Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

Community conversation on Vienna, Austria’s social housing model

One of my friends and a giant in Montgomery County housing advocacy, Pamela Lindstrom, asked me to organize a policy forum on Vienna’s social housing model. That conversation led to the event we hosted with the Sierra Club on September. Much of the work to organize the event was conducted by Council staff member Linda McMillan. I am grateful to them both for their support!

present a community conversation on

Vienna, Austria’s Smart City Strategies for Housing, Energy, and Mobility

SEPTEMBER 14, 2019
9:30-11:30AM

Council Office Building
3rd Floor Hearing Room
100 Maryland Ave
Rockville, MD 20850

A special thanks to Pam Lindstrom for helping organize this community conversation.

Presenters include:

  • Dr. Kurt Sturzenbecher, Member of the Vienna City Council
  • Mrs. Karin Ramser, Director, Vienna Housing Agency Wiener Wohnen
  • Ms. Katharina Bayer, Architect
  • Mag. Josef Cser, Director of Wohnservice Wien

Followed by a Q&A with the audience and representatives of County agencies, and remarks from Shruti Bhatnagar, Chair, Sierra Club Montgomery County, MD

Montgomery County has partnered with the University of Maryland and the Embassy of Austria to host an exhibition, provide presentations, and a community discussion on Vienna’s approach to social housing, energy, and mobility. Close to 60 percent of Vienna’s 1.8 million inhabitants live in government-subsidized housing that is rented to them by the municipality or nonprofit housing associations.

Watch the video of the event

Questions? Contact Councilmember Hans Riemer’s office
at 240.777.7964 or Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov

El Consejo supervisa temas de seguridad pública

Estimado residente:

Imagine por un momento las radios que utilizan el personal de primeros auxilios. Estas radios funcionan transmitiendo señales a través de una red de torres ubicadas en distintas zonas del Condado.

Los bomberos, ambulancias y oficiales de policía necesitan un nuevo sistema de radiocomunicación ya que el actual está fallando y hay momentos en que la señal de radio es poco confiable.

En cualquier momento bomberos en una estructura en llamas u oficiales de policía que llamen por refuerzos podrían recibir un tono ocupado en vez de ayuda. Lamentablemente, 75% de los canales dejaron de funcionar por unas horas un fin de semana en Mayo.

Las radios y las torres formen un sistema

El condado viene trabajando por varios años en un nuevo sistema de 22 torres. El nuevo sistema de radiocomunicación está casi listo y se planea lanzar en Otoño del 2020.

Sin embargo, el plan de el Ejecutivo del Condado de cancelar dos ubicaciones críticas de torres de el nuevo sistema creó confusión en muchos y puso en riesgo la finalización del proyecto.

Algunos residentes no están de acuerdo con la ubicación de una de las torres que se encuentra en la intersección de trébol entre Georgia Avenue y el ICC. Además, unos cuantos residentes también compartieron sus inquietudes acerca de la ubicación de una torre que se planea colocar cerca del río Potomac.

Map of the 22 public safety radio towers

En respuesta, el Ejecutivo del Condado ordenó a su personal que buscaran alternativas.

Los miembros del Consejo nos alarmamos cuando escuchamos de los bomberos y del personal de gestión de emergencias que sin esas dos torres la red no funcionaría como estaba previsto, particularmente en Olney, Leisure World y la cuenca del río Potomac.

“Este problema es ahora una emergencia de seguridad pública que requiere una acción inmediata y rápida para evitar mayores riesgos hacia la seguridad de los ciudadanos y de los oficiales de seguridad pública que arriesgan sus vidas a diario.” Asociación de Bomberos del Condado de Montgomery

Si bien la búsqueda de alternativas puede parecer razonable, resulta que no se puede eliminar 1 de las 22 torres sin antes:

  • Implementar una red con cobertura en puntos débiles donde faltan torres
  • Reconfigurar la red en su totalidad, la red está diseñada como un sistema interdependiente y funciona como una sola unidad, posiblemente requeriría un retraso y ya no se lanzaria en Otoño 2020, lo que significa que el Condado continúaria confiando en un sistema fallido por más tiempo
  • Buscar ubicaciones alternas, sin promesa de encontrar mejores alternativas.
  • Construir torres alternativas que podrían costarles a los contribuyentes millones más de lo planeado

Ninguna de estas posibilidades son aceptables. Es por eso que el Consejo votó de forma unánime para aprobar una enmienda al presupuesto capital que requiere que el poder ejecutivo resuma y continúe con el proyecto según lo planeado. Video: mis comentarios acerca de la enmienda del presupuesto.

Si bien el Consejo lamenta mucho la insatisfacción que estas dos torres han causado a algunas personas, hay decenas de miles de residentes en el área de Olney y un millón de nosotros en todo el Condado que confiamos y contamos con que nuestro personal de primeros auxilios puedan hacer su trabajo, todos los días y a cada minuto.

Si hubiera una ubicación alterna disponible que no retrase el proyecto, que no cause que el área tenga una cobertura menor en el ínterin y que no le cueste millones de dólares al condado, podríamos eligir esa opción, pero no la hay.

En respuesta a las preguntas del Consejo sobre la torre restante, Bretton Woods, el representante del Ejecutivo del Condado dijo: “nos hemos quedado sin tiempo porque se anticipa que el proceso de investigación, finalización de ubicación, permiso, construcción y prueba de este sitio alterno tomará más de 18 meses. El Ejecutivo ha ordenado al personal condensar el proceso lo más que se pueda, pero no se puede garantizar que el sitio alternativo esté listo para la fecha límite de Diciembre de 2020.”

Y es por eso que debemos avanzar sin demora en esta iniciativa crítica de seguridad pública. Con nuestro voto unánime, el Consejo insiste en ello.

Sinceramente,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Concejal del Condado de Montgomery

Council oversight on public safety

Dear resident:

Picture for a moment the radios that first responders carry. These radios function by relaying signals through a network of dedicated towers placed around the County.

Firefighters, rescue and police officers need a new radio network. The current one is failing. Failing means that there are moments when the radio network becomes unreliable.

Radios and towers work as a system

Consider that firefighters in a burning structure or police officers calling for backup could get a busy signal instead of getting through. It has been happening. For hours one weekend this May, 75% of the channels went down.

A new system is nearly ready. County departments have been working to build the new 22 tower system for years. The “go live” plan for the new network is Fall of 2020.

Recently, however, there has been confusion as the County Executive moved to cancel two critical tower locations for the network, putting completion of the project into jeopardy.

Some residents nearby did not want a radio tower where it had been planned, inside of the cloverleaf intersection of Georgia Avenue and the ICC. They spoke out. A handful of residents also protested a proposed tower near the Potomac River.

Map of the 22 public safety radio towers

In response, the County Executive directed his staff to find alternatives.

Councilmembers became alarmed as we heard from firefighters and other emergency management personnel that without those two final towers, the network would not work as planned, particularly in Olney, Leisure World and the Potomac River basin.

“This issue is now a public safety emergency that requires immediate and swift action to avoid further increased risks to the safety of the citizens, and those public safety officers who risk their lives to serve them every day.” Montgomery County Firefighters Association

While searching for alternatives may sound reasonable, as it turns out, you can’t remove 1 of the 22 towers without:

  1. Deploying a network with coverage weak spots where towers are missing
  2. Reconfiguring the entire network, which is designed as an interdependent whole, possibly requiring a delay from the Fall 2020 go-live, meaning the County continues relying on the failing system for longer
  3. Searching for alternative locations, which has no clear timeline for success
  4. Building alternative towers that could cost taxpayers millions more than planned

None of these consequences are acceptable. That is why the Council voted unanimously to approve a capital budget amendment requiring the executive branch to move forward with the network as planned. Watch a video of my remarks on the budget amendment.

While the Council very much regrets the dis-satisfaction these two towers have caused for some, there are tens of thousands of residents in the Olney area and a million of us around the County who are counting on our first responders to be able to do their job, every minute of every day.

If an alternative location were available that would not delay the full network, cause the area to have lesser coverage in the interim, and cost the County millions of dollars, we could do that. But there isn’t.

In response to Council questions about the final remaining tower, Bretton Woods, the County Executive’s representative said, “we have run out of time because the process to research, finalize location, permit, build and test this alternative site is predicted to take more than 18 months. The Executive directed staff to condense the process as much as possible, but at this late date, the alternative site cannot be guaranteed to be ready for the December 2020 deadline.”

And that is why we need to move forward without delay on this critical public safety initiative. With our unanimous vote, the Council is insisting on it.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council Approves Zoning Change for Accessory Dwelling Units

Dear residents,

I am pleased to share that the Council voted unanimously, 9-0, to support the zoning proposal I introduced to allow more homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units.

An Accessory Dwelling Unit is a basement apartment or garage conversion or similar small housing unit that is added to a property.

I introduced this change so that the County could provide an opportunity that many families are seeking, to be able to provide a living arrangement that offers separation but proximity, independence but togetherness. We heard from retirees that they might use an ADU to age in place, and Millennials that they could use an ADU to better afford a mortgage.

We carefully reviewed concerns that were raised about impacts on schools, parking and the environment, and we made changes that achieve a balanced solution that will get a very tailored, practical result.

Details are below. Thank you to each of you who spoke out, whatever your views.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large


Council Approves Zoning Change
for Accessory Dwelling Units

Legislation sponsored by Councilmember Hans Riemer
would remove obstacles to lower-cost housing

ROCKVILLE, Md., July 23, 2019 – The Montgomery County Council unanimously adopted Zoning Text Amendment 19-01 today, removing significant barriers for homeowners who wish to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their properties. ZTA 19-01 was sponsored by at-large Councilmember Hans Riemer, who chairs the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.

“The high cost of housing in Montgomery County is pricing people out,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer. “This important change allows homeowners to build housing that works for their families, and to create better options for renters in communities across Montgomery County. I am grateful for the careful deliberation of my colleagues and their unanimous support, as well as the strong advocacy of the smart growth community – working together we got it done.”

An ADU is a second, separate living unit on a lot zoned for single unit development. ADUs can be built by converting a basement into an apartment, adding an addition to an existing house, building an apartment over a garage, converting an existing shed or detached garage, or building a new backyard cottage. An ADU is distinguished from renting out part of a house because it is a totally separate living unit, with a separate entrance, bathroom and kitchen.

“I am proud to be a part of this Council team that worked hard to provide a creative solution with accessory dwelling units that fits the needs of Montgomery County,” said Council President Nancy Navarro. “We are in the midst of a region-wide housing challenge, and we need creative and effective strategies like this to address the availability of housing for our residents. I would also like to thank the community for their robust input and feedback. As a legislative body, we are committed to bolstering our code enforcement resources and taking appropriate measures to ensure that those who work here can live here and those who wish to retire here are able to do so in a safe and comfortable setting.”

ADUs are a popular solution for families that have relatives who want to live independently, but close by – such as an older grandparent or an adult child with disabilities. Also, the income provided by renting an ADU can make the difference in allowing seniors to age in place as the cost of living grows or allowing new families to be able to afford to buy a home in increasingly expensive areas. Finally, ADUs provide a more affordable option for people seeking to rent in many areas by increasing the supply of housing and reducing pressure on rents across the County.

“Affordable housing continues to be a complex issue in Montgomery County,” said Councilmember Will Jawando. “It affects seniors who would like to downsize and remain in their community or near their family; young adults who were born and raised in the county but cannot afford to live here on their own; and families with adult disabled children who are able to live with limited independence. ZTA 19-01 has gone through many work sessions in the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee and reflects changes based on input from County residents. ADUs do not represent an ultimate solution but instead provide one more alternative in the challenge to make housing affordable for all Montgomery County residents.”

“I appreciate the extensive and substantive community input we received throughout this legislative process and our efforts on the Council to thoughtfully address the issues and concerns of our residents,” said Councilmember Andrew Friedson. “Thanks to that feedback and careful deliberation, we reached a far better outcome on this zoning text change, especially with amendments limiting the size, maintaining existing parking requirements except in transit-accessible areas and introducing companion legislation to help monitor the impact of ADUs going forward.”

“I look forward to the positive benefits that will stem from the passage of ZTA 19-01, such as allowing more families to support their elderly relatives and family members in need, close to home,” said Councilmember Craig Rice.

ZTA 19-01 makes the following changes to the County’s zoning law covering ADUs:

  • Removes the prohibition on detached ADUs in lots smaller than one acre. The size of the detached ADUs must be the smaller of 10 percent of the lot size, 50 percent of the footprint of the principal dwelling; or 1200 sq. ft. Existing rules limiting the construction of accessory structures apply, including height limits, maximum lot coverage requirements, and stormwater requirements. In addition, the greater side and rear setbacks currently required for detached ADUs remain.
  • Removes the requirement for an additional parking space within one mile of Metro, Purple Line or MARC stations. Proposed ADUs require one off-street parking space in addition to the parking required for each detached house (typically two spaces). For areas outside of one mile, three off-street spaces are still required.
  • Allows for the conversion of existing, legally built structures into ADUs.
  • Clarifies that other rental uses (such as Airbnb) on a property that includes an ADU are prohibited.
  • Removes the prohibition on ADUs in new construction.
  • Removes the distance requirement restricting ADUs from being built within 300 to 500 feet of an existing ADU.

ADUs are a part of the Council’s continuing efforts to ensure that affordable, quality housing is available to residents at all income levels. While these units alone will certainly not solve the housing crisis, they do fill an important gap and can be paired with existing rental subsidy and other potential subsidy programs to reach an even deeper level of affordability.

ZTA 19-01 was first introduced on Jan. 15, 2019 and a public hearing was held on Feb. 26. The Council’s PHED Committee held three meetings before unanimously recommending adoption with amendments. The full Council reviewed ZTA 19-01 on June 18 and July 9 to make further amendments before approving the legislation today.

The changes will take effect on Dec. 31, 2019 together with Bill 22-19, which is a companion bill to amend the licensing code which was introduced on July 16, 2019. Bill 22-19 renames “Accessory Apartments” to “Accessory Dwelling Units” in the County Code, modernizes the standards for measuring basement ceiling heights, requires ADU applicants to certify that they meet any applicable HOA standards and notice requirements to affected HOAs, requires quarterly reporting on ADU issues by the County Executive, and requires that the property owner live on-site in either the principal dwelling or the ADU. A public hearing on Bill 22-19 is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 10 at 1:30 p.m.