By

The Council Connection – Council discusses plan to widen 270 and 495

As summer comes to a close and school resumes, the Council is back for regular session on Tuesday with a full agenda.

In the morning, the Council will discuss issues related to the Governor’s plans to add lane capacity to I-270 and I-495. Governor Hogan announced last fall his intent to form a public-private partnership to widen both highways and likely add toll lanes. The State Highway Administration (SHA) outlined 15 “cross sections” for their Request for Proposals, which you can view here.

We invited SHA to discuss this project with the Council, but they responded that they will not do that until they have “narrowed the options,” likely in December. As Council President, I felt that this issue was too important to sit on the sidelines, so we will have a public discussion with our own transportation policy team to better prepare for this challenging issue.

The Council has long been on record urging the State to advance options that align with County master plans. For I-270 that means an additional two reversible lanes (not four) on I-270, and only between I-370 and Frederick County. These lanes would be reversible HOV or high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes, with both lanes running southbound in the morning peak and northbound in the evening peak. South of I-370 we do not advocate adding more through lanes, since any additional widening would have a major impact on abutting homes.

On I-495, the County’s master plan calls for an additional two HOV or HOT lanes (not four), and only between the I-270 West Spur and Virginia, where the right-of-way is wide enough (300′) to accommodate two lanes. East of the I-270 Spur we do not advocate adding more through lanes, since the right-of-way is only about 200′ wide there; any added widening would have a major impact on homes, businesses and parks.

We look forward to reviewing this issue more closely.

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

Legal assistance for residents facing deportation

Following up on initiative developed by the Council in the FY19 budget, the County Executive has identified 3 nonprofit organizations that will receive funding to help residents who are facing deportation: AyudaHIAS and KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). Why is this important? Here is one example: You have heard about the family separation crisis caused by the Trump Administration. KIND works to help those children who are connected to our community, by providing legal assistance. Tuesday’s action will designate these three groups as eligible for the $370,000 funding initiative the Council adopted.

10 Year Water and Sewer Plan

The Council aims to wrap up work on the 10 Year Water and Sewer Plan with a straw vote on Tuesday and final action the following Tuesday. The plan sets the policy for how and where water/sewer extensions are allowed in the County.

Public Hearings on affordable housing bills

On Tuesday at 1:30pm, there will be public hearings on a zoning change (Zoning Text Amendment 18-06) that would help implement the recent changes the Council made to the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) law. The Council passed legislation increasing the MPDU requirement to 15% of new housing units in the most expensive parts of the County, and made a host of changes to modernize the law and make it more flexible. Additionally, a different ZTA would streamline approval processes for “accessory apartments,” which are small apartments that a homeowner might build inside of their home, over a garage, or in their yard.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President


By

Proposal to Name New High School for Josiah Henson

I have joined with the First Lady of Montgomery County Catherine Leggett to send a letter to the President and Vice President of the Board of Education, Michael Durso and Shebra Evans, urging Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to name the high school that will open on Old Georgetown Road in Rockville for Reverend Josiah Henson. Reverend Josiah Henson lived and labored in the area where Tilden Middle at Charles W. Woodward High School now stands. MCPS plans to renovate and re-open a high school at that location in 2022. Henson, whose autobiography helped to end slavery, is one of Montgomery County’s greatest unsung heroes.

To learn more about Josiah Henson’s story and why he is such a pivotal historical figure, we invite the community to join us on August 10 at 7:00 p.m. for a special screening of the documentary film Josiah. Josiah, which is a 39-minute documentary, narrated by actor and activist Danny Glover, that traces Josiah Henson’s harrowing journey from slavery to freedom in Canada and his contributions to the historical forces that lead to the Civil War. The film screening will take place at AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center in Silver Spring.

Tickets to see the film are five dollars and are available on the AFI Silver Theatre website and at the AFI box office. Proceeds from this event will go to the Josiah Henson Special Park.

For more information about the film visit josiahhenson.com

_______

Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Mr. Durso and Ms. Evans,

We are writing to share an unusual opportunity and request your consideration relating to the naming of a high school. We propose that a new high school should be named for Reverend Josiah Henson.

Old Georgetown Road runs the same route today that it ran 200 years ago, when Josiah Henson was enslaved on the Isaac Riley Plantation. The Riley Plantation or Farm was a large property where now you will find homes in the Luxmanor neighborhood and office buildings on Executive Boulevard. A small park with an old farm house stands on part of the plantation grounds and is now owned and operated by MNCPPC as Josiah Henson Special Park. It features the slave-owning family’s house with attached log kitchen, and will soon feature a new visitor center and museum on Henson’s life and slavery in Maryland.

Across Old Georgetown Road from the farm’s boundary today sits Tilden Middle School, formerly Charles W. Woodward High School. Inside of the Farm’s 1863 boundary sits the Tilden Center as well as Luxmanor Elementary School.

In 2022, the Tilden Middle building will reopen as Woodward High School. The middle school will move to the Tilden Center and open in 2019. The new high school is presumed to be named for Montgomery County Judge Charles W. Woodward, as it was previously.

The High School instead should be named for Josiah Henson, one of the most consequential figures to live in Montgomery County and a man who walked the very ground where these schools sit today.

A reverend, Josiah Henson escaped to freedom and wrote an autobiography in 1849 of his incredible accomplishments, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Josiah Henson inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her book, the top selling novel of that century, contributed significantly to mobilizing public opinion against slavery, leading President Lincoln to call her, “the little lady who started this big war.”

Josiah Henson, by struggling for freedom and writing his story, which provided the inspiration for Stowe’s novel, played a crucial and very specific role in the story of how our country finally ended slavery. Reverend Henson has never received the recognition that he deserves. He is one of Montgomery County’s greatest unsung heroes.

Henson was also an educator. After escaping to freedom, he founded a trade school in Dawn, Canada — the first trade school in Canada, which helped his community of formerly enslaved people to thrive.

Josiah Henson’s work managing the business of the Riley farm or plantation included taking goods to market in Georgetown on Old Georgetown Road. As a result, he walked the ground in this area for many years, where both school properties, as well as Luxmanor ES, sit today. In Henson’s time, the farm was more than twice the size of what it was in 1863; the 1863 boundary, which we have in property records, is shown in the attached map.

Naming a high school in his honor would serve to pay tribute to his achievements, reminding our community of our unique history and the role of African American leaders in our County since its earliest days. It will give our residents and children some ownership of the fight for freedom that Josiah Henson embodies. It will help portray our County in its true light.

To raise awareness about the idea of naming the schools for Reverend Henson, we invite you to join us along with a number of community leaders to see a remarkable new film about his life, Josiah, at the AFI Silver, on August 10th, at 7pm. The films corresponds with a new biography about Henson’s life by Jared Brock, called The Road to Dawn.

Thank you for your consideration!

Riley Plantation Map

By

FAQ About Proposal to Regulate Airbnb

UPDATE: Council President Floreen and I asked the Planning Department to review Airbnb regulations from across the country, provide additional opportunities for public input, and make a revised recommendation to the Planning Board and Council. The Planning Department has announced a public hearing on July 18. Read more about their effort or contact Planning staff here.

 

I recently introduced a legislative package to regulate Airbnb in Montgomery County. Here are some basic information about the legislation that I hope answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

What does this legislation do?

This legislative package, Zoning Text Amendment 16-03 and Bill 2-16, works together to regulate short term rentals in Montgomery County. The Zoning Text Amendment would allow a Bed and Breakfast in residential and mixed-use zones under certain circumstances.  The Bill would establish a process and standards for licensing all dwellings used as a Bed and Breakfast, modernize the licensing requirements for hotels, and delete code sections pertaining to other forms of short term rentals (hostels, tourist homes, tourist cabin parks, rooming houses, and boarding houses) that have already been disallowed in the zoning code. The legislation would apply to all short term rentals, including those arranged through sites like Airbnb and HomeAway. Renters on Airbnb and similar sites would be required to be a licensed Bed & Breakfast in Montgomery County, and obey several new rules designed to protect visitors, neighbors, and hosts. This legislation follows legislation passed in 2015 that required short-term rentals to pay hotel/motel taxes (the current rate is 7%).

 

Aren’t short-term rentals already legal?

No, rentals for less than 30 days are illegal under current law unless they are licensed as a hotel or a Bed & Breakfast. However, this prohibition is weakly enforced, and there are hundreds of Montgomery County listings on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway.

 

Does the legislation protect existing residential communities?

The legislation includes three major protections to ensure that Airbnb does not change the character of existing residential communities:

  1. All hosts will be required to get a license (through an online process) and to certify that the units they rent meet all safety, parking and other requirements in County Code. This means the County will know where these rentals are occurring, can inspect the rentals as needed, and can close down rentals that are not properly licensed.
  2. All units that are rented must be the primary residence of the host. This means that investors cannot use multiple homes for short-term rentals (unlike long-term rentals, where this is allowed). It means that legal rentals will have an owner who lives at that address and is responsible for the property and relationships with neighbors.
  3. The number of renters allowed in a rental unit is limited to the same number allowed in any residential property – no more than five unrelated persons or a family of any size.  This rule prevents any homeowner from legally turning their basement into a hostel. The parking allowances will not be greater than any other household would be allowed.

These properties also will continue to be subject to county laws that protect neighborhoods: housing and building code rules governing the safety and appearance of homes in the County, the County’s Noise Ordinance restricting noise levels, all parking restrictions, zoning rules governing the allowed uses in different zones, and many other legal protections.

Rather than stretching county enforcement resources thin attempting to shut down all short term rentals, this framework will allow the county to focus on problem actors who may violate quality of life laws, whether they are short term renters, long term renters, or homeowners.

 

Won’t this increase housing prices in the County by diverting housing supply to short-term rentals?

This has certainly been an issue in other areas with very tight housing markets and high levels of tourism like New York and San Francisco. The requirement that the housing unit be the principal residence of the host will prevent investors (or anyone) from being able to legally turn a unit into a full-time Airbnb rental and should therefore minimize the impact on housing supply and prices.

 

Will these units have to pay the same taxes as hotels?

Yes. Last year, the Council approved legislation requiring all short-term rentals to pay the County’s hotel/motel tax. Both the County and the State of Maryland are currently working to develop an arrangement with Airbnb and similar sites to have the listing company collect the tax from the host and remit it directly to the appropriate jurisdiction. Airbnb already does this in other jurisdictions. The County has also begun seeking the tax directly from hosts. This process will be aided by a licensing requirement which will require certification that all taxes have been paid.

 

What is the process for approving these changes? How can I express my views?

There will be a public hearing on the legislation at 7:30pm on March 8 at the Council offices in Rockville. Learn more and sign up to speak here. You can also provide written comments for the record at any time by emailing county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.  After the March 8th Public Hearing, the legislation will be heard by the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee, which will make a recommendation to the full County Council.

Please feel free to contact my office at any time with questions or comments at Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov.

 

What about existing Bed & Breakfasts?

There have been six Bed & Breakfasts approved under the old rules in Montgomery County. All but one have had those approvals revoked by the Board of Appeals because the owner abandoned the use. Any other Bed & Breakfasts currently operating in the County are evidently operating without a license and would be required to operate under the same rules as other short-term rentals in the proposed legislation.

 

Are there any additional parking requirements?

The legislation does not impose any additional parking requirements over those that apply to residential property generally, but it does limit the number of occupants allowed at any time to the size of 1 household (5 unrelated individuals or a family of any size) and the unit must meet the existing parking requirements for their zone.

 

What about Homeowners/Condo Association Rules or Rental Agreements?

This legislation does not supersede other legal restrictions on the use of property. Rental agreements, homeowners association covenants, or condominium agreements may preclude a tenant or property owner from using their housing unit for any rental purpose.  If these restrictions on property rental are violated, it is the responsibility of the landlord, homeowner’s association or condominium association to enforce their restrictions.

 

Why is there so much about hotels in the Bill?

On the advice of the Council’s land use attorney, we took the opportunity to do some technical clean up to the hotel section of the County Code. This code had not been amended in decades. These changes are largely stylistic and have no bearing on the Airbnb issue. Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts (i.e. short-term rentals) remain separate legal categories with very different requirements for licensing, inspections, etc.

 

Why not just leave the zoning law in place that makes them illegal?

Although short term rentals are not legal, there are already hundreds of listings on these websites in our county. Our resources are limited, and enforcing a complete prohibition is not realistic. In addition, most or nearly all of these listings are posted by residents who have a reasonable and responsible use in mind. Allowing responsible rentals allows the County to focus our enforcement resources on listings that are truly disruptive to the community. There are also many ways in which responsible short term rentals can augment the County’s stock of hotel rooms to provide benefit to the community, including providing short term stays for business travelers and tourists; family and friends of medical patients at facilities like NIH; families temporarily displaced from their permanent residence by fire, flooding, or renovations; and others looking for a more “homey” experience. Not to mention, the opportunity for homeowners who have extra space to make additional income – including seniors and empty nesters. This application of internet technology is here to stay, and the best course for county government is to adapt to that reality.

 

By

Outcomes of Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops to Planning Board

See the following press release about my work with the Planning Department on our Silver Spring Placemaking initiative.

County Councilmember Hans Riemer Presents Outcomes of Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops to Planning Board
by Bridget Schwiesow on January 16th, 2015

Silver Spring, MD – At its latest meeting, the Montgomery County  Planning Board, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission  (M-NCPPC), learned about the ideas generated at three Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops held in October and November 2014. County Councilmember Hans Riemer, who led the public placemaking effort, opened the presentation to the Board along with Parks and Planning staff and representatives of the Silver Spring Urban District on Thursday, January 15. The purpose of the workshops was to enhance the identity of the Downtown Silver Spring area and improve opportunities in key locations, while building on the 2000 Silver Spring Sector Plan.

“The whole process was fantastic and we had such a positive reaction from the community,” said Riemer. “Now we want to make sure the workshops contribute to meaningful change in Downtown Silver Spring.”

Councilmember Tom Hucker, whose Council district includes Silver Spring, said “I was very excited to participate in the Placemaking series. We identified some great ideas to enhance Silver Spring and I look forward to seeing them realized.”

Learn more about the Silver Spring Placemaking project.

What is placemaking?
This approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces involves listening to the people who live, work and play in a particular area about their needs and aspirations. The information from the community is then used to create a common vision for a specific place.
The Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops were initiated by Councilmember Riemer in collaboration with the Montgomery County Planning and Parks Departments, and the Silver Spring Urban District. County planners joined Riemer, community residents and other participants to explore the brainstorming sessions and brought in creative ways of enhancing three downtown locations.

Three workshops for three places
The first workshop, held at the Planning Department’s headquarters on October 15, explored the creation of civic space in the vicinity of the Transit Center.  Enhancements to Gene Lynch Urban Park and ways to improve the pedestrian experience from the Transit Center to Downtown Silver Spring via Wayne Avenue were examined, along with looking for temporary green spaces and bike service facilities in this location.

The second workshop, held at the Denizens Brewing Company on October 29, focused on the urban character of the Ripley District and enhancing pedestrian experiences in the area to heighten community identity.

The third workshop at the Silver Spring Civic Building on November 5 examined the areas immediately surrounding the proposed Purple Line station in Downtown Silver Spring that are slated for high-density development. Participants weighed design options, including pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, surrounding the Metro Plaza site (located on the northeast corner of East-West Highway and Colesville Road), a prominent gateway to Downtown Silver Spring from the District of Columbia. Ways to improve  the pedestrian connectivity from the Transit Center to South Silver Spring and the Blairs was also studied.

Plan to implement workshop concepts
As part of the January 15 presentation to the Planning Board, the Silver Spring Placemaking team recommended specific improvements to the three areas as a result of the workshops. These action items range from enhanced crosswalks, clearer signage and new bike lanes to outdoor movies, public art and food trucks. For each recommendation, the team suggested a “champion” was needed including public agencies and corporate sponsors, to implement the change.

“One of the reasons we held the workshops was to enhance the Silver Spring Master Plan so we have a head start when that master planning effort comes back around for updating,” says Robert Kronenberg, the Planning Department’s Chief of Area 1, who helped organize the events. “The Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops are the first of many we will be doing in the County. They set the stage of what is to come.”