A reader sent me this nice table outlining the differences between current law on accessory dwelling units, what Councilmember Riemer’s zoning text amendment would allow, and DC law. After the jpgs of the two pages, you can view the pdf.
Councilmember Hans Riemer has proposed making much easier to build additional accessory dwelling units (ADUs) with the best of intentions. Yesterday’s post looked at why it will likely raise housing costs, even though it is intended to do the opposite, and burden county infrastructure. Today, I look at why the proposal breaks trust with residents and remains open to serious abuses.
Breaking Trust with Residents
The county literally just finished revising its entire zoning code in a pro-development direction. We also just revised the rules on ADUs only a few years ago. Yet here we are once again revising the code in a major way. And the changes are all uni-directional to allow more. Always.
In a single stroke, Hans’s legislation undermines all of the county master plans by drastically increasing the number of potential units in any area. In Bethesda, we just finished the process and already upped the existing density considerably. Is it any wonder so many county residents are mistrustful of planning processes and county government?
Homeowners value stability in neighborhoods. After all, buying a home is the single largest and more personally important investment most people will ever make. While some will welcome the changes, others will feel that they’ve just been cheated. As one resident articulated at the forum, not everyone wants to live on a congested street next to an AirBnB.
Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
“Never assume a good motive when a bad motive will do” is not the most positive outlook on life but a very good approach when thinking about how some people will do their best to stretch and to misuse new rules.
While ADUs may help some achieve the positive goals emphasized by Hans, one can easily imagine how these rules will be abused despite Hans’s commendable attempt to build in protections. The law requires that ADUs can only be built by people on their principal home’s property. In theory, this should prevent a developer from buying a home, tearing it down and building either a duplex (in apartment or attached townhouse form) or two detached houses with one twice the size of the other.
Except that it won’t. Someone who flips houses can just buy it, say he plans to move into it, tear it down, build a duplex or two detached houses, sell, and repeat. Alternatively, I imagine developers could construct contracts with existing homeowners that pre-arrange the sale to maintain the fiction that the new duplex or second house is the idea of the existing homeowner. As often occurs in such situations, county planners will determine that it complies with the letter of the law and have no choice but to approve the plans.
I bet someone with more knowledge of housing law could come up with even more ways to accomplish the same goal without breaking a sweat. Heck, by the time that lawyers for developers are done, we’ll be thanking them for only building two units.
Making it possible to build more will make the land more valuable, and thus less affordable. Existing residents who can’t afford the higher property taxes will have to sell. Others will leave because they thought they were living in a neighborhood but found themselves in a construction zone. Either way, the hiked prices render the Montgomery dream out of reach for many more more families–all in the name of affordable housing.
It could well result in tearing down entire neighborhoods to build pricey duplexes. Why not make a killing doing something its supporters have labelled building affordable housing? Some would undoubtedly cheer and call it “smart growth” but that’s not how it’s being sold. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the new homes won’t be placed far from transit.
Yesterday, I introduced Councilmember Hans Riemer’s proposal to make it much easier to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family home neighborhoods around the county. Today, I being to explore why the current proposal may well exacerbate the problem it is designed to solve while further burdening county infrastructure.
Affordable or More Expensive Housing?
While sold as a means of advancing affordable housing, Hans’s proposal to make it much easier to build ADUs could have precisely the opposite effect. As Hans pointed out at his forum on the idea, over 30% of Montgomeryites already are house poor and devote a disproportionate share of their incomes to housing. Will banks be willing to lend to people who already have trouble making ends meet to construct new units?
Even worse, housing values on properties amenable to additional units will rise. After all, property becomes more expensive the more income you can generate. This is why developers always press for more density. Instead of making MoCo affordable, Hans’s legislation will contribute to the problem it aims to solve by making existing homes more expensive.
Property taxes will go up with rising land values. While incomes have been stagnating, taxes continue to rise—not least because the county hiked them by 9% before the last election. Increasing values further will result in higher taxes that many residents, even those not house poor, will not find it easy fit into their budgets. Again, banks are unlikely to lend even more money for the construction of ADUs to the already financially stretched.
Poor Housing Code Enforcement
As several forum attendees highlighted, county housing law enforcement is a joke. One woman explained how she has tried fruitlessly to get rules enforced on her block for over 15 years, including by contacting Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Nancy Navarro.
Hans didn’t disagree but touted that the county wanted to address the issue, citing repeatedly an additional $1 million allocated to housing code enforcement and the keenness of the new county executive to fix this problem.
But enforcement is often not systematic let alone muscular. Riemer’s bill limits ADU occupancy to two adults. If the county isn’t even enforcing rules people support regarding overcrowding and parking that protect both tenants and neighbors, does anyone think that the county is going to kick out a kid when she turns 18 or needs to come home at an older age? What about other relatives or friends who needs a place to stay for more than just a few days?
No Idea of Infrastructure Cost
Speaking of those kids, how many additional entrants will the public schools need to accommodate and how much will it cost? Hans opened his forum by lamenting that young families can’t afford MoCo. Presumably, if his proposal works, MCPS will get more students.
I asked Hans if he had any idea of the impact on the county budget due to the need for not just schools but more police and so forth, and he doesn’t know but “doesn’t think it will have a big impact.” I can’t say I will have much faith in any belated estimates generated by people already squarely behind the idea. My head is still spinning from the idea that lack of knowledge of the cost or the impact was apparently no barrier to county planners expressing so much support at the forum.
Hans suggested, however, that the impact would be minimal. He imagines that the number built here will fall between the 40-50 per year built now and the over 500 per year built in Portland, Oregon. Except that is almost surely an under-guesstimate. The City of Portland has only two-thirds the population of MoCo and more live in apartment buildings, so it has a lot fewer homes where you could construct an ADU.
Moreover, Portland is a terrific city, but it’s not exactly a model for affordable housing. Prices have risen rapidly in recent years and there is no sign that ADUs have altered that trend. Ironically, Montgomery and Portland share a major driver of high housing costs: green belts off limits to new construction that export sprawl and raise prices inside the belt.
Next Up: Breaking Trust with Residents
Tomorrow’s post looks at why Hans’s proposed zoning change breaks trust with residents and how it is open to abuses that the county won’t be able to stop despite Hans’s laudable efforts to prevent them.
Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer, now in his third council term, thinks that not enough residential units are being built in the county and has been peppering his email list recipients with arguments about how we need to build more.
Interestingly, Hans has reached these conclusions not long after the previous council completely revised and simplified the zoning code in a sharply pro-development direction that gives developers increased flexibility to pursue their plans. Master Plan revisions have also added millions of developable square feet in areas such as Bethesda and White Flint.
Hans’s New Dream: Accessory Dwelling Units
Even after all of these changes, Hans now has offered a zoning text amendment (ZTA) that would increase development possibilities in single-family home neighborhoods around the county. He wants to make it easier to build separate apartments or buildings, known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on the same single-family home property. The core idea is that they are autonomous living units with their own entrances.
Hans sees this as a way of creating more affordable housing in Montgomery. New smaller units would be more affordable. Building a rental unit might allow people to buy into Montgomery and help make the mortgage payment. Under Riemer’s proposal, the units could be up to 50% of the size of the main home and he would reduce or eliminate requirements for additional off-street parking.
Only two people No more than two adults but an unlimited number of children could live in them.
It would facilitate multigenerational living and aging in place by allowing parents and adult children to live on separate residences on the same property. (Alternatively, that possibility may discourage many parents and children.) Older residents could also supplement fixed incomes by renting out the unit or the original home.
Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and Planner Lisa Govoni attended and provided supportive information and commentary at a forum organized by Hans that presented only positive information. Several attendees of the public also shared anecdotes about how the proposal might meaningfully help them. I should also mention that Hans was unfailingly polite to the few dissenting voices, though I disagree with his belief that county residents widely hold negative views about renters.
But Hans’s proposal is not nearly ready for prime time. The proposal itself has serious problems in terms of its workability in terms of its own goals and lack of an iota of information on how it will impact the county budget or infrastructure. Tomorrow, I begin to explore why.
By Adam Pagnucco.
Yesterday, Council Member Hans Riemer critiqued his colleague, County Executive candidate Marc Elrich, on Facebook. Today, Elrich responded to Riemer in the video below released by MCM.
By Adam Pagnucco.
Council Member Hans Riemer has used Facebook to weigh in on his colleague, Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive. Riemer and Elrich have cooperated on numerous progressive priorities like Elrich’s $15 minimum wage bill, Riemer’s bill to restore the county’s earned income tax credit, protecting Ten Mile Creek and instituting paid leave, but the two have occasionally disagreed on land use issues. Other than Nancy Floreen, who has endorsed Rose Krasnow, the other incumbent Council Members who aren’t running for Executive themselves have been quiet on the Executive race. We reprint Riemer’s Facebook post below. (Disclosure: your author was Riemer’s Chief of Staff from 2010 through 2014.)
By Adam Pagnucco.
Let’s look at the June campaign finance reports for the Council At-Large candidates, the last ones available prior to the primary. A note on methodology. First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period. Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others. Self-funding includes money from spouses. Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.” That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.
Below is our fundraising summary for the Council At-Large candidates. We are including only those who have qualified for matching funds in the public financing system or have raised at least $100,000 in traditional financing. With a field this deep and talented, candidates who have not met either of these thresholds will struggle to compete.
Four candidates are bunched at the top: incumbent Hans Riemer and Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Bill Conway. Two more – Hoan Dang and Gabe Albornoz – have raised enough money to compare with past candidates who have won. Then there is MCPS teacher Chris Wilhelm, who is working as hard as anyone and has an entire side of the Apple Ballot to himself. That has to be worth the equivalent of an extra mailer or two. Finally, school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse is not a money leader, having entered the race very late, but she does have a base of loyalists who could be very useful in working the polls on Election Day. Overall, our view is that Riemer will be reelected, Jawando and Glass are in good positions and one – maybe two – of the others named above will likely also be elected.
Here’s a question for the readers: why are the female candidates not raising more money? Danielle Meitiv (who ranks 10th on the chart above), Marilyn Balcombe (11th), Brandy Brooks (12th) and Ortman-Fouse (14th) are all good candidates running in an electorate that is 60% female. Not only do their totals lag the above men – they also lag the amounts raised by Beth Daly (2014), Becky Wagner (2010), Duchy Trachtenberg (2006 and 2010) and of course four-term incumbent Nancy Floreen. Public financing was supposed to equalize the influence of small contributors, including women, with corporate interests that are overwhelmingly male dominated. And yet the nine top fundraisers are men.
Let’s remember that the best-financed candidates don’t always win. Exhibit A is the chronically underfunded Marc Elrich, who finished first in the last two at-large races and could be the next County Executive. The at-large race also has produced surprises in the past, including the defeats of incumbents Blair Ewing (2002), Mike Subin (2006) and Trachtenberg (2010). As soon as your author thinks he has the at-large race figured out – BAM! – something different happens!
This is probably the best at-large field in MoCo history. It’s sad that only four of them will win. But so it is. On to Election Night.
By Adam Pagnucco.
Here is something we haven’t seen before: a mid-term year Apple Ballot with one candidate occupying one side of it and a list of others on the other side. This Apple, still in wrapping, is customized in favor of Council At-Large candidate Chris Wilhelm.
Here is another one spotlighting District 16 House candidate Samir Paul.
The Apple we were given at the Wheaton early voting site was not like these. It had county candidates on one side and state candidates on the other, a typical format used in the past.
Wilhelm and Paul are MCPS teachers. We totally get why MCEA would like to elect its own members to office, although that has not always been their top priority. For example, the union endorsed County Council District 5 incumbent Derick Berlage over MCPS teacher Marc Elrich in 1998. In Elrich’s 2002 and 2006 races, he did appear on the Apple but we don’t recall him getting an entire side of it to himself.
The races involving Paul and Wilhelm are very different. In District 16, the two incumbent Delegates – Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman – are endorsed by MCEA and a lock for reelection. Paul is in a tight contest with fellow new candidate Sara Love for the open seat being vacated by Delegate Bill Frick. He needs every edge he can get.
The Council At-Large race, on the other hand, is extremely competitive and unpredictable. MCEA has endorsed incumbent Hans Riemer, Brandy Brooks and Will Jawando in addition to Wilhelm. Riemer seems likely to be reelected but that’s about all that can be safely predicted in this race. What will Riemer, Brooks and Jawando think of the Wilhelm Ballot?
It’s not easy to be a public official. It involves dealing with not only a lot of tough issues and often unappealing choices. It also entails listening to unhappy constituents who often express their feelings vehemently and with anger, especially in our current age when there is so much of the latter going around. And, of course, you have to deal with people like me.
As a result, I thought it would be good to highlight some candidates for office here in Montgomery County who I think have the right temperament for public office. This is wholly different from whether I agree with them on issues and as a result I don’t plan to vote for all of them (and I don’t live in all of their constituencies).
It does mean that they strike me as even-keeled people who will address issues thoughtfully and have a good capacity to listen to people and take on board the views of people with whom they disagree. In an election with a plethora of candidates, it seems worth identifying some who deserve a look-in to see if they are what you are seeking in a candidate.
One caution: Writing this blog gives me the opportunity to meet a good many candidates. In truth, however, it’s only a fraction of the many running for office and space is limited even on the Internet. So please don’t take omission from here as even the most oblique indictment. There are a lot of good people running for office. Here are just a few of them.
Aruna Miller is running to represent the Sixth Congressional District. The people who work closely with Aruna in the House of Delegates admire and respect her as a serious, hard-working legislator, and she has received the bulk of their endorsements. I only know Aruna so well but what I see only verifies these impressions. Del. Miller brought an unusual level of calm maturity and experience when she entered politics. Unafraid to stand up for principle, she can also reach out and work well with others.
Evan Glass is running for Council At-Large. I got to know Evan because we served on the Board of Equality Maryland together. He’s a great listener and excellent communicator, perhaps not a surprise given his extensive work in journalism. Evan also has the uncanny ability of knowing when and how an intervention in a political debate can have the greatest impact. He was one of the most quietly effective and useful members of the Board.
Marilyn Balcombe is running for Council At-Large. Marilyn is best known for her work in the Upcounty and on the President/CEO of the Gaithersburg/Germantown Chamber of Commerce. I’ve found Marilyn to be an effective and strong yet pleasant advocate. She has done a lot over the years to make Germantown a more vibrant place. Marilyn is someone who already knows a lot but also is smart enough to know that there is always more to learn and listens well.
Gabe Albornoz is running for Council At-Large. Gabe has headed the County Parks and Recreation Department and had the unpleasant task of dealing with major budget cuts due to the economic crisis. He lives in my legislative district and I got to know him through our mutual activity in local Democratic politics. Gabe is a natural leader yet also very easygoing and unusually good at dealing with criticism and bringing people together. A class act.
Hans Riemer is running for reelection to a third (and final) term for Council At-Large. I’m purposefully not focusing on incumbents on this list, as they’re already well known. However, I’ve always appreciated Hans’s ability to disagree without being disagreeable, even right after I’ve criticized a decision that he made. This well-liked councilmember has also consistently been willing to meet with people on the other side of an issue and work to figure out what he can do for them.
Marlin Jenkins is seeking election to the House of Delegates in District 19. He comes from a small town in Louisiana not far from where Ike Leggett grew up and is an impressive man who worked very hard to create and to take advantage of opportunities. Marlin joined the army at a young age, distinguished himself leading a unit in Iraq, and is now a major and still moving up. Along the way, he first earned a college and then law degree. He and his wife, also a lawyer who Marlin met in law school, have made their home here. An affable man and good listener, Marlin cares a lot about helping make it possible for others to move up the ladder too.
By Council Member Nancy Floreen.
As someone in the unique position of watching the campaign season after 15 and a half years of being on the inside, I have pretty strong feelings about who are the right folks for electoral office.
Is that candidate well informed about the office he or she seeks?
Is that person an honest broker – ie – with the experience and grounding in reality that leads to genuine capacity for problem solving?
Is that person candid, or does that person have a different story for every audience?
Is that person humble or does that person take credit for shared initiatives or make promises that cannot be kept?
Does that person have the demonstrated temperament to treat people he or she disagrees with respectfully?
Is that person an independent thinker, or likely to be more influenced by endorsers?
Does that person have a track record of credible community engagement ?
Does that person have the backbone to stand up to political pressure?
Does that person have a genuine passion for the office, or is it just another job?
Does that person stand a chance in the General Election?
There are a lot of candidates out there, but not that many who satisfy my standards..
Here’s who I believe warrants your vote.
Noteworthy are my current council colleagues running for re- election – Hans Riemer, Craig Rice, Sid Katz, Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker. We don’t all agree on everything all of the time, but they are hard working, committed and all have long histories of community engagement.
As for the open seats – these are my picks :
Governor – Rushern Baker. You try wrestling with an entrenched school system and come out alive! Tough, rational and caring.
County Executive – Rose Krasnow – an experienced, yet independent voice. The former Mayor of Rockville, she has wide ranging financial, government and nonprofit management expertise, and is deeply grounded in the county and community issues.
County Council At Large –
Gabe Albornoz – long experience with the reality of our community and the ways of government through the Recreation Department
Marilyn Balcombe – a long term fighter for the largely ignored upcounty
Evan Glass – a staunch community organizer, known for his work with the Gandhi Brigade
Council District 1 – Reggie Oldak – the only candidate who actually knows the county and how the Council works (as a former staff member) and a long time community advocate.
This is a very important election for our collective futures! Be thoughtful in your choices!