Prince George’s County Council should conduct a careful assessment to address appropriate rezoning of a split-zoned property
Great news: the Maryland General Assembly voted to pass HB 980, and enable Prince George’s County to implement its new zoning regulations!
HB 980 amends an existing state ethics law unique to Prince George’s. Like other jurisdictions, the County needed to repeal and replace its entire zoning map to implement its new zoning regulations. But this action ran into a potential conflict with its unique zoning ethics law that does not apply to any other jurisdiction.
To address this, the Prince George’s House Delegation introduced HB 980 and helped advance the bill from the House to the state Senate. In the Senate, under the leadership of Senator Paul Pinsky, the bill was amended to address concerns and ensure broad support. The legislation was retitled: Prince George’s County – Public Ethics – Application Payments and Transfer and Zone Intensification Requests. Most significantly, the amended bill offers an extra safeguard by prohibiting the County Council from approving zoning intensification (to build more on a site) requests that differ substantially from the zoning category already adopted in 2019.
In addition to Senator Pinsky, we are also grateful to Senator Malcolm Augustine, Delegate Erek Barron, and Delegate Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk for their thoughtful engagement to create this successful outcome.
The zoning rewrite is important because it helps the County better guide transit-oriented development and create more walk- and bike-friendly designs. This not only benefits Prince George’s but all of Maryland by focusing more of the region’s growth around transit stations and close-in communities. More transit-oriented development reduces how much people in our growing region need to drive, and gives us more opportunities to walk, bicycle and ride transit for more of our trips. This all reduces greenhouse gas emissions and pressure to build on greenfields. A modern zoning code also means thriving places and a stronger economy.
We are grateful to al those who took taking action to ensure Prince George’s can use the tools it needs to guide a more sustainable and prosperous future.
Testimony to Alexandria City Council in Support of the Heritage at Old Town
Development Special Use Permit #2020-10032
Transportation Management Plan Special Use Permit 2020-00084
February 20, 2020
Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
Good afternoon, Mayor and Council. Thank you for serving our city during these challenging times.
My name is Stewart Schwartz and I am the Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization in the D.C. region advocating walkable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way to grow and provide opportunities for all. We are a 24-year-old non-profit with partnerships that span the conservation, affordable housing, social equity, transit, bike/ped, and business sectors. In 2017, we received the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Regional Partnership Award.
We urge you to approve the Heritage at Old Town.
Alexandria has lost over 90% of its affordable housing over the past two decades. We face a housing affordability crisis in Alexandria and neighboring jurisdictions. Multiple studies demonstrate that we need both more supply and more long-term committed affordable units. This project provides both. Supply is critical to avoid displacement, and a range of tools are needed including leveraging land value and density to ensure we create more affordable units.
We work in multiple jurisdictions in the DC region and we can confirm that the City of Alexandria does its homework. The result here from city and community input is a project that provides the housing we need in a well-designed development, with much improved streetscape, pedestrian connectivity, and park spaces. Alexandria offers a very walkable, mixed-use environment with excellent transit – planned to be even better with the redesigned bus network which will provide frequent all-day, seven day per week service. Far more traffic would be generated through Alexandria if our communities pushed all development out to auto-dependent locations.
The project will buffer the neighborhood from the wide, noisy Route 1 entry to Old Town, and has been designed to step down to the adjacent rowhouses. For nearly 25 years I lived near Braddock Metro in a four-story condo building across from single-family homes, next to townhomes and 7 and 9 story condo buildings, and within sight of much taller buildings. Public housing was just a block away. The neighborhood is wonderful, however, it has lost diversity — because when those buildings were built the city did not have the strategies in place to ensure a mix of housing affordability. That’s why the new RMF zoning applied here is such an important tool. It enables 197 units of deeply affordable housing by a private developer without a public subsidy, allowing the city to direct its affordable housing funds to other projects, creating additional housing. This level of long-term and deep level of affordability without subsidy is extremely rare and a big benefit of the project.
The pandemic has illustrated just who are our most essential workers and the extreme stress they are under due to high housing prices. The racial equity crisis has demonstrated how poorly we have served people of color in our community and nation. It is time to ensure a more inclusive community for the long-term. We urge you to approve the Heritage at Old Town.
February 8, 2021
Montgomery County Council
Stella Werner Council Office Building
100 Maryland Ave
Rockville, MD 20850
Zoning Text Amendment 20-07, R-60 Zone – Uses and Standards (Support) and Bill 52-20, Landlord-Tenant Relations – Protection Against Rent Gouging Near Transit (Support with Amendments)
Testimony for February 11, 2021
Jane Lyons, Maryland Advocacy Manager
Council President Hucker and councilmembers, thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on both ZTA 20-07 and Bill 52-20. My name is Jane Lyons and these comments are on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization in the D.C. region advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all.
Montgomery County has a housing crisis, a crisis that stretches from those with the lowest incomes to even those of upper-moderate incomes. There are too many people who spend over half their income to keep a roof over their and their loved ones’ heads, and fear that next year’s rent increase will force them to find a new home. There are also too many people who feel that they cannot comfortably age-in-place in the communities they’ve called home for decades and too many young families who find it impossible to put down roots.
Montgomery County is a great place to live, which is why so many people want to be here, but we do not have enough housing to meet the high and growing demand, especially in walkable, transit oriented neighborhoods. Wealthier households are able to out-bid others, pushing teachers, healthcare workers, and other essential workers to farther and farther out, undermining our economy and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
There is no easy answer to solve our housing challenges, but the two proposals before you this evening are a step in the right direction. Neither proposal is perfect, but both are the beginning of critical conversations about making sure the county’s housing opportunities are more inclusive, sustainable, and affordable.
First, ZTA 20-07: From various studies, reports, and plans over the past several years, missing middle housing typologies such as duplexes and townhomes have emerged again and again as a
Coalition for Smarter Growth smartergrowth.net 202-675-0016
key tool that we continue to constrict. Building duplexes, triplexes, and small apartment buildings near transit needs to be much less onerous. To do this, they need to be allowed by-right with appropriate requirements, although those requirements must ensure that middle housing types are actually feasible to construct.
We would also like to see this initiative expanded to include both R-60 and R-90 zones near Metro, Purple Line, and along major transit corridors. However, targeting zoning reform only around transit does not undo the legacy of inequitable land use policies and segregation. We encourage zoning initiatives such as this to also enable a diversity of housing options in areas of high incomes and job clusters. To that end, we also urge you to consider creative approaches for incentivizing affordability in middle housing developments.
Secondly, Bill 52-20: We support legislation to restrict rent gouging, but such legislation must be carefully crafted to make sure that rent controls do not result in a reduction in new housing or disinvestment in existing housing. To achieve a more balanced policy, we propose the following amendments:
1. Set the rate of allowed increase to three percent plus the rate of inflation. The voluntary rent guidelines, while useful, are essentially just the rate of inflation – the most restrictive type of rent control policy. The cost of labor, construction, and climate change mitigation/adaptation measures are often rising faster than the rate of inflation.
2. Apply the provision countywide so that all renters are protected and transit-oriented development is not disincentivized.
3. Increase the exemption period for new buildings to 15 years. Properties need to produce the highest rate of return for the first 10-17 years in order to pay off construction loans. Without an expanded exemption period, new construction is unlikely.
4. Consider different treatment for small multi-family buildings (10 to 50 units) and exempt buildings less than 10 units. Smaller buildings often have a more difficult time with capital maintenance because financing costs are typically higher due to a lack of economies of scale.
5. Exempt already rent regulated units until that regulation expires. For example, overlaying another rent regulation on top of existing ones could discourage Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) investments, resulting in lost lower-priced units.
In conclusion, we urge you to take up the complementary issues of rent stabilization and missing middle housing to help Montgomery County become more affordable, equitable, and sustainable. Thank you for your consideration.
Yesterday, the Planning Board voted to update the county’s draft growth policy (aka the Subdivision Staging Policy), which seeks to time public infrastructure like schools and transportation with population growth. Among other changes, the Planning Board draft would eliminate the counterproductive housing moratorium throughout most of the county, while adjusting fees and taxes to ensure adequate funding to meet increases in school demand.
This decision is thanks, in large part, to you! CSG’s supporters sent over 50 letters to the Planning Board, and our supporters and allies showed up strong at the Planning Board’s public hearing. Check out CSG’s public testimony for more background.
This isn’t the end though — the County Council has the last say. They will review the Planning Board’s recommendations and vote on a new growth policy by November. We’ll keep you updated on actions you can take!
Until then, please consider making a donation to sustain our work advocating for more housing in Montgomery County!
Other changes proposed by the Planning Board:
- Developers would be required to pay Utilization Premium Payments when a school’s projected utilization three years into the future exceeds 120 percent
- Impact taxes would be lowered from 120 percent of the cost of a seat to 100 percent, and further lowered to 60 percent in certain areas with high-capacity transit and employment centers
- Recordation taxes at the time of home sales, would be progressively increased to the to provide additional funding for school construction and affordable housing
- Any development located in an Opportunity Zone would be exempt from impact taxes
- Multiple updates to transportation tests would prioritize walking and biking as transportation modes and improve safety
- And more! If you’re interested, you can find the most up-to-date information here.
Again, thank you to all those who sent in letters or testified! In September, we’ll update you on the Council’s review and hearing schedule so you can join us again in supporting this progressive update to the county’s growth policy.
Chair Anderson and Planning Commissioners, thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization in the DC region advocating for more walkable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities. We support expanding the boundary of the Silver Spring Downtown Plan, in line with option D.