Tag Archives: Hans Riemer

Smart Growth or Corporate Welfare? Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

For many years, MoCo has focused its land use and economic development policies on transit-oriented development. Since 2006, the county has adopted eight master plans centered on Metro stations, another four centered on Purple Line stations and one more centered on Corridor Cities Transitway stations. Another plan is in the works for Downtown Silver Spring.

The capstone for the Metro-based plans is development on top of the Metro stations themselves, which requires joint development agreements with WMATA. Placing the highest density on Metro stations, along with nearby parcels, enables the county to balance growth, transportation and environmental priorities in its march towards the future. For fifteen years, that’s what we have been told.

Now we are told that this approach won’t work without taxpayer subsidies.

The problem is that most, if not all, development on top of Metro stations is not proceeding. And that is because of economics. In order to be economically viable, Metro development projects must charge rents or condo prices sufficient to not only cover construction costs, financing and investor returns but also the unique costs associated with Metro station sites. The economics are particularly difficult with high rise projects, which have higher material and construction costs than wood-frame projects. And so the county council has proposed Bill 29-20, which would eliminate property taxes on Metro station development projects for 15 years and replace them with undefined payments in lieu of taxes to be set later.

In justifying the bill’s purpose, consider these remarks by Council Members Hans Riemer and Andrew Friedson, the lead sponsors of the bill, and Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson at the council’s first work session.


Riemer
I want to say that this is a smart growth proposal. This is about making development feasible where decades of inactivity has demonstrated it is not feasible. If you look at Montgomery County and our Metro stations, you will almost universally see empty space on top of the Metro stations and despite efforts by WMATA over many years to support development at those stations, to solicit development on their property, there is very little that has happened. And there is very little that has happened recently, in the last ten years or so. Very little high rise, especially, and because of a shift in the market, I think which is driven by regional economic shifts and global economic shifts that have made the cost of high rise construction prohibitive except in the most high rent communities…

I think very broadly speaking, we have sought to channel all of our development, almost all of it, through a smart growth framework. We want to get housing that is high rise. We want to discourage sprawl. But the problem is we have not – the market isn’t producing the high rise that we have zoned for, that we want. And so the end result is we’re not getting much development. We’re not getting very much housing. We’re not even getting much commercial development.

Friedson
The idea that we’re forgoing revenue and that has a direct cost, that we’re leaving money on the table, we’re not leaving money on the table – the table doesn’t exist currently. That is the issue. There is no development, there is no investment. At best, the table is going somewhere else. It’s been shipped to another region of the country. It’s been shipped to another county. The whole point here is to create the opportunity. You know, the idea that we would be serious about transit-oriented development, that we would be serious about meeting our significant housing targets to address the housing crisis that we currently face but wouldn’t be willing to do anything about it is troubling. And we need a game changer. We need something to change the economic development path that we’re on, we need something to change the housing path that we’re on, that currently does not work. And I will say our housing situation, that is our version of a wall in Montgomery County. What we do with housing is a decision that we make on whether or not we want new residents here or not. That’s the local government version of whether we put up a literal or proverbial wall to say who can and who can’t live here, who we want and who we don’t want here.

Anderson
Will the development happen anyway? And I think the market is not just speaking, it’s screaming that the answer is no. Because you don’t have to take any particular real estate developer’s word for it, you can see what’s happening in the real world. It’s not just in Montgomery County, you can look at what market rents are at every Metro station in the region and you’ll see that there’s a few, particularly in Northern Virginia and in Bethesda, where rents can justify new high-rise construction there. Everywhere else, the answer is no, and that’s not just true of Grosvenor, or for that matter Forest Glen, as you mentioned, it’s also true of White Flint.


In considering these remarks, let’s remember who is saying them. It’s not County Executive Marc Elrich, who voted against numerous transit-oriented development master plans when he was on the council. It’s Casey Anderson, who has served on the Planning Board for nine years and chaired it for six; Hans Riemer, who has served on the council for ten years and is the current chair of its planning committee; and Andrew Friedson, who has emerged as the council’s principal champion of economic development during his first term in office. These are not development critics as Elrich has been. Anderson in particular, and Riemer to a lesser extent, are two of the architects of the county’s Metro-oriented land use policy and they are saying that it has failed.

They are also saying that the only way to rescue it is through what may ultimately become the biggest application of corporate tax breaks in the county’s history.

Are they right? We’ll discuss it in Part Two.

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MCGEO Protests at Riemer’s House

By Adam Pagnucco.

Angry at the county council’s rejection of its revised collective bargaining agreement, MCGEO – the largest county employee union outside MCPS – protested at Council Member Hans Riemer’s house today.

Every council member except Tom Hucker and Will Jawando voted to reject the agreements, so why did the union target Riemer alone? MCGEO’s spokeswoman told WJLA-7, “Hans was the most vehement against the contract. He really led the charge.” MCGEO is also upset at Riemer for voting to reject both its original contract (which provided a peak raise of 9.4%) and its revised contract last year. Council Member Andrew Friedson was the only other council member to vote against both of those agreements along with Riemer.

MCGEO doesn’t like Hans Riemer.

This isn’t just about the contracts. Riemer’s repeated strong criticisms of County Executive Marc Elrich have led many to believe that Riemer is considering a challenge to Elrich in the next election. Riemer is in his third term on the council and term limits prevent him from running again for his current seat. None of this is lost on MCGEO, which claimed credit for Elrich’s election. By targeting Riemer, MCGEO accomplishes two objectives – defending its contract and punishing a potential rival to Elrich. Given MCGEO’s long history of tough tactics against politicians who vote against its contracts, this is likely just the opening move of a larger campaign against Riemer.

The union has published more than 30 photos of its protest at Riemer’s home. Some of them show Riemer’s house itself. I won’t be reposting actual images of the house, but here are a few of the protestors.

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Elrich Says Riemer Alcohol Proposal Unsound and Unlawful

County Executive Marc Elrich has written Councilmember Hans Riemer to explain why Riemer’s proposal to allow restaurants to defer payments to ABS, the county alcohol monopoly, would violate the law and is a bad idea:

After reviewing your suggestion, we have determined that your proposal would violate federal law. The TTB, formerly the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, would consider the payment terms as a consignment sale, which is prohibited. Even providing different payment terms to different classes of customers is discriminatory. This is not to say that we can’t look at some reasonable extended terms for all of our licensees that may, in the shot term, be acceptable to the county, and meets all allowable legal criteria. As we consider these terms, we will balance that with the higher risk of potential payment defaults by those businesses that may have to close permanently.

Even if the proposal were legal, it would not be sound business or fiscal practice and could jeopardize county revenues and projects. ABS is run as a business, which means that it needs continued revenues to continue operating. If payments were deferred for 12 months, that could create a cash-flow problem for ABS, which needs to pay for inventory, supplies, wages, and leases on retail stores. Without sufficient revenue, the county would have to supplement ABS, reversing the current situation where ABS generates significant revenue for the county and remains self-funding, allowing it to pay for its own operating expenses. Those revenues are used to bond certain county projects. Deferring payments for many licensees for a year would cause a default on loans and would make it difficult – if not impossible – for ABS to operate in the black and continue to produce the surplus funds that go to the county treasury.

Much of the rest of the letter, printed in full below, explains how the county is otherwise working to aid restaurants and thanking the county council for their efforts during the COVID-19 crisis.

Elrich and Riemer have clashed frequently, so the disagreement here isn’t exactly surprising. It’s well known that Riemer plans to challenge Elrich for county executive and attacks him at every opportunity. Riemer’s proposal make him look like he worked fast to help businesses and forces Elrich to play the bad guy and shoot it down.

At the same time, that his idea is illegal and unworkable reinforces the perception that Riemer simply doesn’t think his ideas through and is looking to score quick political points rather than accomplish anything, even in a time of crisis.

Riemer’s lack of attention to the bond issue is especially strange. Defenders of the liquor monopoly, like both Elrich and Riemer, have repeatedly used the link between the bonds and alcohol revenues as a reason that the county liquor monopoly cannot be abolished.

It’s especially damning since Riemer prides himself on being an expert on the alcohol issue and having chaired the Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control back in 2015. Even the long-term politics are questionable as progressive Elrich has now positioned himself as the fiscally responsible alternative to Riemer–quite a feat.

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MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Three

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part One of this series laid out the rules and methodology for how we determined MoCo’s most influential people. These lists were developed by adding together the nominations of 85 people who are themselves extremely knowledgeable and influential. Let’s see what they had to say!

9. Council Member Hans Riemer (At-Large) – 21 votes

Source: Executive candidate in waiting often speaks for the Council.

Source: Hans is definitely going after Marc Elrich, and has been for a long time. So he has been making bold plays and making change.

Source: ADUs, 5G, solar farms – it is what we are talking about. Also gearing up for run for CE means he is putting himself out there.

AP: So far, the leader of the resistance to County Executive Marc Elrich, especially on the issue of housing. He is taking fire from Elrich supporters and that might have given him pause in the past. But the 2020 version of Riemer has a harder edge than the guy I worked for years ago, and if he really does take on Elrich, he is going to need it.

8. State Senator Brian Feldman (D-15) – 23 votes

Source: A go-to sponsor on so many important measures.

Source: Quietly extremely effective.

Source: Strongest MoCo Senate voice we have.

AP: Smart, pragmatic, respected and has seen a lot in nearly two decades in office. We could use another couple dozen like him, but if all we get is one Brian Feldman, we’ll take him.

7. U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen – 25 votes

Source: Able to quickly translate his House expertise in politics and policy to the Senate.

Source: Best Senator ever.

AP: CVH has been arguably MoCo’s most popular politician for nearly two decades. He may be in the U.S. Senate now but he can still tap into his old Downcounty base whenever he wants support for whatever he does in the future.

6. Comptroller Peter Franchot – 28 votes

Source: Wields a lot of power from the perch of the Board of Public Works.

Source: Perhaps the most adept politician in the state outside the Governor himself. He’s smartly begun cultivating support outside of his typical base of centrist whites, but his gubernatorial bid might nevertheless be reliant on enough room in his ideological lane.

Source: Love him or hate him, he has a big impact on Maryland with his Board of Public Works vote and bromance with the Governor.

AP: What politician can serve more than 30 years in office and still run as an outsider? Peter Franchot, that’s who! Franchot has built his brand on fiscal conservatism, fighting “the machine,” and crusading for underdogs on issues ranging from school air conditioners to expanding craft beer. His crack team, led by master strategist Len Foxwell, is the best in Annapolis.

5. State Senator Will Smith (D-20) – 31 votes

Source: It’s wonderful to have the Senate Judicial Proceedings gavel in progressive hands.

Source: Most visible sign of Annapolis’s ideological and demographic shifts, though perhaps won’t be in the Senate much longer.

Source: If the Governor is telling you to resign, you’re probably doing something right.

Source: No political star has risen faster.

AP: Think about how incredible this trajectory is. Will Smith gets elected to the House in 2014. He is appointed to the Senate in 2016. He becomes Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee this year. After getting blasted by Governor Larry Hogan over crime legislation, he gets a package of crime bills passed including some of the governor’s priorities just a couple weeks later. Now he is ranked as one of the most influential elected officials in Montgomery County and folks are talking about him as a potential statewide candidate. Few elected officials anywhere rise this fast.

Coming next: our earth-shattering Final Four!

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Riemer Proposes Liquor Monopoly Payment Holiday

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich, Council Member Hans Riemer has proposed that liquor licensees be allowed to defer payments owed to the county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS). Specifically, Riemer wrote, “I am writing to request that ABS allow restaurant licensees to defer payments or make partial payments on all products purchased from ABS for the next 12 months.” Riemer notes the extreme financial losses being experienced by licensees and suggests that the county “explore options that could allow the County to smooth the revenue impact of this proposal over a longer period of time.”

We reprint Riemer’s letter below. We intend to print the executive’s response when we receive it.

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Is This Moving Into the 21st Century?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has announced that he is “focused on building a 21st century economy that will help the County maintain its leadership position in the State, while being more competitive in the Washington D.C. metropolitan region.”  And how will that be done?

By marketing the county’s 1930s-era soviet liquor monopoly, of course!

The county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS), formerly known as the Department of Liquor Control, has a monopoly on wholesale distribution of alcohol from which only small, local craft breweries and distilleries are exempt.  Through its county liquor stores, ABS also has a monopoly on off-premises retail sales of spirits.  This structure has been in place since the end of prohibition.

The original purpose of the liquor monopoly was to “control certain obnoxious practices” and “keep the county an attractive place to live.”  Now, however, the purpose of the monopoly is to make money.  During the current fiscal year, ABS is projected to contribute $28 million to the general fund and an additional $9 million to pay off county debt service.  Despite its overall profitability, ABS is under heavy pressure to make even more money for four primary reasons.

First, the county projected a $100 million revenue shortfall back in December.  It’s unknown whether that number will change when the executive’s recommended budget is released next month, but if there is a shortfall of close to that amount, that’s a problem.

Second, the county has been raiding its retiree health care fund to balance its budget in recent years.  A statement by Wall Street credit agency Moody’s warned the county to stop doing that.  If the county takes heed, how will it replace that money?

Third, the county council clearly has no appetite for tax increases at the moment.

Fourth, Council Member Hans Riemer recently revealed that the county liquor stores as a group are actually losing money, not making it.  That prompted an explosive reaction from ABS Director Bob Dorfman amid questions about whether the stores should continue operations.

An excerpt from an email by the county executive calling for a 21st Century economy and simultaneously promoting the liquor monopoly.

ABS has now proposed a solution for increasing the stores’ profitability: it wants to rebrand them.  In a council session on February 20, the council reviewed a letter from the county attorney asking for permission to hire outside counsel specializing in trademarks to secure a new name.  The county’s chief administrative officer told the council that the specific name being considered is “Cork and Barrel,” which a simple Google search confirms is widely used around the country (including in Maryland).  The initial outlay to the trademark attorney is expected to be less than $6,000.  But if ABS does go through with a name change, there will be many additional expenses for logo design and changes to facilities and equipment.  Last summer, when water and sewer utility WSSC proposed a name change, the projected expenses totaled $850,000.  Council Member Evan Glass raised the experience of WSSC and said, “If a government monopoly or a quasi-government monopoly needs a marketing and outreach strategy then there is a problem.”

Three council members – Riemer, Glass and Andrew Friedson – voted against the appointment of counsel.  Friedson and Glass have gone on record in opposition to the liquor monopoly.  Riemer thinks it is time for the county to close its retail liquor stores.  The rest of the council voted in favor of hiring outside counsel.

The county council has almost no power to control the liquor monopoly under state law.  But the General Assembly does and its vision for the monopoly is very different from the Elrich administration’s.  In 2017, the General Assembly passed a state law enabling the monopoly to contract with private stores to allow them to sell spirits.  (Right now, only county liquor stores may sell hard alcohol – a crucial advantage for the county.)  But ABS has ignored the law’s intent and has so far refused to allow private retail sales of spirits.  Its rationale is understandable: without its retail spirits monopoly, its stores might never be profitable.  No dissenting votes were cast in Annapolis against the law that the monopoly now flouts.  Will MoCo’s state legislators hold it accountable?

As for the name change and marketing expenses, consider this.  State law requires private beer and wine stores to purchase products from the county liquor monopoly’s wholesale operation.  Their payments will now be used to rebrand and market the county liquor stores that are in direct competition with them.  In essence, they will be required to pay for the county’s attempt to raid their market share and take away their business.

How is this a legitimate function of government?

How can Montgomery County do this and claim that it is business friendly??

MoCo faces a choice.  It can move into the 21st Century and allow competition.  Or it can have a 1930s-era soviet liquor monopoly.

It can’t do both.

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Affordable Housing Spat: Who’s Right?

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive Marc Elrich and his biggest critic, Council Member Hans Riemer, are feuding once again.  This time, the subject is affordable housing.  Elrich says his new recommended capital budget includes a record sum for affordable housing.  Riemer says there are in fact no new resources.

Who is right?

Let’s consider the statements from each of them.  First, here is Elrich.

Affordable housing is one of my top priorities. It is vital to our County’s future success. We must maintain and expand our stock of affordable housing and we are taking this critical issue head on in the capital budget. That is why I am recommending we add $132 million for affordable housing to the capital budget over the next six years.

This is a record level of funding for affordable housing projects for our capital budget. These funds will be used by the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation Project to facilitate efforts to preserve existing stock and increase the number of affordable housing units in the County. But that is not all.

In this Capital budget, I am proposing a new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund to leverage funding from other partners that will support short-term financing while affordable housing developers arrange for permanent project financing.

Here is Riemer’s response.

On affordable housing, I was initially encouraged by the Executive’s speech about increasing funding levels. Indeed, I am intrigued by his proposal to create a new housing preservation fund. However, while he claims to have added more than $132 million in the affordable housing fund, after further examination it became clear that the annual amount is unchanged at $22 million. Under the last Executive, affordable housing funding was only programmed for the first two years of the six year budget, but additional funding was always added in the subsequent years. We need to increase our affordable housing fund to at least $100 million annually. This change in accounting will not result in increased resources. In combination with his resistance to the Council’s affordable housing goals, developed with and agreed upon by all the local governments in Washington region, the County Executive’s housing policy continues to be a matter of serious concern.

These two like each other about as much as Popeye and Bluto.  (Which one is Popeye depends on your point of view!)  But how can their statements be reconciled?

Since Fiscal Year 2001, the county’s primary affordable housing vehicle has been its Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program, which appears in the county’s capital budget.  The program enables the county to buy or renovate, or assist other entities to buy or renovate, affordable housing.  It is financed by several sources including but not limited to loan repayments and the county’s Housing Investment Fund (which is mostly supported by recordation taxes).

The capital budget, which includes the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program, is a six-year budget.  In even years (like 2020), it is written anew and in odd years, it is amended.  Projects in the capital budget can have up to six different years of funding in them (with more scheduled outside of the budget’s six year horizon).  In the past, the affordable housing program has only shown funding for the first two years of the capital budget with zero money programmed in the last four years.  But since the capital budget is rewritten every two years with affordable housing money renewed in each successive budget, that has not mattered.

The table below shows funding for the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program in the last 16 capital budgets.  Each budget covers six years.  Budgets labeled with an “A” are amended budgets programmed in off years.

At first glance, Elrich appears to be right.  His new recommended capital budget includes $132 million for Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation, which is far higher than any previous capital budget.  But let’s remember what Riemer said about the annual amount of spending.  All the previous six-year budgets included funding during the first two years only.  Elrich’s new capital budget shows funding for the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program in all six years.  Riemer is correct: an accounting change caused the apparent increase in this program.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Elrich created a new program in the capital budget called the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund.  This program is dedicated to acquiring affordable housing in areas at risk of rent escalation, such as those near the Purple Line and other transit corridors, and is intended to use public funds to leverage private funds in acquiring and preserving affordable housing.  This new program provides $10 million in each of the new capital budget’s first two years for this purpose.  That money comes from recordation tax premiums which are normally used to finance transportation projects, so it’s not “free” money.  But it is more money for affordable housing.

Combining the existing Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program and Elrich’s new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, the table below shows the annual expenditures for affordable housing in the capital budget since FY05.  Annual expenditures are drawn from the first two years of every amended capital budget with FY21 and FY22 drawn from the executive’s new recommended capital budget.

Combining the two programs, Elrich recommends spending more capital money for affordable housing in FY21 and FY22 than any annual expenditure in the preceding published budgets.  When adjusting for inflation, Elrich’s FY21 and FY22 spending amounts are roughly equal to the Leggett administration’s peak affordable housing years of FY09 and FY10, so one can quibble about whether Elrich’s spending is truly a record.  But when Elrich’s new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund is included, the first two years of his new budget definitely show an annual increase for affordable housing over the prior budget.

The county’s capital budget has been shrinking due to cutbacks in general obligation bond issuances and declining projected school impact tax receipts.  That’s a dire subject for another time.  But given the county’s budget difficulties, Elrich’s financial commitment to affordable housing is meaningful.  Friends and foes alike should give him credit for it.

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MoCo Political Awards 2019

By Adam Pagnucco.

The year 2019 is in the books and it’s time for some political awards, both good and bad.  Buckle up!

Best Freshman Elected Official (County): District 1 Council Member Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson

Let’s go to the lab and create the perfect politician.  We shall start with brains and policy experience.  The person has to be a life-long district resident who roams it constantly, addressing issues large and small.  The person has to hire good staff.  The person has to have the guts to vote no when everyone else votes yes.  Fiscal expertise counts too.  Add it all up and we just created Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson, the new star of the county council.  As a freshman, Friedson is still at the beginning of his elected career.  But his ability is off the charts and the Real Deal has just begun living up to his nickname.

Best Freshman Elected Official (State): District 18 Delegate Jared Solomon

True story: when candidate Jared Solomon was running for a seat in the statehouse, he was one of the very few politicians ever who mailed me a hand-written thank-you letter after our introductory interview.  Since then, he has become an energetic and conscientious Delegate who jumped feet-first into his district’s two biggest issues: the Beltway project and school construction.  Solomon is both one of the smartest people in the room and one of the nicest.  That’s hard to pull off for anyone not named Jamie Raskin.

Reporter of the Year: Caitlynn Peetz, Bethesda Beat

You might think that news on public schools is boring.  If so, you have never read Caitlynn Peetz’s riveting stories on the rapes at Damascus High School and parental clashes over MCPS’s boundary study.  Peetz loves her vocation and it shows.  She digs deeper and works harder than just about anyone else in local media.  She also happens to be a kind, generous and funny person.  How does someone like that wind up in the press?

Will Not Fade Away Award: Brandy Brooks

Most of the county council candidates who did not win in 2018 have faded from the public eye, at least for now.  Not Brandy Brooks.  She maintained her profile with a strong, though unsuccessful, run for planning board and has retained a loyal following among many county progressives.  Last year, I predicted that Brooks would have a great chance to win if she ever runs again and I am now more confident of that than ever.

Most Meaningless New Law of the Year: Liquor Monopoly Name Change

As of July, the county’s Department of Liquor Control was renamed Alcohol Beverage Services.  Does anyone care?  Aside from whatever companies were paid to change the name on the signs and business cards, the answer is a big fat NO.

Whiplash Award #1

In November, the council voted in favor of a bill mandating 30-hour work weeks for some janitors that its own staff predicted would “likely” kill building services jobs.  Two weeks later, the council passed a resolution calling for a renewed commitment to economic development.

Whiplash Award #2

Also in November, the council unanimously passed a new law mandating consideration of racial equity in all county activities.  A week later, the council voted to give $500,000 in tax money to a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation.

Labor Union of the Year: MCGEO

How do you get a 6% raise?  You jump up and down and demand a 9% raise, and then when you get 6%, you grudgingly accept it and resolve to come back for the rest later.  2019 will go down as yet another year when MCGEO proved its immense value to its members.

Activists of the Year: YIMBYs

In most years, Council Member Hans Riemer’s bill to liberalize restrictions on accessory dwelling units would have encountered rough sledding and maybe outright defeat.  Not in 2019, as MoCo’s YIMBYs – the acronym stands for “yes in my backyard” – sprang into action and helped get the bill passed.  YIMBYs, unlike NIMBYs, believe MoCo needs more housing and they have emerged as one of the county’s more effective, albeit loosely organized, issue groups.  Additionally, the YIMBY MoCo Facebook page has become one of the most interesting venues for policy and political discussions in the county.  If the YIMBYs get more numerous and better organized, they could have a real impact on the next county election.

Do Not Mess with Me Award: Bob Dorfman

When Council Member Hans Riemer released information showing that county liquor stores were losing money, Alcohol Beverage Services Director Bob Dorfman blew him to smithereens.  Read this quote from WUSA Channel 9 but hide the children first!

“We have an ill-informed councilmember who has got a politically motivated campaign that’s taking something purely out of context because he as a councilmember should have been smart enough to know that a plan had already been put in place almost a year ago that addresses each of the components of the loss,” Alcohol Beverage Services Director Robert Dorfman said.

Dorfman said the county has already cut the stores’ losses by $2-million a year, and hopes they’ll turn a $5-million dollar profit within a few years.

He said Riemer was needlessly panicking employees who work at the stores. “Mr. Riemer, by putting out all this stuff to the press, is causing those employees, hard-working, good, county employees, that he supposedly represents, obviously he’s not doing it very well, obviously he doesn’t care much, those employees are getting calls from customers and family members asking them whether they’re going to have jobs,” Dorfman said.

This is not the first time Dorfman has slammed a liquor monopoly critic.  He once went after Seventh State founder David Lublin too.  All of this has me feeling jealous.  I’m one of the fiercest opponents of the liquor monopoly around and I have written countless columns denouncing it.  What do I have to do to get you to spank me, Bob?

Retirement of the Year: Glenn Orlin

Former county council deputy staff director Glenn Orlin is one of the great heroes of county government who is unknown by much of the general public.  In a decades-long career in both the state and county governments, Glenn has become one of the foremost experts on capital budgets and transportation in all of Maryland.  The council relied on his incredible institutional knowledge, his expertise and his good judgment as much as any other single staff member.  What makes Glenn truly great is not just his competence and experience, but his patience, generosity and ability to teach others.  His legacy includes a huge portfolio of transportation projects, including his beloved Purple Line, as well as generations of folks who have learned from him – including me.  Glenn is still doing contract work for the council, but whoever eventually succeeds him will have very big shoes to fill.

That’s all until next year!

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Improving the Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) Bill

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.

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Riemer Massively Understated Number of Existing ADUs

In his effort to push forward his zoning text amendment on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that would radically alter building conditions and Master Plans throughout single-family neighborhoods, Councilmember Riemer has lamented the lack of existing ADUs, claiming that only 133 exist throughout Montgomery County.

Except that figure is completely false. It greatly understates the number of existing ADUs by a factor of at least 3.5 and probably more. The information showing it’s untrue is readily available on Montgomery County websites. Indeed, memos provided to the Council in the past directly contradict the claims made by Hans in his publicly funded communications.

The county’s own website says that there are 473 existing ADUs – over three times more than advertised by Hans Riemer and other advocates of his ZTA.

Look at the teeny-tiny print on the bottom left for the total count

A look at requests for ADU approvals under existing rules reveals 257 applications in recent years with only a small minority withdrawn or denied. The number of applications refutes Hans’s claim that virtually no one can legally build them under existing rules in Montgomery County. And this is before rules adopted just a few years ago to make it easier to build them have gone into effect and had a chance to have an impact.

In devastating follow-up testimony sent to Council President Nancy Navarro, Andy Leon Harney, explained in more detail that even these higher figures sorely underestimate the number of existing legal ADUs:

The figure often quoted that there are only 133 ADUs for a county of 1 million is simply false. In 2012, when the Council was considering ZTA 12-11, the Board of Appeals, which approved special exception accessory apartments said that between 1983 and 2012, they had approved 605 accessory apartments. Mr. Zyontz in memos to the Council at the time (10/8/12 p. 7 and 10/22/12 page 10) reported there were either 413 or 431 (probably a typo). At the same time, there were also 698 Residential Living Units—that is rent free accessory apartments approved for use by a relative, elderly parent or caregiver which are still legal and over time may well have been converted to rental units.  That would mean there were at least 1,111 ADUs plus guest houses which are no longer allowed but were grandfathered in with the passage of ZTA 12-11. The 133 number so often quoted is not accurate, and in fact there are 157 ADUs that have been approved since 2012, making the total ADUs closer to 1268, with others in the pipeline. If the Council is data driven, these facts should matter. If the Council allows itself to be persuade by an inaccurate number of “only 133 ADUs in a County of 1 million”, they are being misled.

Andy Harney is the Village Manager of Chevy Chase Section 3.

As I’ve previously explained, Hans’s legislation is deeply flawed for a number of reasons. In a post later this week, I hope to present a couple of easy amendments that would shift the focus back to the creation of smart-growth affordable housing and virtually eliminate most of the likely harms stemming from the misguided approach in the proposed ZTA.

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