve major savings and our revenue growth accelerates from a hotter economy, then I absolutely believe that County employees should share in those gains.

But let’s not count the chickens before they hatch: we have to make the necessary changes before claiming savings.

I look forward to supporting a raise that we can fund over time — one that is more in line with the wage increases that other bargaining units and our taxpayers are experiencing.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

COMMISSION UPDATE
This past February, Councilmembers Jawando, Rice and I sponsored a resolution to establish the Remembrance and Reconciliation Commission to secure our County’s memorial from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to commemorate the three known lynchings in the County. The Commission will include 10 voting members of the public. If you’re interested in being involved as a member of the commission, you can apply online up until May 13, 2019.

Council Committee amends proposal for Accessory Dwelling Units

Recommended zoning changes for ADUs include limits on size and lot coverage

ROCKVILLE, Md., April 16, 2019—In January 2019, Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-01, Accessory Residential Uses—Accessory Apartments, to support county residents who want to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their properties. An ADU is a separate housing unit on the same lot as the primary home. Examples include backyard cottages and basement apartments. These housing units are generally more affordable than existing housing stock and are often used as in-law suites or apartments for young people.

Following a Council public hearing as well as consideration by the Planning Board, the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee conducted three worksessions in March and April. PHED Chair Hans Riemer and Committee members Andrew Friedson and Will Jawando considered alternatives and amendments to the original proposal.

After making various changes, the Committee has concluded its work. The PHED Committee recommendations will go to the Council for review in mid-June with a vote expected this summer. The revisions advance the overall vision of allowing ADUs, while creating a proportional size standard to ensure that smaller properties will be limited to smaller detached ADUs.

PHED Chair Hans Riemer said,

“I am grateful for the substantial work my committee colleagues have devoted to this proposal. Accessory dwelling units are a housing option that should be available to homeowners in Montgomery County. They enable, for example, two generations of a family to live on one property — together, but with measured separation and privacy. We heard strong support for ADUs from both seniors and young families. As we look to the future of how families and communities are living, ADUs are a positive solution desired by many.

“The Committee recommendation responds to public feedback about the potential size of the units, among other issues. As we worked on the proposal we were mindful that homeowners can expand their homes already and frequently do. The Committee’s ADU proposal does not increase the amount of space a person can build on their lot. ADUs are subject to the same limits as additions — and in fact they are somewhat more restricted in smaller lot zones under this proposal.

“Careful research by our planning department has found that houses in the County with ADUs have no more children in the schools than those without ADUs. While some residents have voiced concerns about crowding of rental housing, county data does not support the assertion that properties with ADUs are a source of the problem.

“Separate research has also found that allowing ADUs will advance racial equity goals. I intend to follow up on that opportunity with additional measures.”

As amended ZTA 19-01 allows detached ADUs or backyard cottages in the R-60 (residential) and larger lot zones and removes the requirement that only properties of one acre or larger may have a detached ADU. Interior units would be limited to 1,200 square feet (unless the footprint of the basement is larger than that size and the basement is proposed for the ADU). Detached ADUs would be limited to ten percent of the lot size.

For example, a 6,000 square foot lot could have a detached ADU no larger than 600 square feet, and 1,200 square feet would be the maximum size allowed. This would limit the size of detached structures, particularly in smaller lot zones

Parking requirements would remain the same as those found in existing Montgomery County law for ADUs located more than one mile away from any Metrorail or Purple Line Station. Generally, an ADU applicant must build an additional parking spot or receive a waiver based on a finding by the hearing examiner that there is available on-street parking. Within one mile of such stations and within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park (as requested by the City), there would be no additional on-site parking requirement for an ADU.

For more information about ZTA 19-01 as recommended by the PHED Committee, see the attached fact sheet or Council staff report.

Residents can also send their comments to the Council on this issue at
County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov or via social media using #MoCoTinyHouse.

Questions about the Committee recommendation may be directed to Council Attorney Jeffrey Zyontz at jeffrey.zyontz@montgomerycountymd.gov. Questions for Chair Riemer may be directed to Chief of Staff Ken Silverman at ken.silverman@montgomerycountymd.com.

Fact Sheet

Backyard cottages: Detached ADUs would be allowed in areas of the County that are zoned R-60 (residential) and larger lot zones. ZTA 19-01 removes the requirement that only properties of one acre or larger may have a detached ADU.

Unit size and lot coverage: The size of an ADU would be limited to 1,200 square feet (unless the footprint of the basement is larger than that size and the basement is proposed for the ADU). Detached ADUs would be limited to ten percent of the lot size. For example, a 6,000 square foot lot could have a detached ADU no larger than 600 square feet. This limits the size of detached structures, particularly in smaller lot zones.

Parking: The current parking requirements for ADUs located more than one mile away from any Metrorail or Purple Line Station would remain the same. Generally, this means that an ADU applicant must build an additional parking spot or receive a waiver based on a finding by the hearing examiner that there is available parking on the street. Within one mile of such stations and within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park there would be no additional on-site parking requirement for an ADU.

Distance restriction: The requirement that no ADU may be built within 300-500 feet of another ADU was removed.

Setbacks and height: Existing setback and height requirements for accessory structures were retained. This allows existing accessory structures including garages, guest houses (without a kitchen), offices, studios, and sheds. Setbacks for new ADUs would be the same as existing setbacks for accessory structures; however, an ADU that is 32 feet in length or shorter (i.e. container size) would not be required to have an increased setback.

Existing structures: Current law allows backyard structures like garages, guest houses, pool houses, offices, and sheds. In older neighborhoods, existing structures were often located closer to the lot line before modern zoning standards required setbacks. These could be converted to ADUs with some restrictions, if they were built legally at the time. For example, no new window would be allowed facing a neighboring property and adding height or expanding the footprint would trigger setback requirements matching new structures.

Additional rental prohibition: The proposal retains the prohibition on any other rentals on a property where an ADU is licensed.

Short-term rental prohibition: A property with an ADU license may not also have a short-term rental license (i.e., Airbnb) and an ADU cannot be used for short-term rentals.

Owner occupancy: As is the case under existing law, there is an ownership-occupancy requirement for a license.

Occupancy limit: The proposal retains the current ADU occupancy limit of two adults (and their children). New construction: The requirement that a new house cannot be constructed with an ADU already in it was removed, which would enable owners to design a new house with this feature.

Future Legislation
In addition to ZTA 19-01, the PHED Committee identified several additional provisions that will need to be modified in a subsequent bill amending the licensing section of the Montgomery County Code. These include:

  • The applicant for an ADU license must certify that they have reviewed their home owner association (HOA) rules and that an ADU is allowed by those rules.
  • Revise the ownership requirement in licensing to allow the owner to live in either the main home or the ADU.
  • Change the name of accessory apartments to accessory dwelling units to match the standard terminology in other jurisdictions.

Further Discussion
Many important issues emerged during the ADU discussion and will be presented for Committee discussion in the future. They include:

  • Racial equity analysis: An outreach plan will be developed to include low-income communities, so all residents are aware of the opportunity to build ADUs and ways to expand financing options for homeowners of all incomes.
  • Objection process: The current licensing law (unchanged by ZTA 19-01) allows a neighbor to object to an ADU based on a claim of insufficient parking, even if the applicant has met the parking requirement in the code. The hearing examiner can apply additional requirements or reject the application.
  • Enforcement staffing and budget: A review of staffing in the Department of Housing and Community Affairs will occur to make sure that applications are processed in an efficient manner and that inspections and enforcement measures are robust.
  • An evaluation will occur to review how fees will be used to support ADU code enforcement and outreach.
  • The Committee will also review if there needs to be a fee waiver provision for ADUs constructed for individuals who have disabilities.

Redevelopment that preserves affordable housing

Dear resident,

You have driven Veirs Mill Road. Coursing through densely-populated suburban communities, the highway’s rough edges have resulted in tragic crashes far too often.

But housing in the corridor – from Twinbrook apartment complexes to single family home neighborhoods – is more affordable than other areas of the County, providing a valuable foothold for many families.

With a new Bus Rapid Transit line planned for Veirs Mill Road and ongoing concerns about traffic safety, the Council set out to chart a new vision for the future through the “Veirs Mill Corridor Sector Plan.” Our goal: to improve road safety and transportation options while strengthening an affordable housing resource for the future.

No Net Loss of Affordable Housing
Twinbrook Parkway hosts several older garden apartment complexes between Rockville Pike and Veirs Mill. Constructed before the County began requiring developers to build regulated affordable housing (MPDUs), these units are relatively affordable due to their age and location, but the rents could change based on market conditions in the future. The complexes are also aging and need reinvestment. Substantial renovations could result in higher rents or, if the owners do not invest in the buildings, disrepair.

To incentivize redevelopment that protects affordable housing and the communities living there today, I worked with my colleagues to produce a “no-net loss” housing policy for the plan.

The idea of no-net loss is to allow reasonable redevelopment of existing apartment buildings, while ensuring that each property produces the maximum affordable housing possible, and that overall there will be at least as much affordable housing in the future as there is today.

In Veirs Mill, this vision can be accomplished through a public-private partnership, where property owners are allowed to use density and height provided in the plan to add new housing in exchange for providing housing into our regulated programs that can guarantee affordability. The plan would replace all of the existing market rate affordable units with regulated affordable units over time. When the properties are combined, here is out it works out:

Existing Proposed
Housing units: 924 Housing units: 3,238
Regulated affordable units: 91 Regulated affordable units: 1,185

As you can see, using redevelopment as a tool, the plan would generate new housing in set-aside affordable programs as well as new market-rate housing in a part of the county that is, at least for the foreseeable future, relatively affordable. It’s a win-win.

Keep in mind though that this is a decades-long vision for the area, and it won’t happen quickly. To address infrastructure needs, the plan accounts for the student and transportation impacts and identifies how those needs can be met.

Making safety the priority
Vision Zero is a commitment the County has made to get to zero traffic deaths. The Veirs Mill Plan is our first master plan focused on Vision Zero transportation solutions. The plan recommends measures that prioritize the safety of all users, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.

The long-term vision for Veirs Mill Rd is recreating it as a multimodal corridor with protected bicycle lanes, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, a new interchange at Veirs Mill Rd and Randolph Rd. that is improves safety multimodally, safer speed limits, and a bridge for the Matthew Henson Trail crossing where two people have been killed in recent years.

There is also a consensus on the Council that we should act quickly to address known safety risks. The urgency is great as even during our Council’s Tuesday deliberation a pedestrian was struck on Veirs Mill Rd.

Our list of short-term improvements include:

  • Build continuous sidewalks – specifically the segments between the Wheaton CBD and Connecticut Ave
  • Build or mark continuous bike facilities – especially where connectivity to trails and transit can be improved
  • Implement school zone speed limits
  • Install signalized crossings at Norris Drive and Andrew St.
  • Install a red light camera at Newport Mill
  • Change the speed limit to 35 mph along the whole length between Wheaton and Twinbrook Pkwy, except between Havard and Bushey, where it should be changed to 25 mph

Working with a sense of urgency and with our partners in the executive branch and the state, we can achieve lasting improvements that prevent needless injury and death. The Veirs Mill Plan’s innovative approach to Vision Zero helps us get there.

Your feedback is always welcome.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large