Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

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.

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

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.

Councilmember Hans Riemer introduces zoning amendment to remove restrictions on accessory dwelling units

ROCKVILLE, Md., Jan. 15, 2019—Today Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-01 – Accessory Residential Units – Accessory Apartments, a proposal designed to remove barriers that prevent homeowners from building accessory apartments. ZTA 19-01 would, among other things, remove the prohibition on detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in small lot, single family zones and remove the prohibition on ADUs in basements. Certain other restrictions, such as the requirement that the property be owner-occupied, would remain in the law.

ADUs are separate dwelling units on the same property as a single-family residence. Often they are constructed as part of a single house (an “attached” ADU) but they can also be a separate tiny house or cottage, or an apartment above a garage. ADUs have a separate entrance, full kitchen and bathroom. These units, sometimes called in-law suites or granny flats, are great housing options for parents or grandparents, adult children and relatives, individuals with special needs and caregivers, and of course, people generally. ADUs are an inherently affordable form of housing that may allow some people to live in expensive neighborhoods that would otherwise be out of reach.

“ADUs are a wonderful solution for housing different generations of a family and they provide more affordable housing in parts of the County where housing has become prohibitively expensive,” said Councilmember Riemer, who is the chair of the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. “Unfortunately, the County’s rules treat this housing type as a nuisance to be avoided rather than a resource to be welcomed. This zoning change aims to change that framework.”

Councilmember Riemer will host a policy forum on ADUs this Saturday, Jan. 19 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. The forum is free and open to the public, RSVP here.

The Council staff report on ZTA 19-01 can be viewed here. A fact sheet compiled by Councilmember Riemer about this legislation and ADUs in general can be viewed here. A public hearing for ZTA 19-01 is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Last year, Councilmember Riemer was a lead sponsor of ZTA 18-07, Accessory Residential Units – Accessory Apartments, along with former Councilmembers Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal and Roger Berliner, which streamlined the process for creating ADUs by removing the requirement for conditional use approval for all accessory apartments and revising the limited use provisions for attached and detached accessory apartments.

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