As published in the Washington Business Journal, July 3-9, 2009:
Montgomery County has released its two-year update of the county’s growth policy. The 37-page document does an excellent job of responding to the biannual requirements, and its 16 appendices are quite formidable. It presents a thoughtful, provocative look ahead for the present and future residents of Montgomery County, as Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson seeks to ensure that future development is “smart” and located near and around transit centers and corridors.
However, the 2009 growth policy falters in its vision for several reasons: It fails to recognize (and take into account) the recession we are in today and likelihood of it continuing through 2011 with its accompanying disincentive to initiate any new use of property until land values stabilize and the financing market establishes its new lending criteria. It fails to recognize that any development — no matter how smart it might be and how much it pays in impact taxes and builds infrastructure — has little chance of proceeding if the county places urban areas into moratorium, for reasons unrelated to new development. We should be seeing a two-year look ahead as well as a long-range policy.
The planning board should identify in its growth policy those capital improvement projects necessary to sustain current residents, businesses and the community at large, as well as those behavioral changes that will improve sustainability, quality of life and expand homeownership opportunities. There is much demographic data that has not been incorporated into the report. A local market research firm has done a five-year forecast and found that in Montgomery County, as well as elsewhere, there will be a significant reduction in the recent level of homeownership. A leading driver in the economic recession was the unnatural surge in homeownership, which rose to 70 percent. Homeownership is now returning to a more normal range of 65 percent. This will result in more households renting.
Additionally, the homeownership market over the next five years will be made up of two significant markets — first-time homebuyers and the move-down market. This will have a ripple effect on the projected number of housing units needed, and these demographic elements have not been addressed in the current policy draft.
What the county should be doing through the growth policy is retooling to meet the post-recovery changed environment that we will face. We are all doing that in our places of employment, and in many cases this is having some profound and positive effects on how we do business, creating smarter products and services, and raising the awareness of environmental issues and the responsibility all residents must assume to ensure that the county continues to develop as a viable community.
Thomas M. Farasy is the 2009 president of the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association.
[Ed.: Op-ed is by Thomas M. Farasy; quotes posted by J. Gephart]