Category Montgomery County Government

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

Council enacts the More Housing at Metrorail Stations Act (including White Flint and Grosvenor)

This week the Council, by a vote of 7-2, enacted Bill 29-20, called the “More Housing at Metrorail Stations Act,” a major new housing initiative for which Friends of White Flint advocated.

Councilmember Hans Riemer, chair of the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee, and Councilmember Andrew Friedson, member of the PHED Committee, were the lead sponsors of Bill 29-20. Councilmembers Evan Glass, Nancy Navarro, Council President Sidney Katz, Councilmember Gabe Albornoz, Council Vice President Tom Hucker and Councilmember Craig Rice were cosponsors .Councilmember Will Jawando and Council Vice President Tom Hucker voted against the bill. 

Presently, there are no high-rise developments underway on any Metro station property in Montgomery County, nor have there been for many years. The legislation will respond to this problem by providing a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for a period of 15 years for new high-rise development that includes at least 50 percent rental housing. The PILOT would exempt 100 percent of the property tax that would otherwise be due for a project constructed on property leased from WMATA at a Metro Station in the County. WMATA does not pay property taxes to Montgomery County. The legislation allows a new development on a Metro station property to retain that property tax exemption for 15 years. The developers would continue to pay impact taxes and to pay into the special White Flint Taxing District.

According to Metro, station properties in the County have the capacity to deliver at least 8,600 units of housing, which would provide a significant contribution to the County’s long-term housing shortage. The high-rise buildings also would include between 1,200 to 1,300 Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDU). 

“This effort is about turning housing targets into actual housing units, making ridership goals actual transit riders, and transforming outdated parking lots into vibrant communities for actual people,” said Councilmember Andrew Friedson. “It’s about building modern, sustainable, inclusive communities in true smart growth fashion. Few things would be more impactful to meeting our affordable housing, environmental and economic development goals than maximizing transit-oriented development at Metro stations.”

Montgomery County is not producing nearly enough housing to keep up with demand. Since 2010, the County’s population has grown by approximately 8,000 people per year, but the County has only added about 2,700 new housing units per year. 

County Council Continues to Consider the new updates to the County Growth Policy

The Montgomery County Council is continuing their review of the update to the County Growth Policy. Major changes include policy name change (from the Subdivision Staging Policy to the County Growth Policy), creation of school impact areas, limitations on the use of moratoria, requirements for premium payments in area with overcrowded schools, and incorporation of Vision Zero concepts in transportation adequacy review. Please review the Recommendations At-A-Glance for a brief overview of the schools recommendations.

Montgomery County Council Schedule

Monday, October 5  PHED Committee: County Growth Policy Schools Element | 9:30 AM
Friday, October 9  PHED Committee: County Growth Policy Transportation Element | 10:30 AMGO Committee: Impact Tax Bill | 1:30 PM
Monday, October 12  GO Committee: School Impact Taxes and Recordation Tax Bill | 9:30 AM
Tuesday, October 13  PHED Committee: County Growth Policy) | 3:00 PM
Tuesday, October 20  Full Council: County Growth Policy | TBD
Tuesday, October 27  Full Council: County Growth Policy | TBD
Tuesday, November 10  Full Council action

You can watch the Council work sessions live (or watch recordings of past work sessions) from the Council website.

What is the Subdivision Staging Policy?
The Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP) — one of the many ways that Montgomery Planning helps to preserve the excellent quality of life in Montgomery County — is based on having sufficient infrastructure to support growth. It includes criteria and guidance for the administration of Montgomery County’s Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO), which matches the timing of private development with the availability of public infrastructure. Every four years, an effort to update the Subdivision Staging Policy originates with Montgomery Planning staff before working its way through the Planning Board and the County Council. The purpose is to ensure that the best available tools are used to test whether infrastructure like schools, transportation, water and sewer services can support future growth.

Subdivision Staging Policy and the Community
Montgomery Planning prepares updates to the SSP every four years and this year’s update takes a special focus on schools in relation to growth and development in the county. Census information, demographic shifts, student generation rates, housing stock and projections, equity, along with master plans and development projects are some of the components that must be considered when looking at the policy. The transportation side of the SSP includes looking at transportation policy areas in the county, modes of travel, areawide development impacts and modeling data with a new focus on Vision Zero safety standards.
Since the update to the SSP started in summer 2019, two citizen advisory groups have assisted with this work: the Schools Technical Advisory Team and Transportation Impact Study Technical Working Group. Community members have also been engaged through local presentations, a community workshop in October 2019 and a series of roundtable discussions throughout the county.

View the Planning Board Draft and Appendices:
County Growth Policy – Planning Board Draft County Growth Policy – Planning Board Draft Appendices

The update to the schools element of the SSP included a review by an Urban Land Institute Virtual Advisory Services Panel (vASP) in April.

Read the ULI Final Report and presentation. Learn more about the vASP’s review of the SSP.

Additional resources, including links to Planning Board work sessions on the policy, can be found on Montgomery Planning’s website.

 

Moratorium Damages County’s Competitiveness and Affordability, Fails to Fix School Capacity Shortfalls.

Below you’ll find some highlights from a blogpost from Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson. I encourage you to read the entire post, which includes lots of informative charts and tables.

1. New development is not driving school overcrowding.

With the possible exception of Clarksburg, the surge in school enrollment faced by MCPS in recent years is attributable to turnover in housing built decades ago.

2. Moratoria have failed to solve the overcrowding problem and cut off a source of funds to build schools.

Some argue that even though turnover is largely responsible for overcrowded schools, the moratorium serves a useful purpose in generating political pressure to solve school capacity shortfalls, and that the threat of a moratorium will force elected officials to focus on the issue.

The short answer is we tried it and it didn’t work. The Walter Johnson, Blair, Northwood, and Einstein clusters all went into moratorium in July 2019 despite real estate developers warning that housing development projects in these areas would be delayed or killed. The deadline came and went, the projects were put on ice, and no funding for capacity expansions was accelerated from any source.

A moratorium also makes it more difficult for MCPS to deal with their capacity issues because impact taxes help fund the cost of capacity projects. The Planning Board has proposed adding additional payments in overutilized clusters that would require higher payments (utilization premium payments) in more crowded school clusters, but the idea is the same: new development pays more than its “share” and stopping development cuts off a needed supply of funds for the school system’s other needs.

The fact that moratoria are allowed to take effect despite their impact on development reveals the flaw in an implicit premise of the moratorium policy — namely that real estate developers will find a way to get schools built rather than see their business grind to a halt. The truth is that developers often operate in multiple jurisdictions, and they raise money to finance their projects from investors who are choosing among opportunities in every part of the country and even the world. Developers don’t like seeing their projects held up after they have spent time trying to get them lined up, but ultimately most of them don’t need to be here because they can acquire land to develop somewhere else. Montgomery County taxpayers have more to lose by stopping new housing construction than real estate developers, school board members, or any other group.

3. We are not producing enough housing – and moratoria make the housing supply problem worse.

Our school impact fees, and moratorium policy are damaging our ability to provide the housing our residents and economy need.

The reasons for our lagging housing production are many — including high costs of materials, shortages of skilled labor, and constraints on the availability of land suitable for development — but impact fees for schools are certainly a contributor.

A comparison of Montgomery County’s rules to the approach taken by our peers and competitors in the region is telling. We have the highest school impact payments in the greater Washington region except for Loudoun County, which is in a stage of its evolution where greenfield development is the norm.

Montgomery County Recreation Launches New Pool Reservation System

Interested in swimming at our neighborhood pool at the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center? Montgomery County Recreation is launching a new pool reservation system designed to create an easier and better user experience. The new system will go live on Monday, Sept. 28 for pool reservations on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020 or later.

Montgomery County Recreation pools are currently open to Montgomery County residents and to valid pool pass holders. While reservations are not required, they are highly encouraged as pool capacity is limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We heard from many customers, listened to their feedback and found a system that we believe will creates a better user experience,” said Montgomery County Recreation Director Robin Riley. “We appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding as we navigate these new waters.”

The new system will be used to make reservations at the County’s four indoor aquatic centers. Reservations will be available beginning exactly seven days in advance of the activity’s scheduled start time. For example, reservations for Monday, Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. will be available beginning on Monday, Sept. 28 at 2 p.m. Users can select from a variety of activity types including:

  • Lap Swimming: Current health guidelines allow for one person per lane. This activity requires continuous swimming.
  • Deep Water Running: Open space for exercise in deep water. Swimmer’s body must remain vertical in the water. Lap swimming is not permitted.
  • Open Rec Area: Shallow water available for general use. Lap swimming is not permitted.    
  • Rec Swim: Available for general use. Diving boards, slides and leisure pool open. Lap lanes available as first come, first serve for lap swimming only.

Reservations for indoor and outdoor swim sessions through Oct. 4 will continue to use the current reservation system.

For more information including pool hours of operations and schedules and a link to the new reservation system, visit www.mocorec.com/aquatics. Customers may also call 240-777-6840 or email rec.customerservice@montgomerycountymd.gov for additional assistance.

Picnic in Wall Park — Now With Booze as Well as Food

If you’ve found yourself enjoying parks across the county but suddenly feel the need to leave to find food, look no further! Parks has teamed up with Visit Montgomery and MoCo Eats to offer our new Picnic in the Park program. And now you can legally consume alcohol in designated areas within 9 parks selected for the pilot.  

Our local park – Wall Local Park — is part of the Picnic in the Park program.

Picnic in the Park brings your favorite foods and drinks to you – simply find the designated signs in the following parks and take a photo of the QR code to be shown all the available restaurants to deliver food right to you in the park! Each park comes with a designated delivery zone, along with multiple picnic circles that are physically distanced to make sure you can enjoy your meal safely.

Picnic in the Park locations are:

Our County Council testimony on the SSP/New Growth Policy

As one or two of you may know, tonight the County Council is holding a worksession on the proposed new Subdivision Staging Policy/SSP (now to be called the Growth Policy.) While it’s on very few radars, the SSP/Growth Policy affects development, schools, and transportation, so it affects practically all aspects of life here in Montgomery County.

You can learn more about the proposed policy and watch the County Council hearing live on CCM Channels Comcast HD 996 and SD 6, RCN HD 1056 and SD 6, and Verizon 30. It will be repeated on 9/18/20 at 9:00 pm. This meeting will also be live streamed on Facebook @MontgomeryCountyMDCouncil and YouTube @MoCoCouncilMD

Below is the testimony Friends of White Flint will be giving tonight.

Good evening. I’m Amy Ginsburg, Executive Director of Friends of White Flint.

Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit organization composed of residents, property owners, and businesses, works to transform the White Flint/Pike District area into a vibrant, walkable, transit-oriented community and fulfill the vision of the White Flint Sector Plans.

The new proposed growth policy will have a large impact on the development of the Pike District, and Friends of White Flint offers the following comments on the proposed policy.

Moratoria

As you know, stopping development with a moratorium does not actually solve school overcrowding as the vast majority of new students come from neighborhood turnover of single-family homes. Moratoria also prevent the county from increasing the housing supply and stifles the MPDU program.

Therefore, we wholeheartedly support the Planning Boards recommendation that eliminates automatic moratoria except for Clarksburg. We also support the designation of the White Flint area as an Infill Impact Area.

Impact Taxes

Friends of White Flint supports the recommendation lowering the impact tax from 120% of the cost of a classroom seat to 100% and lowering it to 60% in Activity Centers which includes the Pike District. We support this targeting of impact taxes to encourage transit-oriented development in urban centers such as White Flint and the lowering of the impact tax to 60%.

The Planning Board also recommends that developers would have to pay Utilization Premium Payments in areas with overcrowded schools as an alternative to an automatic housing moratorium. The White Flint/Pike District is considered an Activity Center so the highest possible impact tax/utilization premium payment would be 120%. Because this is revenue neutral, Friends of White Flint supports these new impact taxes and utilization premium payment.

Recordation Tax

The proposed increase in the recordation tax is progressive and would go to school construction and rental assistance for low-and moderate-income households. A million-dollar house would see a $1,400 increase in the recordation tax.

We like that the tax increase is progressive, and we agree that because school capacity issues largely stem from neighborhood turnover, it makes sense that this turnover funds school construction and rental assistance.  That said, we are wary of new taxes in the current economic and pandemic crisis.

Vision Zero

Friends of White Flint supports the recommendation to better incorporate the county’s Vision Zero goal, including increasing intersection delay standards along future Bus Rapid Transit corridors such as Route 355. Friends of White Flint fully supports requiring a Vision Zero Impact Statement that prioritizes travel safety considerations as a mitigation strategy.

Metro Station Traffic Tests

Finally, Friends of White Flint supports the proposal to remove traffic congestion adequacy standards around Metro stations, like the White Flint station, to promote transit-oriented development and recognize the unique requirements of development that lies within the walkshed of a Metro stop.

Thank you for considering our comments as you refine Montgomery County’s new growth policy.

County to remain in Phase 2; eases restrictions on live performances

          Montgomery County will remain in Phase 2 as the State moves to its Phase 3 reopening, which went into effect Friday at 5 p.m. Montgomery County’s current case count is higher than it was when the County entered Phase 2 several months ago. Daily case counts in late June when the County entered Phase 2 averaged 67 cases per day. The current seven-day average of new confirmed cases is 85.

https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/data/

            Venues such as indoor and outdoor restaurants may now include live performances as part of their dining experience. However, establishments are prohibited from allowing dancing or congregating in front of the performers. Individuals present must still wear masks unless they are eating or drinking (and they must be seated while eating and drinking). The new live-music guidelines go into effect immediately. On Wednesday evening, the Governor announced that more activities would be allowed under Phase 3; they are being reviewed to determine if the County could also allow some version of those activities.

            “Although we will not be moving into Phase 3, we will continue to evaluate areas where restrictions might be modified,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “Allowing live music with restrictions at restaurants is an example of the cautious steps that we are taking toward reopening; and we will work on appropriate guidance for other live venues beyond what we’re doing for restaurants. Our careful, measured approach using data and science to make our decisions is likely part of the reasons that transmission of the virus in Montgomery County has remained relatively stable over the last few months.”

            Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties have also decided to remain in Phase 2. Health officials are concerned that moving to Phase 3 will cause case counts to go up across Maryland, including in Montgomery County.

            “We have made progress in addressing the pandemic, but the crisis is not over,” said County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. “As we entire the holiday weekend, we must continue to be vigilant about wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and limiting the size of social gatherings. We will continue to look at the science to determine additional adjustments and slowly open things safely.”

            For the latest COVID-19 updates, visit the County’s COVID-19 website as well as the County’s data dashboard or follow Montgomery County on Facebook @MontgomeryCountyInfo and Twitter @MontgomeryCountyMD

Final Days to Participate in Montgomery County’s Vision Zero Survey

Montgomery County’s Vision Zero program, which seeks to eliminate serious and fatal traffic crashes, is gathering the ideas of residents to improve safety for walking, biking, rolling and driving. Let’s make sure White Flint viewpoints are represented: take the survey today.

The survey will close on Sunday, Aug. 9. It was launched on June 18 as part of developing a strategic plan that will guide the County toward reaching its Vision Zero goals by 2030.

“Our County is large and diverse, so achieving Vision Zero will look very different in places like Downtown Silver Spring than it will in Germantown or than it will in Damascus,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “That is why we need to hear from our residents on their needs and ideas for improving transportation safety in their neighborhoods. This online survey will be one of many opportunities for residents to share their views.”

The survey will take an average of five to seven minutes to complete. The results will help shape future Vision Zero activities. The survey can be found at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/visionzero/2030plan.html .

For more information about the County’s Vision Zero program, go to the program’s website at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/visionzero/

Montgomery Planning Board Approves Update to County’s Subdivision Staging Policy and Transmits to County Council for Review

The Montgomery County Planning Board approved recommended updates to the Subdivision Staging Policy at their July 30, 2020 virtual Planning Board meeting. The action includes transmittal to the Montgomery County Council for its review and approval by November 15, 2020, which is required by county law. The approval of the policy, which is recommended to be renamed the County Growth Policy, follows a year’s worth of community engagement, six Planning Board work sessions and an Urban Land Institute virtual advisory services panel review.

In its ongoing efforts to balance expected county growth and development needs with school and transportation capacities, the Montgomery Planning Board recommends a series of policy changes to calculations and tools to measure and address school capacity utilization, traffic congestion, transportation safety and ways to fund needed infrastructure.

“Development moratoria do not help solve overcapacity issues in areas where resale of homes is largely the cause of school overcapacity. In these areas, a moratorium only suppresses the development and availability of housing, sometimes in areas that greatly need it to ensure our communities are equitable and able to accommodate our workforce,” said Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson.

“Many of our growth policies were initially created at a time when greenfield development was the norm,” said Gwen Wright, Planning Director. “The update to the growth policy now provides us with context-sensitive tools and solutions for a county that now sees mostly infill development.”

Major Recommendations At-a-Glance for Schools:

Create School Impact Areas: To reflect the different housing growth rates in different parts of the county and their impacts on student enrollment, School Impact Areas would be designated throughout the county based on similar amounts of development, type of development and amount of school enrollment growth. These areas are Greenfield, Turnover and Infill Impact Areas.

Greenfield Impact Areas: Areas with high student enrollment growth rates due largely to increased growth in predominantly single-family housing.

Turnover Impact Areas: Areas with little new housing where any student enrollment growth is largely due to turnover of existing single-family housing.

Infill Impact Areas: Areas with increased growth of predominantly multi-family units, which generate few students on a per-housing-unit basis.

Relax Most Housing Development Moratoria: Residential development moratoria will only apply in Greenfield Impact Areas. The Planning Board cannot approve any new housing development plans in an area under a moratorium, unless it meets certain exceptions to the moratorium.

Restructure and Recalculate School-Related Taxes:

Update the student generation rate calculations to be more context sensitive. Student generation rates are used to calculate school impact taxes, which developers pay to help support Montgomery County Public Schools’ construction projects.

Update the calculation of the recordation tax on real estate transactions to make it more progressive and to generate more funding for school construction and affordable housing initiatives.

Require developers to pay a premium for residential development projects served by overcrowded schools.

Adjust school impact taxes in desired growth areas to encourage investment and to complement important policy priorities related to housing, economic development and resource preservation.

Major Recommendations At-a-Glance for Transportation:

Transportation Impact Studies – Emphasis on travel safety: The Planning Board recommends requiring a Vision Zero Impact Statement for studies that examine a residential development plan’s transportation impact, and prioritizing travel safety considerations as a mitigation strategy.

Motor Vehicle Transportation Adequacy – Growth Where We Want It: Eliminating motor vehicle adequacy standards near Metrorail and future Purple Line stations and increasing the congestion standards along transit corridors.

Master Plan Transportation/Land Use Balance – A More Progressive Evaluation Metric: Determining if the balance between land use and transportation for master plans is adequate, by introducing a policy area-level review process based on measures to ensure a plan’s consistency with the county’s long-range planning goals and objectives. Recommended measures include job accessibility, travel time, vehicle miles traveled per capita and non-auto driver mode share.

What is the Subdivision Staging Policy?

The Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP) — one of the many ways that Montgomery Planning helps to preserve the excellent quality of life in Montgomery County — is based on having sufficient infrastructure to support growth. It includes criteria and guidance for the administration of Montgomery County’s Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO), which matches the timing of private development with the availability of public infrastructure. Every four years, an effort to update the Subdivision Staging Policy originates with Montgomery Planning staff before working its way through the Planning Board and the County Council. The purpose is to ensure that the best available tools are used to test whether infrastructure like schools, transportation, water and sewer services can support future growth.

Following the Planning Board’s vote, the County Growth Policy recommendations were submitted to the County Council for its consideration. The recommendations include a draft Council resolution for the County Growth Policy and three related bills to amend county code (these can be found in the appendix). The Council has scheduled a public hearing on the policy and bills for Tuesday, September 15 at 7:30 p.m.