Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

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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Council Update — winter storm resources and accessory dwelling units

Dear Resident,

As we are all working to bounce back from the snowstorm’s impact, check our Winter Storm Information Portal or reach out to my office if we can provide assistance, and check out the list of the Best Hills for Sledding in Montgomery County Parks!

On Tuesday, the Council will begin 2019 with a busy session. View the full agenda.

I will be introducing a zoning amendment that makes several needed changes to the County’s accessory dwelling unit (ADU) rules.

ADUs are seperate dwelling units — think “in-law suite,” “tiny house,” etc — on the same lot as a house. Usually they are inside a house, but they can also be a smaller separate house. They have a separate entrance, full kitchen, and bathroom. Many people find that ADUs are a great housing solution for the parents or grandparents of a family, adult children and relatives, adult children with special needs, caregivers, and just generally. They provide more affordable housing in parts of the County where housing has become prohibitively expensive.

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. For details, please take a look at the fact sheet and the text of the zoning change.

To gather input from residents and experts, I will host a policy forum on ADUs on Saturday, January 19 from 10am-Noon in Rockville. If you are interested in learning more about ADUs and the changes I am proposing, please RSVP.

The Council public hearing on the ordinance will be take place in late February.

Following are some additional highlights of the Council’s week:

Public hearings on zoning changes related to Montgomery Mall, the Purple Line, and Farm Alcohol Production
The Council will hold public hearings on three zoning changes that I authored. The first relates to the redevelopment of Montgomery Mall. The second allows higher fence heights for residents adjacent to the Purple Line. The third allows farm breweries and wineries to locate in certain large lot residential zones.

Discussion on financial controls to prevent fraud and theft
In the wake of the recent conviction of a Montgomery County employee for theft of public money, the County Inspector General and executive branch staff will brief the Council on a report that outlines how the theft happened and that recommends countermeasures to prevent this from happening again. The County has already implemented or begun implementing these countermeasures.

Independent Investigation of officer involved death legislation
I have co-sponsored legislation set to be introduced on Tuesday by Councilmember Jawando that would require an independent investigation of every police officer involved death. The goal of the bill is to promote public confidence in these investigations. A public hearing will occur in early March.

Thank you for reading, and please let me know if you need assistance with County services.

Stay safe out there!

Hans Riemer Signature
Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large