Archives October 2020

Montgomery County Council Overrides “More Housing at Metrorail Stations Act” Veto

The Montgomery County Council has overridden a veto of the “More Housing at Metrorail Stations Act,” a major housing initiative for Metrorail stations, according to a county press release.

Originally enacted on Oct. 6, the new act has “the potential to generate thousands of affordable housing units and help spur economic growth,” the statement claims. The act will impact the viability of building housing on Metro station property.

Taking effect in Jan. 2021, the law incentivizes new housing development by providing a property tax abatement for new high-rise developments that include at least 50 percent rental housing. In addition, the new developments would need to include “at least 15 percent affordable housing, with 25 percent of that figure being housing affordable to people making 50 percent or less of the median income in the County.”

“Montgomery County has a lot riding on getting high-rise development going at our Metro stations,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer.

“Our housing market is not producing enough new housing and that is creating affordability problems for young and working families and putting rent pressure on market affordable housing. With the potential for more than 8,000 units of housing, these measures should help us take a big stride towards our regional housing goals.”

County Executive Marc Elrich vetoed the More Housing at Metrorail Stations Act, but the council voted 7-2 on Tuesday to override the veto. Councilmember Will Jawando and Council Vice President Tom Hucker voted against the veto override.

“I’m pleased that the Council today stood strong in our continued commitment to meet ambitious housing and transit-oriented development goals so more people will have the chance to live in and contribute to our County,” Councilmember Andrew Friedson said.

“While some who oppose new people moving into our community remain satisfied with the status quo of empty lots and parking spaces on top of Metro stations, we made it clear that we won’t wait to address our housing and climate crisis or to invigorate our local economy.”

According to projections by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Urban Institute, Montgomery County is expected to grow by more than 60,000 additional households by 2040. Yet, the prices for homes are growing faster than incomes. The median household income of $108,188 was below the $125,621 required to afford a home priced at the midpoint, according to the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Pop-Up Beer Garden Coming To Pike District: Reserve Your Spot Now!

A pop-up beer garden is coming to the Pike District!

The outdoor dining experience on Bethesda North Marriott’s front lawn will feature live music and local brews and eats. Reservations are required to enter the beer garden, which will be open to the public:

  • Friday, Nov. 13, 4-8 p.m.
  • Saturday, Nov. 14, 12-8 p.m.
  • Sunday, Nov. 15, 12-6 p.m.

Reservations will be provided in two-hour increments to no more than six people in a group. Masks are required.

Click here to purchase tickets.

Updates to the County’s Pedestrian Master Plan

(The plan isn’t pedestrian but it is all about pedestrians.)

Pedestrian Shortcut Map

For the past several months, the Planning Department has promoted a Pedestrian Shortcut Map on their project website. This map is an effort to understand the shortcuts that pedestrians take that aren’t sidewalks or trails. To date, they have received over 500 contributions from community members identifying lines where they walk through the grass, dirt, or gravel to get where they’re going as quickly as possible. This map is still open for your contributions.

The project team will review the submissions and eventually include a list of master-planned pedestrian connections as part of the Pedestrian Master Plan. Master-planning these shortcut connections will make it easier to upgrade them to more formal sidewalks or trails through private development or the public capital improvement program process.

Pedestrian Preferences Survey in the Field

One important part of the data collection phase of the Pedestrian Master Plan is improving our understanding of how often and for what reasons people are walking and rolling in Montgomery County. While the Census provides information on how people commute to work and traffic counts conducted as part of development projects collect pedestrian data at specific locations, we do not have a comprehensive understanding of the extent of pedestrian travel in the County.

At the end of this month, postcards will go out to thousands of households in the county directing recipients to complete a survey about their pedestrian travel habits. This statistically valid survey will provide insights into how people in different parts of the county get around on foot and using mobility devices. Questions focus on how often and for what purposes people are walking and what changes would encourage them to walk more, so the project team can make sure plan recommendations are tailored to increase the number of people walking.

Two letters to the editor in regards to tax abatements to encourage high-rise housing at metro stations.

Montgomery County needs to pass this tax break to meet its housing goals (Washington Post)

Regarding the Oct. 20 Metro article “Elrich veto blocks tax break for high-rises”: Montgomery County’s More Housing at Metrorail Stations Act will provide much-needed economic incentives to build high-rise housing at key Metro stations in the county. While projects at Metro stations along the Red Line have struggled to move forward because of the high cost of high-rise construction, this legislation is likely to result, over time, in thousands of new units at the White Flint and Grosvenor-Strathmore stations alone.

Planning estimates put the need for 41,000 new housing units — both market-rate and affordable — in Montgomery County by 2030. This law could help meet 25 percent of that requirement. 

By providing a financial incentive to developers in the form of a 15-year tax abatement, which in turn will significantly improve the rate of return for high-rise development, it moves some projects from “not viable” to “viable” and others from “eventually viable” to “viable today.” 

As a local land-use lawyer (now retired) who practiced for more than 40 years, I firmly believe this legislation — and more of its kind — is needed if the county is to achieve its housing goals. This law would create “Metro Oriented Transit-Centered Communities,” promote good construction-related jobs and provide costly transit infrastructure, all in keeping with the county’s carefully crafted master plans.

Stephen Z. Kaufman, Brookeville

Opinion: There are good reasons to give incentives for Metro development (Bethesda Beat)

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council will vote on whether to override the county executive’s veto of Bill 29-20, the “More Housing at Metrorail Stations Act.”

The bill only applies to Metro-owned properties. (Metro isn’t selling these properties, just offering a ground lease). The development has to be at least eight stories and at least 50% residential rental. The residential rental needs to be 15% moderately priced dwelling units. Twenty-five percent of those moderately priced dwelling units need to be affordable to households at 50% or less of the area median income.

Many assume developers need no incentive to build high-rises on Metro property, but the market shows otherwise. When I asked WMATA if there were any development projects on its property in the last 10 years, I was told that the most recent ones were two residential buildings (Alaire and Terano), completed in 2002 and 2007, at Twinbrook, and Aurora Apartments in 2008 at White Flint.

Metro stations are vast expanses of parking lots, impervious surface, devoid of activity. Meanwhile, we have a huge housing demand in this county. If we don’t build it here, it will go to other counties. We’ll receive the traffic and greenhouse gas emissions, but not the income taxes.

Currently, the county collects no revenue on WMATA property. This bill extends this status for 15 years to a developer who builds on Metro property — thus, there is no net loss to the county.

In fact, development of the county’s Metro stations will generate fiscal benefits for both Montgomery County and WMATA. There will be less spending on lane miles of road and pipe miles of water and sewer; reduced cost to provide services to compact development (i.e., existing fire/police services, shorter response times); and increased fare revenue from transit users.

The bill provides one-time revenues (impact tax, transfer and recordation). Residents living in the housing will pay personal income taxes. WMATA forecasts that about 8,600 new housing units could be built — 1,300 of which would be for the county’s affordable housing programs. This bill moves us toward our environmental, climate change and housing goals.

Transit-oriented development in major activity corridors, with mixed income and affordable housing, takes cars off the road and promotes healthy lifestyles. Given the climate and economic situation we’ve witnessed in 2020, now is a great time to take bold actions to move this county forward.

Tina Slater, Silver Spring

White Flint is a targeted area for the 3R Initiative Restaurant & Retail Grant program to support locally-owned businesses.

Now through November 5, restaurants and retailers can apply to MCEDC for up to $5,000 to pay for expenses related to adapting business operations during the pandemic, including e-commerce expenses and delivery fees.

While any locally-owned retailer or restauranteur with fewer than 100 employees is welcome to apply for funding and technical assistance, the 3R Initiative Restaurant & Retail Grant will prioritize businesses in ten target areas: Burtonsville/Briggs Chaney, White Oak, Wheaton/Glenmont, Aspen Hill, Germantown, Damascus, Takoma-Langley, Four Corners, Montgomery Hills, and Twinbrook/White Flint.

Find the application and FAQs here, as well as information on the Reopen Montgomery program, which may reimburse your business for purchases like outdoor seating and air filtration.

Please reach out to MCEDC at 3R@thinkmoco.com with any questions.

BRT Debuts on Route 29

It’s not the headline I wish I was writing (BRT Opens on Route 355) but it does count as progress and is something to celebrate: Route 29 Bus Rpaid Transit (BRT) began operating last week. Known as FLASH, Montgomery County’s first BRT line is now transporting folks up and down Route 29.

A successful Route 29 BRT will make it easier and more likely for us to one day cheer the start of BRT service on Rockville Pike. While we had advocated for separated bus lanes the entire length of Route 29, the opening of this BRT line is a milestone that we are taking a moment to appreciate.

There’s been lots of news coverage, which I’ve listed below.

DCist: A New Type Of Bus Service Is Launching In Montgomery County This Week

Greater Greater Washington: Breakfast links: Bus Rapid Transit starts today along Route 29 in Montgomery County

Washington Post: The D.C. region’s most ambitious try at bus rapid transit is coming to Montgomery County

WTOP News: FLASH bus route to provide service in Montgomery County’s Route 29 corridor

Maryland Matters: Maryland’s First Bus Rapid Transit Service Opens

A veto and response on Bill 29-20

On Friday, County Executive Marc Elrich issued the first veto of his administration against Bill 29-20 by the county council offering 15-year property tax breaks for high-rise developments at Metro stations. Adam Pagnucco wrote an informative blog post discussing this veto on Seventh State at http://www.theseventhstate.com/?p=14013. Adam discusses what the County Executive got right and got wrong in Marc Elrich”s detailed explanation of his veto, in Adam’s opinion, of course. It’s well worth reading.

In response, Councilmember Andrew Friedson, one of the bill’s sponsors, wrote on Facebook:

“I’m confident we will have the votes to override the veto to continue our efforts to make Montgomery County more attractive and accessible for new residents, businesses, and investment.

There are so many misleading points in the County Executive’s lengthy statement so I won’t dispute line by line but here are the few key points: 1) The County Executive’s core argument is that these projects would proceed regardless so this incentive comes at a cost despite overwhelming and undeniable evidence demonstrating that simply isn’t the case. None of the WMATA sites are being developed and developers with Joint Development Agreements are walking away all over the region, due to unique infrastructure requirements on these sites, high costs of high-rise construction, etc. 2) These sites currently collect ZERO property tax, generate ZERO housing, and provide virtually no public benefits aside from surface parking. I view that as an abject public failure, but respect anyone who prefers this status quo. 3) Multiple fiscal analyses have demonstrated both that high-rise projects don’t work without the incentive and that the Grosvenor project in particular would generate more revenue to the County in impact and income taxes than the property tax abatement (which the county wouldn’t otherwise receive without a project). 4) The Executive “spiked” his fiscal analysis and has been trumpeting those “costs” despite the fact that they’ve been discredited. For instance, they assumed all 1 bedroom units and all sites generating N. Bethesda rents — both representing far higher numbers than any semblance of reality. 5) The bill gives discretion to start the abatement in Year 2 instead of Year 1 in case Question A doesn’t pass (which shows why it should!). This lowers the value of the benefit, but ensures the County receives the revenue/tax base benefit of the new construction in the future.

All that said, here’s the bottom line: if you believe in the social, economic, and environmental value of high-rise, transit-oriented development and that we have a severe housing crisis that has severely hindered our progress, this bill simply forgoes revenue we wouldn’t otherwise receive to generate housing and smart growth development we desperately need in the strategic locations where we clearly want it. If you’re willing to wait until the market changes — which could easily be 10, 15, 20 years, or to accept low/mid-rise development at Metro sites that will stand for 50-60 years, then this isn’t the best or most appropriate solution. That’s really the choice. The rest of the same, tired talking points aren’t really relevant to the discussion.

As you know, Friends of White Flint advocated for passage of this bill, and we hope the Council overrides this veto.

The return of the Grosvenor Turnback? Say it ain’t so.

The Covid-19 pandemic is costing Metro hundreds of millions of dollars. With ridership down by 80% from pre-pandemic levels and with no additional federal help, Metro has to make difficult decisions to balance the budget shortfall.  Metro is preparing to resume fare collection on Metrobus and cut costs by limiting the use of contractors, furloughing employees, and deferring some capital program expenses. But the budget shortfall is so large, some service cuts and layoffs will also be needed beginning this December.

Metro is requesting your feedback on its Fiscal Year 2021 budget amendments proposals that includes the return of the dreaded Grosvenor turnback. Metrorail is proposing a service adjustment during weekdays. Trains would operate trains every 12 minutes at all times. Additional Red Line trains would operate every 12 minutes between Grosvenor-Strathmore and Silver Spring (known as “turnbacks”), so that the Red Line would operate every 6 minutes in the core.

If you don’t want the Grosvenor Turnback to return, please give your feedback to Metro by 9 a.m. Monday, October 19, 2020 by taking the online survey and providing written comments.

With moratorium over, Strathmore Square project back for approval of more residences

From Bethesda Beat

After a residential building moratorium stunted a large development in North Bethesda, project leaders are trying again to expand their plan.

The moratorium has been lifted, though, so they will return to the Montgomery County Planning Board this week in hopes of moving forward with the full project, which aims to build more than 2,200 residences near the Grosvenor Strathmore Metrorail station.

In November 2018, the Planning Board gave preliminary approval to a project with 1.9 million square feet of total space, including an 11-story hotel, retail space and office buildings.

Developers on Thursday will seek approval from the Planning Board for 909 residences and remove the age restriction from the 400 previously approved residences.

If approved, all 2,218 residences originally proposed could be built.

Plans for the North Bethesda project call for a roughly 1.2-acre park to sit in the center of the development. It would be framed by seven buildings up to 300 feet tall.

The park is designed to “be the heart of the project,” and provide space for informal community gathering. The park will include amenities such as a dog park, pop-up markets, performances and community art, planning board documents say.

Read the rest of the story on Bethesda Beat.