Category Montgomery County Government

Want to serve on the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee?

County Executive Marc Elrich is seeking applicants to fill five vacancies on the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, for one member representing a business that employs fewer than 25 employees, two representatives of commercial property owners in the Sector Plan Area, and two residents in the Sector Plan Area. One small business owner, one commercial property owner, and one resident in the Sector are eligible to apply for reappointment.

The Sector Plan Area is comprised of the following streets: Citadel Avenue, Executive Boulevard (5900 block), Hoya Street, Maple Avenue, Marinelli Lane, McGrath Boulevard, Nebel Street (11500-12292), Nicholson Court, Nicholson Lane, Old Georgetown Road (11565-11999), Randolph Road (5500 block), Rockville Pike (11120-12000), Security Lane, and Woodglen Drive. For specific questions regarding the Sector Plan Area boundaries, please contact Derrick Harrigan at (240) 777-8210.

The 14-member committee includes two members nominated by the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce; three members who represent (commercial) property owners in the Sector Plan Area; two members who represent businesses that employ fewer than 25 employees; two members who represent residential communities in the Sector Plan area; one member who represents a residential community in or outside of the Sector Plan area; one member of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board; and three ex officio, non-voting members who represent the County Executive, County Council, and North Bethesda Transportation Management District.

The Committee advises County departments on public services in the White Flint Sector Plan Area; and coordinates community activities that promote and advance business interests, and a sense of place, community, maintenance, and walkability within the Area. The Committee provides an annual report to the County Executive and County Council.

Members serve three-year terms without compensation but are eligible for reimbursement for travel and dependent care for in-person meetings attended. The Board currently meets virtually by video- and teleconference monthly the first Wednesday of the month at 8:00 am. When in-person meetings resume in the future, the Board will meet in North Bethesda near the White Flint Metro Station.

Applicants of diverse, backgrounds, professions, genders, geography, abilities, ethnicities, and ages are encouraged to apply. Members of County boards, committees and commissions may not serve on more than one such group at a time. Members must complete training on the Maryland Open Meetings Act and basic parliamentary procedure. The County Executive’s appointments are subject to confirmation by the County Council. Applications will be forwarded to the Council for confirmation and may be made public as part of the confirmation process. The deadline for application is January 27, 2021To apply please click “Apply for Position” to complete the online form and provide a cover letter and resume (in one document).

What Happened to White Flint?

I don’t generally copy a blogpost word for word (it’s just not the right thing to do,) but yesterday’s article from Seventh State by Adam Pagnucco deserves to break the rules. It’s that good. This article ought to be required reading for every resident, business, property owner, and politician with an interest in the White Flint/Pike District area.

Ten years ago, White Flint was regarded as the future crown jewel of MoCo. With a shiny new master plan, a tax district for infrastructure and an assortment of regulatory breaks, the area was supposed to create new high-end high-rises combining office, retail and residential uses that would generate billions of dollars in county revenues over coming decades. Everyone who lives here knows that vision is still largely unrealized. And now a new report by county planning staff lays out why.

First, let’s revisit what White Flint was envisioned to become in its 2010 master plan: a smart growth, walkable mecca around a transformed Rockville Pike which would be transit-heavy and pedestrian friendly. The plan required substantial infrastructure investment including streetscaping, a new road network and a bus rapid transit route. Unlike many county master plans, this one had a mechanism for financing infrastructure: a new special taxing district. Properties inside the taxing district would pay into a fund used to pay for the new infrastructure needed to bring the plan to life. In return, impact taxes were set to zero. The council set an infrastructure project list through a resolution and projects in the district were exempted from county traffic reviews. This combination of high density, infrastructure investment and regulatory exemptions was revolutionary for MoCo at the time and still has not been fully replicated. MoCo politicians love to throw around the word “bold” like peanut shells, but White Flint (now marketed as the Pike District) truly deserved the adjective.

So what happened?

In simple terms, the planning staff describes a negative, self-reinforcing feedback loop that has no identifiable end. The loop functions like this. Low levels of development led to low proceeds for the tax district. It was supposed to raise $45 million in its first 10 years but only generated $12-15 million. Low tax district revenues held back the construction of some of the transportation improvements and other infrastructure necessary to make the area more attractive to investment. Developers seeking financing for projects were hindered by the inadequate infrastructure along with the “prominence of underutilized properties.” One of those properties, the mammoth White Flint Mall site, was tied up by years of litigation. The lack of financing, along with construction costs and market conditions, has held back development. And of course the lack of development holds back tax district revenues necessary to pay for infrastructure, so the cycle continues.

This map from the report shows the vast majority of land in White Flint is underutilized (areas marked in red and orange) relative to its zoning.

The most interesting part of the report summarizes comments from White Flint property owners, who comprise a who’s who list of prominent MoCo developers. First, let’s identify what they don’t complain about. They don’t complain about the plan itself; indeed, they think the area still has potential. They don’t complain about market demographics; they find the wealth and education levels in the area attractive. They don’t intend to sell their existing properties, which generate enough cash to cover operating costs and taxes, but they’re not in a hurry to redevelop them. And not a single one of them complained about taxes or requested a tax abatement.

Here are a few excerpts from the report on their take on White Flint’s problems.

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All developers interviewed cited Montgomery County’s limited job growth as a fundamental challenge to continued construction in the Pike District. Low levels of new jobs limit the number of new families seeking to occupy units in the county (household formation), decreasing demand for new development. In addition to limited employment growth, construction costs increased dramatically since 2010, office users occupied less space per employee, and retail demand declined with the rise of online shopping, all factors that continue to reduce demand for or limit the financial feasibility of new development.

Multiple developers noted without providing details that their firm managed to solve issues of high construction costs in other submarkets where there is a higher pace of job growth and household formation, which in turn supports rent growth.

Developers interviewed affirmed that the Pike District is accessible to fewer jobs within a reasonable commute than its peer non-downtown submarkets, and that this reduced access to job centers limits demand for additional multifamily units.

All developers interviewed cited Montgomery County’s limited job growth as a fundamental challenge to continued construction in the Pike District. Low levels of new jobs limit the number of new families seeking to occupy units in the county (household formation), decreasing demand for new development. Developers cited the reduced pace of household formation as a key contributor to stagnant rents, a major concern for the feasibility of future projects.

Several developers independently stated that the attraction of a major employer to the Pike District, such as a life science campus, would significantly increase the feasibility of new multifamily projects.

Developers are not currently willing to build speculative office projects in Montgomery County due to the lack of underlying job growth and the uncertainty about the future of the office sector. Several developers mentioned that they would still consider speculative office construction in Tysons and along the Silver Line corridor, highlighting the continued job growth in Northern Virginia and the contrast with suburban Maryland.

Several interviewees contrasted recent Northern Virginia economic development wins, such as the expansion of Microsoft in Reston, with news that a large distribution center project in Gaithersburg for Amazon is in jeopardy due to delays in the entitlement process. These interviewees stressed that while the number of jobs in these deals is modest, there is a constant drumbeat of positive economic news from Northern Virginia that is unmatched from suburban Maryland.

*****

Let’s boil this down to three words: jobs, Jobs, JOBS. Employment growth was the dominant theme for these developers, but they had a few things to say about business climate and regulations too.

*****

Interviewees related that development projects ultimately deliver equivalent profits as similar projects in neighboring jurisdictions, but that Montgomery County’s reputation as generally “a difficult place to do business” limits developer interest.

Developers agreed that the difficulty of the business environment issue is primarily about perception rather than the ultimate profitability. Interviewees cited as examples a range of policy issues such as a minor energy efficiency tax that Montgomery County leadership presented and implemented as a temporary measure but that never expired.

Multiple interviewees stated that in competitor counties they feel that the entitlement review process is oriented to enabling and facilitating a project, whereas in Montgomery County it feels like an oppositional relationship. Related to this, developers feel the County continually creates new policies and initiatives that adversely affect development, and which ultimately encourages them to focus on assets elsewhere in the region.

*****

The county council and the planning staff are focused on tax abatements as a way to stimulate development, especially housing. But developers in White Flint weren’t complaining about taxes. In fact, tax revenues are NECESSARY to finance infrastructure required to make development happen and function well. It is the absence of tax revenues that resulted in under-financing of infrastructure in White Flint, a key part of the area’s negative feedback loop.

Instead of taxes, the key issue identified by White Flint developers is the absence of job growth, which they believe would stimulate demand for housing and eventually make the economics of housing construction work even with high construction costs. In short: if you want more housing, create more jobs. All of these developers know what we have been saying on Seventh State for years: MoCo has one of the worst records on job growth and business formation of any large jurisdiction in the metro area.

The county’s terrible record on job growth and business formation must be reversed.

All of this points to the need for a strategic decision. MoCo can focus like a laser on job creation, doing everything possible to help entrepreneurs grow their organizations and create employment for residents. If the county does that, the vision of White Flint and other smart growth plans can be realized. Or MoCo can keep handing out tens of millions of dollars in corporate welfare as it has done for decades, thereby depleting its ability to construct infrastructure that facilitates economic growth. Or it can do nothing.

Those are the choices. What will MoCo choose?

An update on the Josiah Henson Museum

You have probably noticed the wonderful new Josiah Henson Museum building as you drive along Old Georgetown Road. The museum has delayed its opening to 2021 due to Covid, but its construction has continued throughout the pandemic.

Here are some images to tide you over until the official opening.

The story of Reverend Josiah Henson, a man enslaved from 1795 to 1830, is one of character, integrity, honesty, and courage. As he grew into adulthood, increasingly trusted with responsibility for other enslaved people, perseverance, difficult choices and survival characterized his daily journey. After experiencing heartbreaking disappointments and unthinkable abuse, his actions grew determined and redemptive. Henson eventually escaped to Canada in 1830, where he established a fugitive slave community called Dawn Settlement and became a minister, speaker and writer. He returned to the United States several times between 1831 and 1865 as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

‘Advancing the Pike District’ advances to the Planning Board

On Thursday afternoon, December 17, the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Advancing the Pike District project team will provide an overview of key findings and potential solutions from the Development Trends, Infrastructure Update, and Short-Term Solutions Report. Advancing the Pike District is a Planning Department initiative to accelerate the transformation of North Bethesda around the White Flint Metro Station area. You can click this link to read the staff report .

Yes, the report is a long document, and you may have seen slides from the Planning Department’s presentation at our recent community meeting. But it’s a report worth taking a look at. It is chock full of facts and figures as well as plans, placemaking, pedestrian safety and proposals,

This item is currently #9 on the board’s agenda for December 17.
The Planning Board’s facility is closed to the public during the pandemic, but the public can watch the meetings live online and on-demand, or hear them in real time by calling 877-668-9160 (password: 24252020). 

Public hearing on COVID-19 Local Order suspending indoor dining


On Tuesday, December 15, at 1 pm, the Montgomery County Council will introduce, hold a public hearing, and vote on a resolution and Board of Health Regulation that would approve Executive Order 139-20 on the COVID-19 Local Order amending and restating the order dated November 10. If approved by the council, Executive Order 139-20 would go into effect that day, December 15, 2020, at 5 pm. See the press release.
The major changes from the last executive order include the following:

  • suspends indoor dining at restaurants;
  • restricts outdoor dining hours to 6 am through 10 pm, to comply with the Governor Hogan’s latest executive order;
  • changes maximum capacity to one person per 200 square feet of retail space, not to exceed 150 persons, and specifically includes large retailers and grocery stores; and
  • removes automatic approval to exceed gathering limits to accommodate parents, guardians and immediate family at sports events. Sports would follow social gathering size limitations.

Due to the COVID-19 state of emergency, the public may not attend the public hearing but is welcome to participate in other ways: by calling 240-777-7900 with your opinion; testifying by phone (registration is required); providing audio, video and written testimony online; filing comments or suggestions online; mailing written comments to County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850; or by sending an email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.
The hearing will be televised on Cable Montgomery and live-streamed on the County Council’s website, Facebook Live and YouTube pages. See the press release for details.

Montgomery County Executive Elrich, Council President Katz and Business Leaders Announce COVID Economic Recovery Roadmap

You can read the full announcement here, but here’s a quick summary of the Economic Advisory Group’s four key objectives as the foundation for this long-term strategic effort for the County:

  • Developing and retaining a skilled talent pipeline for businesses, including offering retraining opportunities.
  • Reimagining economic development to compete in the future through improved governmental processes that support business growth and expansion, development and transportation infrastructure growth and expanding housing at all income levels.
  • Addressing awareness of, access to and availability of capital to help existing enterprises succeed and attract new business investment.
  • Supporting key industry sectors that are critical to the County’s economy and quality of life, including restaurants, entertainment and hospitality.

It was great to see White Flint mentioned in the announcement:

“The EAG made important recommendations, including ones to replace impact taxes with development districts and to create a postgraduate research center at White Flint. Work on the research center has already started. The report also acknowledges that the County’s greatest housing needs are for people earning below the median income. One of the immediate actions recommended in the roadmap is a four-week “Bio Boot camp” that is designed to help retrain out-of-work residents and provide businesses with the workforce they need. 

Council Vote on the Update to the Subdivision Staging Policy Expected by November 16

Below is some information on the progress of the update to the Subdivision Staging Policy at the Montgomery County Council. We still have a few more Council work sessions to go before the update is approved and adopted by November 16, 2020.
In the meantime, the County Council has taken many straw votes reflecting major policy changes, including:

  • Eliminating the Housing Moratorium countywide.
  • Utilization Premium Payments (UPP). Establishing three tiers of UPPs at 105 percent, 120 percent and 135 percent utilization, including seat deficit thresholds along with the utilization thresholds. The Council has not yet decided the payment amounts associated with the different tiers.
  • Use of UPP Funds. Requiring that UPP revenue be spent on any project that alleviates overutilization at the school for which the funds are collected. The projects would have to be at the same school level that adds capacity.
  • Four-Year Projections. The Annual School Test will evaluate projected school utilization four years into the future using certain school utilization adequacy standards.
  • Utilization Report. The Annual School Test will include a utilization report that will provide a countywide analysis of utilization at each school level as well as utilization trends for each individual school.
  • Calculating Student Generation Rates. Analyzing all single-family units and multifamily units built since 1990 to calculate countywide and School Impact Area student generation rates. Low-rise and high-rise multifamily units will remain distinct structure types for the purposes of evaluation and impact taxes.
  • MCPS Participation on DRC. Extending MCPS’s role on the Development Review Committee (DRC) to include providing comment on the application’s impact on schools (currently MCPS’s role is limited to discussions around dedicating land for schools).
  • Retesting at APF Validity Extension. Requiring that a development application be retested for school infrastructure adequacy when an applicant requests an extension of their Adequate Public Facilities validity period, with a limitation that only requires the retest if the application’s unbuilt units are estimated to generate more than 10 students.
  • School Impact Tax Discount for 3-Bedroom Units. Providing a 40 percent discount on school impact taxes to multifamily units with 3 bedrooms in Infill Impact Areas.
  • Large Home Surcharge. Eliminating the current school impact tax surcharge on residential units larger than 3,500 square feet.
  • Enterprise Zones. Eliminating the impact tax exemption for former Enterprise Zones.
  • Opportunity Zones. Exempting development in Opportunity Zones from all impact taxes. The Council also supported the City of Rockville’s request to not include their Opportunity Zone in the exemption.
  • 25 percent Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs). The impact tax exemption on market rate units for projects providing 25 percent MPDUs is limited to amount of the applicable school  impact tax in the Infill Impact Areas and the applicable transportation impact tax in the Red Policy Areas.
  • Net Impact Basis. Impact taxes will continue to be applied on a net impact basis, providing a credit for any residential units demolished.

Work sessions are expected to continue through next week. The policy must be adopted by November 16.

Local Voting Results (although these are not final results)

Board of Education

District 2
Michael Fryar – 39.4%
Rebecca Smondrowski (Incumbent) – 59.8%
District 4
Shebra Evans (Incumbent) – 66.2%
Steve Solomon – 33.2%
At-Large
Suni Dasgupta – 45.8%
Lynne Harris – 53%

Judge

Circuit Court – Judicial Court 6
Vote for up to 4
Bibi M. Berry (Incumbent) – 23%
David A. Boynton (Incumbent) – 21.1%
Christopher C. Fogleman (Incumbent) – 20.1%
Michael Joseph McAuliffe (Incumbent) – 20.8%
Marylin Pierre – 14.4%
Thomas P. Johnson III
Court of Appeals – Circuit 7
For continuance in office
Mary Ellen Barbera – Yes – 90.7% / No – 9.3%

Ballot Questions

Question A – Charter Amendment by Act of County Council Property Tax Limit – Limit Tax Rate Increases

  • For – 62.4%
  • Against – 37.6%

Question B – Charter Amendment by Petition – Property Tax Limit – Prohibit Override

  • For  – 41.6%
  • Against – 58.4%

Question C – Charter Amendment by Act of County Council – County Council – Increase to 11 Councilmembers

  • For – 61.5%
  • Against – 38.5%

Question D – Charter Amendment by Petition – County Council – Alter Council Composition to 9 Districts

  • For – 41.6%
  • Against – 58.4%

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.