Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

I-270 expansion and transit to Tysons/Dulles

Dear resident,

The Maryland Secretary of Transportation, Pete Rahn, is coming to talk with the Council on Tuesday about plans to expand I-270 and I-495. We have a lot to discuss.

Thousands of Montgomery County residents commute to jobs in the Tysons / Dulles corridor and vise versa, and our local economies are intertwined. To promote a more reliable connection, the Council has long supported adding HOV lanes on I-270 across the bridge to Virginia.

But a cars-only project is wrong for the environment and social equity, and won’t do enough to enhance mobility in the region. We need high quality transit connections to the Tysons / Dulles corridor.

The good news is that there’s a way to do that in the context of the I-270 plan. A solution is for the state to build bus-only ramps onto new managed lanes (toll/HOV/bus lanes) and operate a high-quality Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

We must hold firm against taking any homes or businesses in an expansion and the County firmly opposes any effort to expand the Beltway beyond the existing right-of-way. But we absolutely support the opportunity to add an important transit connection to NoVa.

With dedicated ramps and lanes, BRT vehicles could bypass other traffic, quickly enter and exit the highway, and provide a rapid commute from major destinations in Montgomery County such as Clarksburg, Gaithersburg, Rockville, and North Bethesda.

This new idea is gaining support. Last week Transportation Committee Chair Tom Hucker joined me to organize a letter to Secretary Rahn, signed by the full Council and County Executive Marc Elrich, that details many problems with the State’s approach and outlines our alternative vision.

We do not want to become a bedroom community to Northern Virginia. We need to build our own economic base so that our residents do not have to commute outside of the County for good jobs.

At the same time, in a regional economy, we need a high-quality transit connection from Montgomery County to the job centers in Northern Virginia. While Metro takes one hour and 15 minutes from Shady Grove to Tysons, a BRT trip could take just 30.

In addition to new BRT ramps on I-270, the letter calls for more service on the MARC Brunswick Line. MARC will be a better connection for many residents to the Amazon tech economy in Crystal City, if we can invest and get MARC trains running through to National Landing.

There is also an interesting new idea for a monorail in the I-270 corridor, which we should study, along with extending Metro’s Red Line.

All of this should be essential to the corridor expansion plan. But Hogan and Rahn are arguing that they don’t need to make any new transit investments now. That’s just wrong. Fortunately, our County’s state elected officials are raising strong criticisms of the plans.

We are also concerned that the State doesn’t intend to keep their promise to stick to existing rights of way on the Beltway from I-270 to Silver Spring. There, the right of way is frequently only 200 feet. Widening could require taking land in Rock Creek Park, homes, or businesses. That is unworkable and frankly unthinkable.

We have a better way forward, and the Governor should work collaboratively with State and County officials to get it done.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Do our kids have a place to live here?

Dear resident,

For most of us, housing is our biggest expense — by far — and the rising cost of housing has created an affordability crunch that works against our community’s inclusive vision.

Millennials and young families seeking a starter home, retirees looking to age near their kids, immigrant families trying to gain a foothold; they are all swimming against the current of our regional economy and our housing market.

As Chair of the Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, I am committed to working on real solutions, not just talking about the problem. I want to share a few of those solutions with you.

Creating new housing that is affordable

The Committee has met for several weeks to consider the future of the Veirs Mill Road corridor. In addition to working hard on road safety issues, we grappled with the challenge of how to push developers to build housing for low- and moderate-income families.

The larger garden-style apartment complexes in the area are a critical housing resource for moderate-income families, and have been for decades. The complexes need modernization though and they are in a transit-served location (walkable to both Twinbrook Metro and future Veirs Mill BRT). More housing here meets our climate protection goals, but we don’t want to lose an affordable housing resource.

The solution that I proposed, in collaboration with Councilmember Friedson and Council President Navarro, was a “no net loss” housing redevelopment strategy. The idea is straightforward. The new housing will have two components: 1) new market rate housing 2) as many units provided to the County’s regulated affordable programs as the current development has today.

Although the existing units are affordable because they are older, they are not regulated for price protection and could be renovated and leased at much higher rents at any time. To incentivize the property owner to redevelop–and thus lock in new price regulated units–our solution provides sufficient density to make the project profitable, enabling them to get loans to finance the redevelopment.

I hope that the full Council will support our vision and that this plan will be a win for our ongoing efforts to promote affordable housing through smart redevelopment and public private partnership.

I have also introduced legislation to strengthen a tax credit for new development that provides 25% or more of its units to our affordable housing programs — which is already getting results with new affordable housing expected in downtown Bethesda among other locations.

Basement apartments and backyard cottages

One housing trend that is really working against both young adults and retirees is the rising cost of single-family housing. Particularly in areas that are a reasonable commute to urban centers, the supply of single-family homes is fixed but the demand keeps growing, resulting in higher values and taxes.

One solution that is increasingly popular is the basement apartment or the backyard cottage. Backyard cottages are a great way to create a separate living quarter that provides independence, but at the same time proximity and family togetherness, if used by family or friends.

Today our zoning code does not allow a backyard cottage on a property smaller than one acre, which pretty much excludes everyone. Basement apartments are limited to roughly one per block, on only one side of the street (there is a 300 foot distance requirement).

As I have written about in previous emails, I have proposed a zoning amendment – ZTA 19-01 – to ease certain prohibitions on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). I recognize that the proposal is controversial, and many people have asked about the potential impact on our schools. The Planning Department has reviewed school enrollment at all of the existing ADUs in the County and determined that properties with an ADU generate slightly fewer public school students than properties without an ADU. Therefore, there is no distinct impact from ADU’s.

My proposal also retains many important restrictions, including a requirement for owner occupation (meaning both units can’t be a rental), a prohibition on additional room rentals on the property (meaning the properties can’t be crowded with multiple tenants as some single family houses may become), and a prohibition on short-term rental (no Airbnb) for both the main house and the ADU.

The Housing Committee will take the issue up next Monday, March 18.

Why this matters

Housing affordability has a major influence on a community’s economic development. Companies want to locate or expand where they know they can find the workforce they need — which is about the education and skills of the workforce but also if that workforce can afford to live there.

We have the talent to support job growth in many economic sectors, but for how long? How many of our children will be able to live here, or will choose to live here when they can spend less to live somewhere that is also desirable?

That’s a big challenge, and we have to think differently about how to meet it.

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Targeting styrofoam litter

Dear Resident,

The Maryland General Assembly is right now considering a statewide ban of styrofoam food service products (SB0285/HB0109). I am very pleased to see this. Montgomery County banned styrofoam food service products in 2015 by passing legislation I authored, joining a regional effort with Washington, DC and Prince George’s County.

What makes styrofoam a particularly pernicious form of litter is that the petroleum-based plastic breaks down into small pieces as it makes it way to the Chesapeake Bay, but it does not completely dissolve. This makes it incredibly difficult and costly to clean up. It also ends up in the food supply, as fish and oysters eat the bits of foam. The only meaningful way reduce this scourge on our watersheds is to ban it.

Hopefully, the rest of Maryland will soon join us.

Infogrpahic: County Council passes Riemer Bill to ban foam food serviceware

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council Update — thinking creatively about the housing shortage

Dear Resident,

Tuesday evening is the Public Hearing on a zoning change (ZTA 19-01) that I have introduced to make it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), such as backyard cottages (aka “tiny houses”), basement apartments, and garage conversions.

These units have always been allowed in theory, but until 2012 they required an onerous and expensive approval process. In 2012 the Council tried to streamline that process, but added new restrictions that we have seen make it impossible to add an ADU on many properties. For example, only property owners with one acre can add a backyard cottage.

The result has been that production of ADUs has barely risen, and there are only 468 legal ADUs in a County of more than 1 million residents.

Montgomery County is facing a housing shortage and an affordability crunch. The two are tied together as the cost of housing is the primary driver of a community’s affordability. As we look to the future, I believe we must think differently and find new and creative approaches to the problem.

ADUs are an important housing solution. They can provide housing for different generations of a family to live together but with a measured independence. As we have heard from many residents, ADUs can enable grandparents to live near their children; or adult children, including those with special needs, to live near their parents.

ADUs can also provide an additional income for the property owner, improving affordability for retirees or young families. Because the units are generally small, they can provide affordable rental units in areas that have become prohibitively expensive.

And because ADUs are dispersed, they provide desperately needed additional housing supply without the concentrated impacts on schools, traffic, and the environment that large new housing developments might have.

Specifically, an ADU is a seperate dwelling unit that is on the same lot as a single family home. It has its own entrance, full kitchen, and bathroom. Providing an ADU is different from renting a room in a house. The tenant in an ADU does not have access to the rest of the home.

While the proposal removes many restrictions, there are nevertheless a wide array of protections that remain. For example, the units could not be used for short-term rentals (i.e., Airbnb) and the total combined structure cannot be bigger than what the code already allows for a single family house. An ADU can only be rented, it cannot be subdivided and sold as two units. The property must be owner occupied. There are more.

You can watch the 7:30pm hearing on livestream here, and the Council will accept written comments up until the final vote. In the weeks after the Public Hearing, the Council’s Planning Committee, which I chair, will hold worksessions to consider amendments and send a recommendation to the full Council.

You can send written testimony to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. #mocotinyhouse

More Metro in Montgomery County
Metro could provide MUCH more service in Montgomery County. Metro could run all 8 car trains rather than 6 car trains. Metro could eliminate the turn back on the Glenmont side, as it has (finally!) done on the Shady Grove side. And Metro could reduce headways (meaning running trains more frequently), including on the weekends when ridership has dropped severely. Several years ago, I successfully pushed for the County to include these rider-friendly improvements in our transportation priorities letter to the Governor, which is how we express our request to the State and in turn to Metro. Momentum for these changes has increased as Metro now has a long term capital funding source and the community of advocates has grown stronger. While the Capital funding is huge, these next improvements are largely operating budget expenditures, where Metro has constraints. The good news is that General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has included many of these improvements in his proposed budget, but it is ultimately up to Maryland to fund the new service and the Metro Board to approve it. Time to speak out! #8cartrains #endtheturnbacks

The Lynching of George Peck in 1880
As you know, I have worked with my colleagues to create a Commission on Remembrance and Reconciliation about our history of racial injustice and directions for the future. As part of my learning about our history, I joined local historian Anthony Cohen at an event in Poolesville as he spoke about the long-overlooked story of the 1880 lynching of George Peck, a local laborer accused of assaulting a young white girl. Here is a video about the presentation where Tony examined the details of Peck’s arrest, abduction and murder.

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Correction: This post has been corrected to show that the County has 468 legal ADUs. A previous version had the number at 133.