I rarely just post a link to another article. But you gotta read this article from The Atlantic on how our government, and thus our country, is treating children at border holding facilities. This is not just a national disgrace. It’s a national shame on the eve of a holiday that should celebrate our civic culture and values as a country.
ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS — ZTA 19-01— UPDATE
Background. On January 15, 2019, County Councilmember Hans Riemer sponsored Zoning Text Amendment (“ZTA”) 19-01, a proposal to relax the restrictions that currently limit County homeowners from creating “Accessory Dwelling Units” (“ADUs”) on their property. ADUs are separate dwelling units on the same lot as a single-family principal residence. The dwelling may be traditional rental apartments or, after one year, may be converted to a short-term, “airbnb-type” unit. The latterrequires a different category of license, and it must not have a full kitchen.
After a hearing before the County Council, the Council’s Planning,Housing and Economic Development (“PHED”) Committee chaired by Councilmember Riemer held work sessions on ZTA 19-01, and it has now sent a revised version of the legislation to the full County Council for a vote likely next month. Over the objections of County Executive Marc Elrich and civic groups throughout the County, the PHED Committee is recommending a version of ZTA 19-01 that eviscerates current restrictions on ADUs that protect single-family neighborhoods.
Current Proposal. Homeowners in small lot communities (those zoned R-60, R-90 or R-200) can already create separate rental apartments in their homes (“attached” ADUs). However, these ADUs are now subject to strict limitations designed to assure neighborhood preservation and compatibility. Under Councilmember Reimer’s original proposal and the PHED Committee’s revisions, most of the limitations on attached ADUs will no longer apply.
Even worse, “detached” ADUs would for the first time be permitted in the backyards of 120,000 to 160,000 small lots in single-familyneighborhoods throughout the County. These ADUs could range fromtrailers and converted cargo containers to three-bedroom apartments in new structures and renovated garages, depending on the lot’s size. A table comparing the current rules for both attached and detached ADUs with those in ZTA 19-01 is attached.
Impacts on Single-Family Neighborhoods. Especially problematic are the provisions for detached ADUs, which are capable of altering the character of a neighborhood by blanketing the County without regard to location, lot size, compatibility, environmental concerns, best design practices for infill development, or provisions in existing master and sectorplans. These structures would be allowed without meaningful parking requirements to protect nearby homeowners or environmental requirements for sediment control, storm water management, or preservation of the existing tree canopy.
Contravention of Sound Planning Principles. According to Councilmember Riemer, ZTA 19-01 is intended to allow property owners to create “granny flats” and “in-law suites” inside their homes, and “tiny houses” and “cottages” in their backyards, all of which will increase the County’s affordable housing stock for lower income families and individuals. In fact, the proposal is “one-size-fits-all” legislation that is likely to produce the opposite result. Unless accompanied by dedicated public financing programs, this proposal may simply enable wealthy property owners and real estate developers to build expensive second homes on residential lots, thereby driving up rather than reducing housing costs.
In response to the myriad of concerns about the County’s failure to enforcecurrent zoning and rental licensing regulations with respect to existing ADUs, members of the PHED Committee promised during their work sessions to examine the budget and staffing of the County’s Department of Permitting Services (“DPS”) and its Department of Housing and Community Affairs. (“DHCA”). However, there is nothing on the Council’s agenda regarding these enforcement issues, and the PHED Committee is asking the Council to adopt ZTA 19-01 without addressingthe acknowledged deficiencies in County code enforcement.
Recommendations for Detached ADUs. County planning officials should utilize sound planning tools to assure that detached ADUs will complement existing housing stock and in fact add to much-needed affordable housing. Here are some ideas for successful planning:• Detached ADUs should not be allowed as a housing type in small lots zoned R-60, R-90 and R-200. Instead, these structures should be permitted only on lots larger than 10,000 square feet, and only if recommended as part of an overlay zone in a master or sector plan for a specific community. If planned properly, detached accessory apartments can be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood as was done in Kentlands — a development oft-cited in the PHED Committee work sessions.• Technically, the property owner sis required to live in either the primary dwelling or the ADU, but County officials acknowledge serious problems with enforcement. Enforcement of this requirement should be a priority of both DPS and SHCA.• Detailed design guidelines should be provided to assure neighborhoods that valuable green space and trees will not be destroyed by dense over-building on small lots that leave only concrete in their wake. • Planning officials should consider whether backyard trailers and cargo containers are appropriate building types even on larger lots throughout the County.• The PHED Committee should explore the need for a housing program that will help homeowners, rather than developers, finance detached ADUs to make their own homes and rental units more affordable.
Recommendations for Attached ADUs. Unfortunately, ZTA 19-01 removes most of the protections in the current zoning code that protectsmall lot communities from the adverse impacts of attached ADUs. which would be largely unregulated in the future. Here are somerecommendations for these dwelling units:• Spacing requirements for attached ADUs in the current zoning ordinance should be retained (e.g., 300 feet between attached ADUs on same block in the small lot zones; 500 feet for attached ADUs on the same block in large lot zones).
• Parking requirements should be adopted based on data showing neighborhood road widths, as well as the volume of cars normally parked on the streets in question, with homeowners given priority for parking space in front and near their homes. Proximity to transit should not be the only consideration, and one mile from transit is too far.• Maximum square foot limits for attached ADUs should be maintained. Large basement areas and additions should not be transformed into large housing units within a single-family home, thereby creating a new form of “mansionization” incompatible with small-lot neighborhoods.• If the principal dwelling is a new home, all the current infill requirements (height, set back, lot coverage, and other restrictions) should apply to any space used to create an attached ADU. • The protection in the current zoning code against over-concentration should be reinstated (i.e., in small lot zones, the ADU must be located at least 300 feet from any other attached or detached ADU along the same block face).• Workable strategies should be established to assure that the owner either lives in the primary or accessory residence. Right now, this requirement is not being properly enforced.
Conclusions. The County needs housing legislation that will result in exciting new communities with mixed affordable housing, as well as a housing program that makes new dwelling units available to large, diversecommunities of residents. This can be accomplished by identifying appropriate locations in master plans, and by adopting innovative housing programs that provide financing together with code enforcement.
The current proposal offers the worst of all worlds. Without a financing program, only wealthy property owners will be able to create ADUs,which in all likelihood will increase housing prices throughout the County and generate new housing types that will irrevocably overwhelm and degrade the County’s single-family neighborhoods.
What can you do? Contact County Council members and let them know your concerns:
Gabe Albornoz 240-777-7959, Councilmember.Albornoz@montgomerycountymd.gov;
Andrew Friedson 240-777-7828,Councilmember.Friedson@montgomerycountymd.gov;
Evan Glass 240-777-7966, Councilmember.Glass@montgomerycountymd.gov;
Tom Hucker 240-777-7960, Councilmember.Hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov;
Will Jawando 240-777-7811, Councilmember.Jawando@montgomerycountymd.gov;
Sidney Katz 240-777-7906, Councilmember.Katz@montgomerycountymd.gov;
Nancy Navarro 240-777-7968, Councilmember.Navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov;
Craig Rice 240-777-7955, Councilmember.Rice@montgomerycountymd.gov;
Hans Riemer 240-777-7964, Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov.
The following is a detailed explanation and analysis by County Executive Marc Elrich of the major changes to zoning law proposed by Councilmember Hans Riemer:
There is a proposed amendment to the County’s zoning code that would fundamentally alter virtually all residential areas in the County now zoned for single-family detached homes. In a nutshell, ZTA 19-01, Accessory Residential Uses would delete several existing requirements that must be met by property owners who want to build an additional living unit on a lot zoned for a single-family detached dwelling. Yet as I have traveled around the County, I’ve discovered that most residents are either unaware of the proposed zoning changes or may not have a clear understanding of what they are.
Accessory apartments, also known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are allowed today in virtually all residential zones in Montgomery County. They can be built by converting part of an existing home, building an addition, or in some zones by constructing a free-standing unit in the back yard. They can answer the need for additional housing options, whether for extended families or as a source of supplemental income that makes homeownership more affordable for more people.
Although I supported recent legislation intended to encourage more ADUs in the County, I have questioned whether ZTA19-01 provides the right framework for addressing our housing needs while maintaining the quality of life that has attracted so many people to our single-family neighborhoods. Despite the rhetoric that ADUs are a tool for affordable housing, it is highly unlikely that they will help the extremely low-income households (defined as 30 percent of the area median income) that most need affordable housing.
Here are some questions and answers about the ZTA as approved by the County Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (PHED). I hope you will have time to read this and share your thoughts with me, your civic and/or community association, and with councilmembers prior to their review of the legislation, scheduled for mid-June.
What problem is ZTA 19-01 trying to solve?
Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced ZTA 19-01 to encourage the creation of more ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) in single-family neighborhoods throughout Montgomery County. He and others see them as a means of producing additional housing options, including but not limited to affordable housing. (However, there are no requirements to ensure affordability.) Councilmember Riemer has explained that ADUs can be an apartment over a garage, a basement apartment, or a “tiny house” on a side lot or back yard – a second, separate living unit on a single-family lot, with a full kitchen and bathroom, and accessed by a separate entrance.
Are ADUs, including “tiny houses,” already allowed in Montgomery County?
Yes, they are. They can be built in, or as an addition to, an existing home and as a detached unit on lots of one acre or more. There are 414 licensed ADUs in the County; 356 of them (86 percent) are in the County’s smaller-lot residential zones found in areas like Wheaton, Silver Spring, Aspen Hill, Bethesda, Kensington, Takoma Park, Colesville, and Germantown. There are also unlicensed ADUs, but the County does not know how many.
Didn’t the Council make changes to ADU requirements last year?
Yes. Until last fall, ADUs were approved via conditional use (formerly known as a special exception) – a complicated, time-consuming, and sometimes costly process. To ease the approval process and encourage more ADUs, the previous County Council amended the zoning code in October 2018, removing the requirement for conditional use approval and allowing ADUs as a “limited” accessory residential use that meets certain standards. This change means that a homeowner’s application for an ADU can be approved as long as the ADU meets the standard requirements for parking, size of the ADU, and distance from other ADUs.
Is ZTA 19-01 needed so that I can have a separate unit for my in-laws?
Probably not. In virtually every neighborhood, your in-laws can have their own dwelling unit within your home, and depending on the zone you live in, you can construct a detached unit if you meet the conditions mentioned above. If your application for an ADU is denied because of parking or distance-separation requirements, you can apply for a waiver of those requirements through the process established in last year’s revisions to the zoning code. As a councilmember, I supported the changes made last fall because I believed they would provide more opportunities for ADUs without compromising the underlying intent of the County’s single-family zoning.
If the ADU approval process was just recently amended, why is this ZTA needed now?
That is a question I am wondering about myself. The Council made some important changes, but the changes are still new; they did not take effect until January 15, 2019 – the same day that additional changes were introduced via ZTA 19-01. While additional changes may be needed, such as adjusting the parking requirements, it makes sense to assess the effectiveness of the recent changes first and to do a better job of getting input from residents around the County about potential future changes. It also makes sense to have a companion bill that addresses related issues in the County’s code – issues that can’t be dealt with in a zoning text amendment.
Would ZTA 19-01 allow a detached ADU on any single-family lot regardless of size?
Yes. Current zoning regulations allow detached ADUs in certain “large-lot” zones on at least one acre. ZTA 19-01 would allow them in virtually all areas zoned for single-family detached dwellings, including areas where the average lot size is 6,000 square feet or less. This is a major Countywide change to single-family detached zoning, which currently allows homeowners to build an accessory structure in the back yard (i.e. a shed or other outbuilding) while ZTA 19-01 would allow a second, separate living unit.
What are the proposed size limitations for these detached ADUs?
Council staff summaries of the PHED Committee discussions refer to limiting the size to the least of “50 percent of the gross floor area of the principal dwelling or 10 percent of the lot area or 1,200 square feet of gross-floor area.” It isn’t clear whether gross-floor area refers to the footprint of the principal dwelling or the gross-floor area of all levels of the principal dwelling. The detached ADU can be up to 20 feet (2 stories) high. There is also a provision to allow an ADU up to 32 feet long (i.e. a trailer or manufactured home).
Will ADUs have an impact on already overcrowded schools?
If the intent of the ZTA is to encourage larger, family-sized units, it is possible that there will be an increase in the number of students. And although the owner of a newly built home must pay a school impact fee, a freestanding ADU for a family generates no fees.
Does ZTA 19-01 propose changing parking requirements?
Yes. Under the current zoning code, if two off-street parking spaces are required for the principal dwelling unit, one additional off-street space is required for an ADU. Homeowners can request a waiver of this requirement if there is adequate on-street parking. ZTA 19-01 would eliminate the requirement for one additional off-street parking space if the property is located within one mile of a Metro station or within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park.
What happens if I live on a street with little or no off-street parking and I’m less than a mile from the Metro?
Parking may get very difficult in your neighborhood since there is no requirement and no assurance that the additional residents will not have cars.
What are the parking requirements in neighborhoods that don’t have driveways?
A homeowner who wants to convert part of the principal dwelling or build an addition or separate ADU would be required to build a driveway with two off-street parking spaces. This is true under the existing zoning code and apparently does not change under ZTA 19-01. It isn’t clear whether this can be appealed through the waiver process.
Can my neighbor build an ADU and then turn it into an Airbnb?
Yes, after one year under the existing zoning code and under ZTA 19-01. There is no language that requires a property owner to get approval for this change.
Are there potential environmental impacts?
In some cases, yes. There shouldn’t be any if an ADU is created within an existing dwelling unit, but environmental impacts can occur if an addition or separate dwelling unit is built in a back yard. Land disturbance during construction and the resulting replacement of green space with hard (impervious) surfaces means that less stormwater can be absorbed. This can lead to changes in the amount, velocity, and direction of rainwater runoff. Also, ground disturbance and construction can lead to the removal of trees or impacts to their root zones. There are no provisions in ZTA 19-01 that address these issues, although other jurisdictions that allow ADUs have requirements to protect and preserve trees and control stormwater runoff.
Why haven’t I heard about ZTA 19-01 before receiving this email?
Most ZTAs go through the review process without a huge public outreach component, primarily because most deal with specific, fairly narrow changes to the zoning code. There was a public hearing for ZTA 19-01, and shortly after its introduction in January 2019 Councilmember Riemer held a “community policy forum” inviting anyone interested in “reforming” the County’s existing ADU regulations to attend; most forum attendees were enthusiastic supporters of the ZTA. There were also three PHED Committee work sessions in March and April. For most residents, the County Council’s open meetings process is “inside baseball” – not something that they keep track of or follow on a regular basis. Recent comments from residents of the County’s suburban single-family neighborhoods indicate that very few were aware of these public discussions of the ZTA and are concerned because of its potential consequences. Some councilmembers have responded by reaching out to their constituents to get feedback on the proposed changes, but to my knowledge no other efforts have been made to expand public outreach so that County residents whose neighborhoods would be directly impacted by the proposed changes have the opportunity to weigh in on the recommended changes
Will ADUs provide affordable housing?
There is no specific language in this ZTA that assures that the rents for ADUs will be affordable; it is premised on the idea that the easier it is to add ADUs, the more housing there will be, and the price of that housing will be lower. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this is how rental prices for ADUs work, primarily because construction costs are high, especially for detached units. It is also possible that allowing two dwelling units on any lot will drive up the value of the property and other homes in areas of the County that now offer a rich supply of affordable housing in modest-sized homes.
What are some of the best practices in other areas that allow ADUs?
Some jurisdictions in the DC area and around the country are embracing ADUs, but not without standards, programs, and processes to ensure their successful assimilation into single-family neighborhoods. Here are some of the best practices my staff and I have reviewed:
- Other jurisdictions have significantly smaller size limits (which may increase the likelihood that rents will be affordable);
- Several have robust information programs, education outreach, and even financial support to help with the high cost of building an ADU;
- Many have regulations on other issues – like stormwater management, tree protection, amnesty programs to encourage illegal ADUs to apply for licensing, design standards to encourage compatibility with the look and scale of the principal dwelling, a regular inspection regime, and incentives to keep ADUs from being converted from long-term to short-term rentals. Some of these could be addressed in ZTA 19-01; others could be wrapped into a companion bill that would revise relevant parts of the County code.
What changes will the full Council review in June?
The following provisions have been approved by the PHED Committee and will be reviewed by the full Council:
- Remove the current requirement for one additional onsite parking space if a property is in the City of Takoma Park or within one mile of a Metrorail Line station;
- Remove the minimum one-acre lot size for detached ADUs, thereby allowing them on any residential lot regardless of lot size – detached ADUs would be allowed in all residential zones including the smaller-lot R-60, R-90, and R-200 zones where they are currently not allowed (attached ADUs are allowed in all residential zones);
- Allow a detached ADU that is up to 32 feet long;
- Limit the size of ADUs located in the interior of a house to 1,200 square feet unless the proposed ADU is in a basement whose footprint is larger, in which case the ADU in the basement can match the larger footprint regardless of size;
- Limit the size to the least of 50 percent of the gross-floor area in the principal dwelling or 10 percent of the lot area or 1,200 square feet of gross-floor area.
- Delete the maximum size of an addition that can be used as an ADU (the current zoning code says that the maximum floor area used for an ADU in a proposed addition to the principal dwelling unit must not be more than 800 square feet if the proposed addition increases the footprint of the principal dwelling);
- Allow an accessory structure built before May 31, 2012 to be used as an ADU without regard to setbacks if it was legally constructed and there is no increase to the footprint or height of the structure; if an existing structure violates the setback standard, a new window on any wall on the side of the setback violation may not be constructed;
- Delete the distance requirement between ADUs;
- Delete the requirement that a house must be five years old before creating an ADU.
As I’ve indicated, I believe it is important to establish a responsive, well-regulated, and fair approval process for ADUs for property owners seeking alternative housing options, whether to address multigenerational needs or generate a source of income to provide mortgage relief or allow seniors to age in place. However, this is not a “one-size-fits-all” County, and how we achieve these goals matters if we want to successfully integrate a larger number of ADUs into our single-family neighborhoods. This is where you come in. If you have specific changes you would like to suggest or views you want to share about ZTA 19-01 or ADUs in general, please let me know by sending an email to Marc.Elrich@montgomeryCountymd.gov with “ADU” in the subject line. I also encourage you to share your views with councilmembers.
Thank you for taking the time to read this,
Council President Nancy Navarro wrote a response to my blog piece, “Council Drive for Racial Equity Hits Budget Rocks,” which I published on Friday. Apparently, I hit a nerve by pointing out that the Council led by Navarro, who touts herself as a champion of racial and gender equity, has treated MCGEO, the majority female and majority minority county employees’ union, much worse than other county unions.
In her reply, Councilmember Navarro states that “Actually, the Council did approve generous raises for all of our employees (approximately 6 percent)—that achieve parity among all our negotiating groups. . .” Navarro omits the critical detail: the Council under her leadership has now awarded two deferred step increases to IAFF, FOP and MCEA but not to MCGEO—the only union in which women and minorities compose a majority.
Councilmember Navarro goes on to declare “to tie the Council’s approved raises . . . to racial inequities and social injustice, as Mr. Lublin does, is a baffling stretch.” Actually, it’s Councilmember Navarro who made the link in her declaring closing the racial income gap a matter of racial inequity. As the Council has now given two deferred step increases to three unions with white majorities but not the majority-minority union, the logic is very straightforward. Conversations held since I published the piece indicate that at least some of her colleagues agree.
The other rationale Councilmember Navarro highlights is agreement with my own concern about the growth of tax revenue relative to spending. She even highlights my point that most county residents haven’t received pay raises to makeup for stagnant wages during the economic crisis.
One could argue that this renders her support for not just one but two deferred step increases for MCEA, IAFF and FOP along with a major property tax hike perplexing. It also doesn’t explain why, having gone down the road of awarding deferred step increases, that two were given to MCEA, IAFF and FOP but none to majority-minority and majority female MCGEO.
There may well be other excellent policy reasons, such as pay differentials in the private sector for equivalent work, for awarding increases to all the unions except MCGEO. But Councilmember Navarro doesn’t make the case. Nor does it mean that it doesn’t still result in greater racial inequities. Rolling back MCGEO’s raises was the major budget decision made by the Council this year. Governing often entails tough choices.
Finally, Councilmember Navarro highlights a number of positive measures related to equity that the Council approved as part of the budget. A more complete discussion would have mentioned that many of these measures were already in County Executive Marc Elrich’s budget, which the Council essentially approved in toto.
The Council also made a number of positive additions, but these were possible solely because Elrich took the highly unusual and generous step of leaving $10 million unallocated for the Council to use. He was then more than happy to approve the additions as wholly in line with his priorities. While some councilmembers attacked Elrich for his pains, a little credit sharing along with the credit claiming would not only be more honest but make all involved look more gracious and like leaders.
The County Council will soon fill two important vacancies, including the position of Chair, on the Montgomery County Planning Board. The LGBTQ Democrats are holding a forum for the candidates moderated by Adam Pagnucco on Monday night:
The LGBTQ Democrats of Montgomery County invite you to a public forum to hear from candidates for the Montgomery County Planning Board. The forum will be held on Monday, June 3, from 7:00pm – 8:30pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center and moderated by Adam Pagnucco, opinion columnist for Bethesda Magazine.
The five-person Montgomery County Planning Board plays a major role in the land use decisions throughout Montgomery County––from zoning, building heights and density to creation of new parks and developments affecting the 1.1 million county residents.
There are two vacancies on the Planning Board and a total of 24 applicants. In June, the County Council will narrow the field of candidates and then select two appointees.
Prior to the Council making their final selection, the Montgomery County LGBTQ Democrats want to educate the public on the critical role the Planning Board plays in shaping our communities and future growth of the county. We believe that it’s important to hear directly from candidates about their goals for zoning, development and other planning issues –– especially as they relate to LGBTQ people.
We hope that you can join us for this important discussion
Good to see that even after time away from Seventh State that I can still touch a nerve with powerful officials. Today. I am pleased to present Council President Nancy Navarro’s response to yesterday’s post on how the “Council Drive for Budget Equity Hit the Budget Rocks.” I hope to have mine up on Monday.
The Seventh State’s May 30 post by David Lublin, “Council Equity Drive Hits the Budget Rocks,” incorrectly describes where the County Council is, in creating a Racial Equity and Social Justice Policy for Montgomery County. We do not yet have a policy. In 2018, I spearheaded Resolution 18-1095 that was adopted unanimously by the Council to start the process of the policy, which we plan to adopt later in the fall, after community input.
The post also leaves the reader with the erroneous impression that by not fully funding the salary increases originally negotiated by County Executive Elrich with MCGEO that we are somehow not committed to racial equity. Actually, the Council did approve generous raises for all our employees (approximately 6 percent)—that achieve parity among all our negotiating groups and that are sustainable for our county. Most MCGEO employees will receive salary increases of between 5.75 to 6.75 percent. Racial equity and social justice are urgent moral and socio-economic endeavors for our community and county leaders, however, to tie the Council’s approved raises of about 6 percent for each employee, to racial inequities and social injustice, as Mr. Lublin does, is a baffling stretch.
In fact, beyond the raises, the fiscal year 2020 operating budget makes several investments needed to assist our more than one million residents and focuses on initiatives and programs that will help to dismantle inequities. Some examples of these priorities, many of which I championed, include: fully funding the Board of Education’s request; adding $3.1 million to Montgomery College’s budget to provide $314.7 million for higher education; providing $84.1 million for Head Start and pre-k programs; earmarking $7 million in resources for the Early Care and Education Initiative, which I initiated; providing $327.8 million for the Department of Health and Human Services; earmarking $65.2 million for the Housing Initiative Fund; providing an additional $1 million to make Kids Ride Free an all-day service, as recommended by Councilmember Glass; and increasing Recreation Department programs that serve youngsters after school. We were able to make these strategic investments, while also providing our outstanding county government employees with substantial salary increases.
Finally, Mr. Lublin makes the following observation. “The increases are well above growth in our relatively stagnant tax revenues. Few county residents have received extra pay increases to make up for anemic wage growth during the economic crisis. I know I didn’t.” The Council agrees with him; that is why we adopted affordable but fair raises for our employees. Achieving racial equity and social justice in Montgomery County is a monumental task that demands access to opportunities for all residents. I encourage Mr. Lublin to engage with us in this process. I can assure him that I do not need to tout how “woke” I am. As the only Latina ever elected to the Montgomery County Council and the lone woman currently serving among eight men as president, I along with a significant percentage of our County residents, live it every day.
The Montgomery County Council has repeatedly focused on racial and gender equity. Supported by the entire Council, Councilmember Nancy Navarro sponsored legislation that requires a racial equity analysis of each piece of legislation. Councilmember Evan Glass sponsored successful legislation this year that bans consideration of salary history in an effort to promote pay equity between male and female county employees.
While these primarily symbolic acts passed easily, the Council flinched from much more meaningful action when it passed the budget this year.
County unions negotiated some stonking good raises with County Executive Marc Elrich this year. Analyses by Adam Pagnucco understandably focused on the politics of the raises for unions that supported Elrich. It’s certainly true that the unions supported Elrich, but the nature of the way that Montgomery negotiates union contracts propelled these raises forward and also merits attention.
Montgomery negotiated first with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and reached agreement without mediation or arbitration. The Firefighters union (IAFF) went next. These negotiations ended up in arbitration, as required by the contract when the two sides cannot agree. The arbitrator mandated generous raises for IAFF employees, which the county executive was contractually obliged to support during the budget process.
The unions aren’t supposed to talk to each other about these negotiations, but what do you think the chances are that doesn’t happen? As a result, there was no way MCGEO, the county employee union, was going to settle for any less. One imagines that the county executive was ill-positioned to talk them down, knowing the results from the previous arbitration (and knowing that MCGEO also knew even though they theoretically did not).
The County Council understandably viewed these raises as budget busters. The increases are well above growth in our relatively stagnant tax revenues. Few county residents have received extra pay increases to make up for anemic wage growth during the economic crisis. I know I didn’t.
The Council chose to sharply reduce the pay increase projected for MCGEO, the county employee unions, which on top of a COLA and step increase had included an additional 3.5% for a step increase that got deferred during the economic crisis. The police union (FOP) received the same deferred step increase, but the council left it untouched.
While MCGEO members have received no deferred step increases, the other county unions have been much more fortunate. Not just FOP and IAFF employees but also MCEA employees (the teachers’ union) have now received two apiece due the actions of this and past councils.
Unlike the membership of the IAFF or FOP, MCGEO is the only union of the three that is both majority female and majority minority. In cutting salaries for MCGEO, the County Council directly eliminated spending that would have done far more to promote racial and gender equity than the more symbolic legislation sponsored by Navarro and Glass.
From budgetary and policy perspectives, the Council choices made sense. The MCGEO raise had the biggest impact on the budget because they represent far more people than FOP and IAFF. Moreover, police and fire protection are core services. My guess is that most county residents would rather see firefighters and police officers receive pay increases than, say, county liquor store employees represented by MCGEO.
It was the right decision. Indeed, one could easily argue that the Council should have cut more from all of the union pay raises because tax revenues have regularly disappointed with the county seemingly facing budgets shortfalls with the predictability of humidity in August.
MCGEO remains an easier target than the sacred cows of education (MCEA) and first responders (FOP and IAFF). However, along with Department of Liquor Control (DLC) employees, MCGEO also represent people like prison guards, sheriffs, social workers, librarians, and snow plow drivers. Many engage in dangerous and difficult work.
Perhaps county councilmembers should spend less time touting how woke they are in the future. When it came to spending hard cash, the Council blinked and reduced the negotiated salaries of the predominantly female and minority union even as it once again protected pay increases for the other two unions. Reality bites.
The Baltimore Sun has the story on this sad news. Here is Senate President Mike Miller’s statement:
My heart is broken for Mike Busch’s family, the State of Maryland, and the Speaker’s extended family – elected officials and staff that he has been a mentor and coach to over his time in public service. Mike has been a friend for years, and has led the state to new heights of environmentalism and education, while ensuring that a new generation of leaders move our state forward. He was a true model of a State Delegate; he cared for every corner of the state, but never forgot about the people he was elected to represent. I will miss him as a friend and partner in state government and I join all the state in mourning his passing.
Del. Mary Ann Listanti (D-Harford) has been roundly and rightly called out for using a horrible racist slur ever since Ovetta Wiggins’s reporting over at the Washington Post brought it to public attention. Many of her colleagues, party officials, and activists have called for her resignation.
Bizarrely, however, the General Assembly has appeared far more tolerant of Del. Jay Jalisi’s (D-Baltimore County) repeatedly harmful actions in his public and private life as opposed to Lisanti’s hurtful words. Recall that Wiggins also reported that Del. Jay Jalisi’s daughter successfully applied for a protective order in 2015:
According to court documents, Jalisi’s daughter, 18-year-old Alizay Jalisi, applied for the protective order after her father allegedly slapped her late last month during an argument, the Associated Press reported. He was not criminally charged in the case, and Jalisi has denied the allegations.
“I just chose to be the parent and end the dispute with my child and save my family from more trauma,” Jalisi said in a text Monday night. “There was no finding of guilt by the court. And I am sure everything would be normalized within my family soon since the media spotlight would not be on us after today.”
Personally, I don’t believe Del. Jalisi’s denial, as no one, least of all someone in public office, would willingly accede to a protective order due to a domestic violence claim if it had not occurred. Even if the judge didn’t find him legally “guilty,” there was sufficient evidence to grant the order. As an elected official and a physician, Del. Jalisi also certainly had the agency and the ability to fight the allegations. (In an unusual career path, Del. Jalisi has now left medicine to become a real estate investor.)
The only consequence for Jalisi in the General Assembly was a transfer of committee assignments. Now, the Ethics Committee reports that Del. Jalisi has been abusing his staff and cheating them out of pay that they earned for years and has flouted past committee judgements. His atrocious behavior began soon after he was sworn into the House in 2015:
According to sworn testimony and contemporaneous emails, Delegate Jalisi instructed an aide to work approximately 100 hours of overtime, but refused to approve timesheets reflecting those hours. Delegate Jalisi also refused to allow the aide to leave work when the Maryland General Assembly was on liberal leave status and all bill hearings had been canceled due to inclement weather
According to sworn testimony, Delegate Jalisi’s behavior toward his 2015 legislative staff was “unpredictable” and often “volatile.” Delegate Jalisi treated his staff as “truant” if they left to go to the restroom or to get lunch, and required his staff to keep daily logs of their work and justify to him how the tasks listed on their logs met their job requirements. Delegate Jalisi belittled his staff and accused them of failing to complete their tasks.
Once again, Del. Jalisi denied everything despite a wealth of testimony, evidence and contemporary written accounts of his behavior. Del. Jalisi was similarly “bullying,” “abusive” and “belligerent” in 2016, 2017, 2018, and now in 2019. State troopers were called in during one incident at the Clerk’s office. People in an adjoining office filed a complaint after overhearing his loud abuse of staff. Unacceptable behavior is not a one-off for Del. Jalisi.
The General Assembly reacted very slowly to Del. Jalisi’s repeat offenses:
- In 2015, the Ethics Committee sent him an admonishing letter stating that his behavior “reflected poorly” on the General Assembly.
- The Speaker and Majority Whip spoke to him about the complaint and further bad behavior in 2016.
- In 2017, the Speaker and the Majority Whip “counseled” Del. Jalisi in March and again in October about his improper treatment of staff in both the Human Resources and Clerk’s offices.
- The Ethics Committee recommended in 2018 that Del. Jalisi not be allowed to have staff starting in 2019 if he did not complete anger management training. The committee essentially reiterated its recommendation when another incident occurred.
Del. Jalisi didn’t complete anger management training by the start of the 2019 session. According to the Ethics Committee report, he nonetheless hired staff and then later falsely promised that his company would pay the staffer when it became clear that the General Assembly would not.
The Ethics Committee recommendations are now stronger, recommending a reprimand by the full House of Delegates and that Del. Jalisi lose committee assignments as well as staff if he doesn’t completely anger management by the start of the 2020 session.
This is too little, too late. Del. Jalisi should resign.
Since Angry Delegate seems unlikely to pursue that course, he should be immediately removed from committees and prohibited from participating in any House activities beyond casting his vote, including county delegation and Democratic Caucus meetings. This should continue until he shows a stronger commitment beyond one anger management course towards mending his ways and should include restitution in some form to the many people he has abused in public office.
The people of Baltimore County and the citizens of Maryland deserve better. Though I laud its recent report, the Ethics Committee also needs to examine why it did not take action with meaningful consequences until the fourth year of Del. Jalisi’s unacceptable pattern of bullying and abuse.
Councilmember Hans Riemer’s proposal to greatly ease restrictions on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) has a lot of flaws, as I have detailed in previous posts. The presentation of inaccurate information also undermines confidence that it has been well thought out. The county’s very poor enforcement of existing housing law further reduces trust. Moreover, recent legislation designed to promote ADU construction is just now going into effect.
Fortunately, two easy fixes to Hans’s proposal can assure that it will better accomplish his stated goals of increasing smart-growth oriented affordable housing and minimize any negative effects on the county finances and residents.
Fix #1: Locate ADUs Near Transit
The county wants to promote transit-oriented growth so let’s limit ADUs to within a three-quarters mile radius of Metro, MARC, and future Purple Line stations. As one can rarely walk directly in a straight line to transit from a single-family neighborhood, a three-quarter mile radius is really greater in terms of travel distance and provides a very generous zone. (This would include my Metro-walkable single-family neighborhood.)
The bus network is also largely oriented towards these nodes, so people living in these areas will have maximal public transit access. Transit accessibility will also likely reduce the share of ADU residents who have cars, or at least a second car. This simple fix will assure that we continue to promote growth where smart growthers claim to want it—away from car dependent neighborhoods.
Fix #2: Reduce, Rather than Increase, ADU Size
Hans’s zoning text amendment (ZTA) proposes to allow ADUs larger than the current 1200 square foot maximum up to the one-half of the size of main home. This is a disastrous idea as it encourages the construction of larger, and therefore less affordable units. It also incentivizes the construction of bigger homes, which also runs counter to the idea of smart growth.
While Hans has repeatedly spoken about his ZTA in terms of promoting “cottages” and as part of the “tiny house movement,” the legislation runs directly counter to this idea. According to The Tiny Life, a publication promoting tiny homes, tiny homes have a maximum of 400 square feet, and the average tiny home has just 186 square feet.
At 1200 square feet, Montgomery’s current limit is already three times the maximum size for a tiny home and over six times the average tiny home size. (Scouring the web, the most generous maximum for a tiny home was 600 but this was on a builders’ website and is still only one-half of what the county already permits.)
Instead of increasing the size limit and encouraging the construction of less affordable ADUs, we should be reducing it to 750 square feet. This smaller size would assure that new ADUs would be truly fit within the affordable, smaller home ideal, instead of large second homes or apartments out of the range of people struggling to find housing.
Additionally, it will minimize any negative impacts on neighborhoods and the county. Smaller homes mean it’s less likely that schools will face as substantial an additional burden as if we amp up the home size instead. Fewer people also usually means fewer cars. Existing units larger than 750 square feet would be grandfathered.
The smaller size also reduces any additional hardscape, especially important since the chance of the county adopting more meaningful storm water control standards is about nil. Smaller homes cut down the added burden on existing aging infrastructure not to mention on dumping water into neighboring basements.
Bottom Line: Make this an Affordable Housing Bill
These changes to Hans’s ZTA would turn it from a bill that undermines affordable housing by incentivizing big into one that would encourage the building of smaller, more affordable units in transit-accessible areas. It would retain the proposed elimination on the construction of an ADU in close proximity to another one, allowing for substantially more construction in zones near transit.
As bill proponents claim loudly that they are promoting small development and favor smart growth, adopting these amendments to gather community support ought to be easy. A special exception process could be included to accommodate unusual circumstances that require more space or location away from transit. But any such process should require real scrutiny and difficulty in order to keep the focus on affordable.
The bottom line is that adopting these changes would turn the bill into one truly focused on transit-oriented affordable housing and a genuine win for Hans. On the other hand, if self-proclaimed proponents of affordable housing continue to argue for larger rather than smaller units, it will reveal plainly that they are simply interested in promoting development rather than affordable and that this is really an effort to undermine recently adopted zoning codes and Master Plans.