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Council Vice President Riemer Introduces Bill to Increase Affordable Housing at Council Meeting on Tue., Nov. 14

ROCKVILLE, Md., November 14, 2017—Montgomery County Council Vice President Hans Riemer introduced Bill 38-17, Housing – Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs) – Requirement to Build, during the Council’s legislative session at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, November 14. Bill 38-17 would increase affordable housing in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) High School Service Areas that have low poverty rates. Councilmember Sidney Katz is a cosponsor.

Bill 38-17 would increase the minimum percentage of moderately priced housing units (MPDUs) that are required to be built in new residential developments from 12.5 to 15 percent in a MCPS High School Service Area with an eligibility rate for free and reduced meals (FARMS) of 15 percent or less. The Planning Board would make the determination about the number of affordable homes required at the time an applicant submits a preliminary plan of subdivision.

“Over the years, the County’s affordable housing requirements for new development have been recognized as among the best in the nation. By requiring affordable housing be built with every new development, we ensure that affordable housing is available throughout the County. However, we haven’t been able to keep pace with the need,” said Council Vice President Riemer. “This bill will result in more affordable housing in the communities where having it makes the biggest impact and where the market can best absorb it. We need more housing options for working families, young people who want to establish roots in our community, and seniors who are living on fixed incomes.”

The Council enacted the County’s moderately priced dwelling unit law in 1973 with the objective of providing a full range of housing choices for all incomes, ages and household sizes. The MPDU law was designed to meet an important need for low and moderate-income housing, and ensure that moderately priced housing was dispersed throughout the County.

In 2010, a Century Foundation study called “Housing Policy is School Policy” examined academic outcomes among low income students in Montgomery County who had been moved from traditional public housing and placed in MPDU’s in low poverty areas. The study found that by the end of elementary school, the lower income students who lived in higher income communities as a result of the MPDU program “far outperformed” their peers in lower income communities. Read the full study here: https://tcf.org/assets/downloads/tcf-Schwartz.pdf

Students can qualify for Montgomery County Public Schools Free and Reduced Price Meals program based on household size and income, as well as eligibility for Food Supplement Program or Temporary Cash Assistance benefits. Individual student’s eligibility status is held strictly confidential, but MCPS reports an aggregate rate of FARMs eligibility annually for each school. More information about the FARMs program is available here.

The staff report on Bill 38-17 can be viewed here.

For more information or questions, please contact Ken Silverman in the Office of Council Vice President Riemer, at 240-777-7830.

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Improving transportation for Upcounty

As the Council debates the resolution I introduced to make sure that future master plans don’t make traffic worse, here is some background information on what we can do to improve mobility.

The Resolution currently before the Council does not make any decisions about what transportation projects, including M83, will or will not be built. It expresses the will of the Council that future master plans should not factor in M83 on the master plan alignment when the transportation capacity of the master plan area is assessed. There is no consensus to build M83 on the master plan alignment, therefore it does not make sense to continue adding new development that requires M83 as a transportation solution.

The Montgomery County Department Of Transportation has produced several detailed studies of options for improving mobility Upcounty over the last decade. They can be viewed on the County’s website at:
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/corridor/. I believe there is an option that will make significant improvements for the area and could also gain the consensus needed to go into construction.

The most recent study was the Midcounty Corridor Study Supplemental Report from February 2017. DOT studied how four possible alternatives would perform in 2040, using the same background assumptions about development and infrastructure.

  • “No Build” – No improvements on 355 or M83
  • “Scenario 1” – Widening 355 and adding service lanes, improving intersections throughout the area, and building Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on 355.
  • “Scenario 2” – Building a two-lane reversible parkway on the M-83 route and BRT on 355.
  • “Scenario 3” – Building a four-lane highway along the M-83 right-of-way, without any improvements to 355.

See the figure below that summarizes the results of that study. The study did not recommend one alternative, but found that each scenario improved conditions over the “No Build” scenario.

I believe that Scenario 1 – widening 355, improving intersections, and building BRT – should be our highest priority, in addition to I-270 and the Corridor Cities Transitway, for which we are seeking state funding. Compared with Scenario 3 (M83), Scenario 1 allows auto travel times at rush hour that are only 2 or 3 minutes more, while allowing 22% of commuters to take transit and producing 34 million fewer vehicle-miles per year. Only 8 intersections continue to fail under Scenario 1, compared with 9 intersections under Scenario 3 and 14 intersections under No Build.

Scenario 1, which I favor, includes a combination of road improvements from Alternatives 2 & 5 of the 2013 Environmental Effects Report. These expand auto capacity along Ridge Road, 355, and the existing Midcounty Highway by widening the route to a six-lane divided highway along the entire stretch (sections are already six lanes) and building service roads along 355 to minimize driveways and turning movements.

  • Ridge Road would be widened to a six-lane divided highway with a sidewalk and shared use path from future Snowden Farm Parkway to Brink Road under a separate developer-funded project. (From Brink Road to MD 355, Ridge Road is already six lanes.)
  • From Ridge Road to Middlebrook Road, MD 355 would be widened from a four-lane divided highway that contains auxiliary turning lanes at various locations to a six-lane divided highway with auxiliary turning lanes, service roads at select locations, and a sidewalk and shared use path.
  • From Middlebrook Road to Montgomery Village Avenue, MD 355 is already a six-lane divided highway. Service roads would be added at select locations.
  • Montgomery Village Avenue between MD 355 and Midcounty Highway is already a six-lane divided highway, but would be modified by replacing the existing eastern sidewalk with a shared use path.
  • Existing Midcounty Highway from Montgomery Village Avenue to Goshen Road would be widened from the existing four-lane divided highway to a six-lane divided highway with a sidewalk and shared use path.
  • Intersection improvements (such as additional turn lanes) at the following intersections:
    • Midcounty Highway /Montgomery Village Avenue
    • Midcounty Highway/Goshen Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Woodfield Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Washington Grove Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Miller Fall Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Shady Grove Road
    • MD 355/Shady Grove Road
    • MD 355/Montgomery Village Avenue
    • MD 355/Watkins Mill Road
    • MD 355/Professional Drive
    • MD 355/Gunners Branch Road
    • MD 355/Middlebrook Road
    • MD 355/Germantown Road
    • MD 355/Shakespeare Boulevard
    • Watkins Mill Road/Stedwick Road
    • MD 115/Shady Grove Road/Airpark Road
  • Finally, Scenario 1 includes Bus Rapid Transit on 355, attracting more than 1,600 new daily transit riders according to the study. You can read more about the proposed BRT line here.

Performance Measures (2040) from Feb. 2017 Midcounty Corridor Study Supplemental Report

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Making our zoning code more hospitable to breweries, wineries, and distilleries

Although Montgomery County’s local alcohol production industry is young and small, it has a lot of momentum. The County is already home to at least seven breweries, four wineries, and one distillery. There are, at least, four new breweries destined for Montgomery County in the next year or so. Recognizing the significant economic benefits, the County and State have already taken numerous legislative, zoning, and regulatory steps to facilitate the growth of this sector. Compared to communities in other parts of the county, however, our industry is small and our culture is nascent.

We can and should do more to accelerate the industry’s growth. The industry is relevant to our broader economic development goals because it creates good jobs and an appealing culture. Wineries have great potential for businesses in our Ag Reserve, while breweries and distilleries produce placemaking and night-time economy benefits that help us attract and retain talent by creating the vibrant urban centers many employees and employers are looking for.

This is why I introduced, with the support of seven of my colleagues, a zoning text amendment (ZTA) that would allow brewing and distilling as light industrial uses–with certain strictures on production limits to make sure that they are craft breweries/distilleries, not Bud Light factories–in the County’s commercial zones.

The current zoning ordinance’s restrictions on manufacturing in commercials zones make it difficult to open a breweries and distilleries in our urban centers, particularly if they are not attached to a restaurant. Last year I worked with the Department of Permitting Services to address to the distillery piece; we produced a policy that allowed distilling in commercial and light industrial zones under an interpretation of the artisanal manufacturing use. However, when a brewery-in-planning reached out to us with questions about zoning in downtown Silver Spring, it became clear that some changes to the zoning ordinance would be needed to make their business and others like it work.

The public hearing for the ZTA is on November 7, 2017 at 1:30pm. You can sign up to testify here.

Further reforms to zoning, regulations, and incentives are likely required to facilitate the growth of the industry. I look forward to working with all stakeholders in the coming months to address these challenges.

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Development mitigation — schools and transportation

I would not be surprised if you missed news reports about the County Council’s rewrite of our development mitigation policy, called the Subdivision Staging Policy, or SSP.

We have spent several months working on the policy. Because I serve on both committees that deal with the SSP, I have worked particularly hard on it and I am happy that it reflects three key priorities that guided my decisions:

  1. simplicity and transparency
  2. a stricter policy to address school overcrowding, and
  3. ensuring new development invests in public transportation, walking, and biking in order to reduce the number of new cars on the road.

The Washington Post Editorial Board praised our new “smart growth” plan as a “thoughtful framework.” Following are some of the highlights that may be of greatest interest to you.

A transparent policy that people can understand: Perhaps the worst aspect of our existing policy was that very few people could understand it. A needlessly complex policy erodes accountability and discourages public participation. The new policy is much simpler and should be easier for residents and business interests to evaluate. In the future it will be much clearer – for developers, community members, and us managing the County’s budget – how much new development will be required to contribute for new infrastructure.

School-capacity development moratorium: The County Council significantly strengthened the moratorium policy to pause development where schools are overcrowded. The new policy will not allow residential development to move forward if any of the individual schools that serve that area are more than 20% over capacity, unless there is a funded project that will add sufficient capacity. Previously, we used a test that averaged all of the schools in a given high school cluster, so that, for example, if one elementary school was severely over capacity but other schools in the cluster were not, the moratorium would not be in effect.

School impact taxes: As a general rule, we charge an impact tax on new development that ensures that developers cannot free-ride on previous county investments in schools and transportation. I supported significantly raising the school impact tax rate to fully reflect MCPS’s one-time expenses for new students. This position was strongly supported by the Montgomery County PTA, and it was one of my top priorities.

Transportation impact taxes: Transportation impact taxes will now be set according to a geographical sliding scale, with higher rates for development that will generate more automobile traffic. New development that is farther from Metro requires more new infrastructure and will be charged more than new development near Metro, which is consistent with the smart growth principles that I support.

Multi-modal development mitigation: Our localized review process will now measure and require improvements for biking, transit and walking infrastructure — not just driving. In the past, development projects were only required to mitigate their impacts on automobile traffic. This policy was one of many in the county that create an unfortunate loop where people do not take advantage of other transportation options because we do not invest in other options. We need to break that cycle, and requiring new development to improve surrounding transportation infrastructure for all modes or options will help.

Comprehensive mobility plans for urban districts: Previously, new developments in our urban districts were required to research their auto traffic impacts and identify possible solutions. This approach often let developers off the hook or favored solutions that were easy rather than the solutions that were most desired by the community. Under the new policy, the county will take charge of modeling traffic impacts and devising a comprehensive plan for the Metro station districts, then charge each developer proportionately for their contribution to additional use of the networks. The plans will also address and require mitigation for all modes of transportation (public transportation, walking and biking), not just driving.

A final but crucial piece of policymaking in this area will be a new Transportation Demand Management Ordinance. I advocated that the County adopt such a policy and as a result a DOT work group is in the final stages of formulating a proposal for council consideration. A TDM Ordinance will require new development to reduce the number of drivers on the road by investing in and managing other transportation options. For example, building owners will work with their tenants’ employees or residents to increase use of public transportation, biking, or carpooling. The County Council will take up this plan in 2017 and I think it will become a crucial component of our transportation strategy.

The Subdivision Staging Policy, which might be better called the Development Mitigation Policy, is intended to be reviewed and updated every four years, although it can be amended at any time.