Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

Council to discuss Accessory Dwelling Units

Dear Resident:

On June 18, the County Council will discuss zoning code changes that support “Accessory Dwelling Units.” Here’s some important information I want to share with you.

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Starting with what ADUs are and what they are not: An ADU is not the same thing as renting out a house or renting out rooms in a house. An ADU is a private residence inside of a house, such as a basement apartment; or a backyard cottage or garage conversion.

Picture of an ADU

A detached ADU in green on the left

To get an ADU construction permit and license, the unit must have separation and privacy from the house as well as its own kitchen and a bathroom.

There are about 160,000 owner-occupied single-family detached homes in the County and about 15,000 rented single-family detached homes. But there are only 475 ADUs.

ADUs are a more targeted housing solution because they require owner occupancy on the property. That requirement puts some organic limits on ADUs as the arrangement has to be something that the homeowner welcomes as part of daily life.

Because ADUs require a kitchen and bath and a separate entrance as well as possibly on-site parking, ADUs require considerable construction. The cost of that will depend on a lot of factors, similar to any home renovation project. A modest basement conversion could be less than $50,000, while a backyard cottage could be 3 or 4 times that amount.

Benefits of ADUs

More affordable housing
ADUs are generally smaller than houses so they are more affordable as rentals. A 900 square foot basement apartment or a 700 square foot backyard cottage will rent for a lot less than a house. As a result ADUs can promote economic integration and diversity in communities by providing access to smaller and more affordable housing in otherwise very expensive areas.

Aging in place
ADUs can enable older, modest-income homeowners to age in place with a new source of income by renting out the ADU or by living in the ADU and renting out the house.

Families living together
ADUs are also a desired solution for parents seeking a way to live with adult children or with grandparents. While they certainly can all live in one house together with no ADU, having separation and privacy from an ADU while living together is for many a more appealing and affirming arrangement, including for families with an adult child with disabilities.

Smarter growth
A final benefit of ADUs is that they add housing where there is already infrastructure. The impacts of these units are dispersed across a County that already has about 369,000 housing units in total.

What changes are proposed?

Unfortunately, the County’s zoning rules generally treat this housing type as a nuisance to be avoided rather than a resource to be welcomed. Our byzantine restrictions are a large reason the County is only producing a few dozen ADUs a year, a pittance compared to communities that have embraced them and create several hundred per year. This zoning change aims to change that framework.

Montgomery County zoning laws essentially prohibit backyard cottages or detached garage conversions. The code requires a property owner to have at least one acre in order to build one. Homeowners with an acre are the property owners least likely to need one and they don’t build them.

The proposal before the Council, as amended by the Planning and Housing Committee (where I serve as Chair with Councilmembers Andrew Friedson and Will Jawando), would limit the size of backyard cottages in a thoughtful way. The proposal limits the size of new cottages to 10% of the size of the lot.

In other words, if you have a 6000 square foot lot, the maximum size cottage you can build is 600 square feet.

Existing structures (typically garages) are exempt from this rule, as they already exist and there is no additional visual impact of the structure. They would have to meet code, of course.

Basement units are allowed to be the same size as the basement of the house, whatever footprint that may be.

In the existing County code, interior ADUs (typically basement apartments) cannot be closer than 300 feet to the nearest other ADU. This restriction basically limits them to one per block. The Committee proposal deletes that restriction, seeking to be supportive of ADUs.

To address concerns about parking, the Committee proposal requires ADUs that are farther than one mile from Metro or the Purple Line Station to build an additional parking space on the property or apply for a waiver based on available street parking.

As for setbacks and height restrictions and storm water, the proposal does not change any of those rules from the existing code for accessory structures — the rules that exist for homeowners who might want to build a separate garage or studio or guest house on their property, for example.

While some say we should have stricter rules for ADUs than garages, I don’t share that view.

What protections are provided?

I recognize that there are some residents who find this housing solution problematic. If you are among them, please consider the following.

Owner Occupancy
First, owner occupancy is a requirement. The owner must live on the property. That naturally constrains how the ADUs will be used. For example, an investor can’t purchase a house, add an ADU, and then rent out both units.

More generally, a property owner is only going to allow a property to be used in a manner that the owner is willing to live with personally. The historic Town of Brookeville which strongly supports ADUs has noted the benefit of the owner occupancy rule.

Prohibition of short-term renting and other rental limits
Another key point is that the units may not be rented out as short-term rentals (i.e., Airbnb). Montgomery County homeowners are allowed, under certain circumstances, to rent out their homes or rooms in their homes on a short term basis. That right would not extend to ADUs.

Any homeowner who wanted to rent out the bedroom from an ADU on a short term basis would have to remove the features that make it an ADU, such as kitchen equipment or even the internal separation from the house.

As a result, space built for an ADU would have the same short-term rental value as any other spare bedroom or underutilized living space.

Another significant restriction is that no other rental would be allowed on the property. So an owner could not also rent out the main house or rooms in the house.

Inspections and code enforcement
ADUs have license and inspection requirements. Licenses can be taken away for noncompliance, and penalties can be significant.

Finally, after hearing from some neighborhoods about general crowding of housing and concerns about the capacity of the County to conduct ADU inspections, the Council just added 3 code enforcement positions to focus on inspections in residential neighborhoods. Those positions will be hired soon.

What about schools?

One of the common questions asked about expanding ADUs is about the impact of this new housing on schools. Given that many schools are crowded, it is a natural concern.

To find out the answer, our Planning department pulled the list of all the licensed ADUs in the County and cross checked the property address with school enrollment data at MCPS.

What they learned is that properties that have a house and an ADU have no more students on average (0.464 students per address) than properties with just a house (0.462 students). To be clear, the data point compares the house and the ADU combined, versus properties with just a house. There is no difference in school enrollment.

Given the owner occupancy requirement, this should not be surprising, when you think about it. A property owner with a family might bring in grandparents or a tenant; or a retired couple might bring in a young family; but for one family on a property to add a second family as a tenant would have a big impact on that first family. That’s why it doesn’t really happen.

I find this data to be highly persuasive that ADUs are exactly what we have suggested they will be: a tailored housing solution that makes a very big difference in small targeted ways.

What is the process from here?

On Tuesday, June 18, the County Council will hold a worksession on the Committee’s recommendation.

The Committee met 3 times in March and April to work the issue through, following a public hearing in February. The Planning Board also conducted a public hearing and worksessions.

Presumably the Council will consider amendments raised, if any, and then come back at a later date to vote.

Thanks for reading. If you have made it this far and have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

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

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