Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

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.

Council Update — pedestrian safety

Dear Resident,

The Council met on Tuesday, and you can see our agenda here. We began reviewing a plan to improve the areas around the Boyds and Germantown MARC rail stations.

For me this week, a big theme has been walkability and pedestrian safety. You’ve seen the wrenching news about pedestrian crashes. Just last Wednesday, five pedestrians were struck in a single day.

To get the County sufficiently focused on this problem, the Council passed a Vision Zero resolution in February 2016 (3 years ago) that committed the County to achieving zero fatalities on our roadways.

The Leggett Administration followed up by presenting a two-year action plan and announced the intention of developing a separate 10-year action plan. We seemed to have momentum at that time.

I am concerned now that we lost what momentum we had. For instance:

  • Of the 41 action items in the two-year action plan, 20 are behind schedule or not yet started.
  • The County has not started the 10-year action plan
  • The County has not hired a Vision Zero coordinator
  • The new County Executive has recommended cutting funding in the Capital budget that helps us meet our Vision Zero goals, including funding for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPA), a program I have championed which allows us to make fast improvements in the highest need areas of the County.

Not all of the news is bad. Last fall, the State Highway Administration (SHA) engaged with the Council and announced some changes that it plans to make that prioritize safety, and expressed openness to a new approach. It is a start.

The Council too has a important role to play in making sure we reduce serious and fatal collisions on our roadways.

We are now reviewing the Veirs Mill Corridor Plan, which is a great Vision Zero plan and focuses on changes needed to promote safety in that area. Read recent coverage of that plan here.

We need to make safety a higher priority in our infrastructure, which is why I advocated–and my colleagues agreed–to restore funding to those BiPPA programs as well as for the pedestrian entrances to our Metro stations (White Flint and Forest Glen) at the Transportation Committee this week. My colleagues also supported my request to accerelate planning and design for BRT on Veirs Mill Rd. We have a long way to go before we will know what we can afford in our capital budget. But the Committee’s actions are a great and necessary step forward.

We also need to get back to our Vision Zero plan. The Transportation Committee will soon review the County’s progress on implementing the plan–a special thanks to Chair of the Committee, Councilmember Tom Hucker, for agreeing to a worksession.

We need to take action.

During a shutdown, feds ride free
The Council approved a resolution I authored that would allow the County to waive fares for federal employees and contractors to use RideOn during a future government shutdown. This will enable the County to act more quickly next time.

Farm Breweries, Wineries: Part Two
Following up on an initiative that I organized last year with our farmer and maker communities to expand farm breweries, wineries, and cideries, the Council approved a zoning change that allows these businesses in 25 acre lot size, rural residential zones. Two young brothers want to open one in Olney, which would be the 4th brewery in that part of the County (Brookeville Beer Farm, Waredaca, and Elder Pine).

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council Update — budget for school construction, infrastructure

Dear Resident,

The Council is in regular session this Tuesday, and you can view our agenda here.

Among our topics is a discussion about revenue projections for the capital budget, where we handle school construction and other important infrastructure priorities.

The County Executive’s recommended capital budget projects a dramatic slowdown of development (mostly from a projected decline in new housing), causing a loss of nearly $100 million to our budget over six years from taxes paid by developers.

In turn, the Executive’s budget recommends delaying projects that are important priorities such as a modernization at Seneca Valley High School, pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Wheaton and Silver Spring, and new entrances to the Metro stations at White Flint and Forest Glen.

For me, this highlights the complicated issue of how tax revenue from new development funds infrastructure. We often hear claims that we should “pause development until infrastructure catches up.” The Executive’s recommended budget shows how it is not that simple.

The projected slowdown of housing growth results in a massive reduction of tax revenues, even with our developer impact tax rates that are among the highest anywhere. With a much lower baseline of anticipated housing growth, not only will the housing crunch worsen (a huge issue in and of itself) but immediate infrastructure needs cannot be met.

The Council will take up the revenue question on Tuesday morning.

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

Planning and economic development committee
Last Fall the Council passed a zoning change that I authored that enables farmers in the Agricultural Reserve to establish breweries or wineries under certain conditions; my new proposal extends that framework to other rural zones. Two entrepreneurs have sought the change as they intend to open a brewery on their family’s farm in Olney.

On a related note, the Committee will discuss the issue of “small scale manufacturing.” The goal is to identify the status and potential of this sector in Montgomery County. Examples in the County include African clothing and textiles, laser-cut branding products, food, jewelry, 3D printing, and more. You can read more about it in the report that I commissioned last year by a consultancy based in the County, Recast City.

Neighborhood street safety – 15 mph
For several years now I have been working with my colleagues in the state legislature (special shout out to Delegate David Moon) to advance an important change in the law that would allow the County to set a neighborhood speed limit of 15 mph. State law generally prohibits speeds lower than 25 mph on the County’s small neighborhood streets. Here is more about that issue from the Bethesda Beat.

Remembrance and Reconciliation Commission follow up
Last Tuesday the Council unanimously voted on a resolution to establish a commission to secure our County’s memorial from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to honor the three known lynchings that took place in the County. The Office of Human Rights will soon be identifying residents to join the commission. If you’re interested in getting involved, please reach out to my office, and we will help you get involved.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about one of the three known lynchings to have taken place in the County, join me this Sunday, February 10 at 4:00 pm at the Old Town Hall in Poolesville when local historian Anthony Cohen, will be speaking about the long-overlooked story of the January 1880 lynching in Poolesville of George Peck, a local laborer accused of assaulting a young white girl, will be examined along with details of his arrest, abduction and murder at the hands of a mob.

How do I…?
…sign up for a public hearing.

In-person public hearings are one way to express your views to the Council. Simply navigate to the County Council Public Hearing website, find the public hearing you are looking for, and click “Sign Up.” A new window will pop up (make sure your browser allows pop ups), and you will be asked to fill in some basic details.

Upon completing the form, your request will be registered. Council Staff will then reach out to everyone who is invited to testify. The Council does its best to make sure everyone has an opportunity to share their views with the Council and that the Council hears from all perspectives. There are hearings when we have more requests than time will allow, but for the most part we are able to accommodate everyone who signs up by the deadline.

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council Update — Veirs Mill Plan and tech talent

Dear Resident,

The Council is in regular session this Tuesday. View the agenda.

The Council will receive an overview of the Veirs Mill Corridor Plan, an area stretching about four miles from Wheaton to Rockville. The area was once agricultural until a growing federal workforce and postwar boom drove the construction of workforce single-family housing. This pattern of development in the area has largely remain unchanged to this day.

The Veirs Mill Corridor Plan aims to strengthen these communities by increasing transit connectivity, improving the safety of all users of Veirs Mill Rd, particularly pedestrians and bicyclists, and supporting limited redevelopment opportunities in the corridor. Of particular importance, the Plan makes way for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line envisioned for Veirs Mill Rd. Additionally, the Plan will be the first to explicitly embrace Vision Zero principles, intending to support the County’s goal of zero deaths on our roads by 2030.

Read the Plan.

The plan’s public hearing will be on January 29, 2019 at 7:30pm, but you can also share your input on the plan by writing to the Council at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov or using the hashtag #VeirsMillPlan2019 on social media.

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

Discussion on the tech talent pipeline
Council economic development and education committees will convene a discussion on how the County can improve its tech talent pipeline.

As Amazon establishes its second headquarters in Northern Virginia and tech jobs grow in our region, we need to make sure that companies growing in Montgomery County have access to the talent they need and that all of our young people, regardless of zipcode, have access to jobs.

Many of these jobs don’t require a PHD or even a bachelor’s degree but rather an associates degree or certificate. An effective “tech talent pipeline” will require close coordination between business, educational institutions (MCPS, Montgomery College, USG/UMD), non-profit organizations, and County Government.

FY19 Savings Plan to be approved
The Council is poised to approve a $45.7 million reduction in spending for the current fiscal year. Council committees reviewed the County Executive’s recommended reductions and largely concurred with the recommendations. A decline in 2018 revenues necessitated the reductions in spending.

Council weighs in on proposed state legislation
County staff will brief the Council on state legislation relevant to the County. The Council will weigh in on legislation covering topics including drug overdose and infectious disease clinics, e-scooters, and forest conservation.

State grant to improve retention of first-year teachers in Title I schools
The County received a $500,000 state grant to administer a program that provides personalized training opportunities for first-year teachers in Title I schools. The program gives the teachers improved teaching and learning skills as well as a better understanding on how to connect with the students and families they serve.

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large