Tag Archives: Hans Riemer

Riemer vs Elrich on Solar in the Ag Reserve

By Adam Pagnucco.

The extent to which solar panels should be allowed in the agricultural reserve was a big issue this week. Council Member Hans Riemer, one of the lead sponsors of legislation to do so, and County Executive Marc Elrich, who favors less capacity than Riemer, both issued statements this week which we reprint below. For background, you can refer to Bethesda Beat’s account of the county council’s decision on the issue, my column on its context and Delegate Kumar Barve’s letter to the council about the legislation.

First, let’s consider what Riemer had to say in his blast email of February 24.

*****

Why I Voted No

When I introduced the “farm + solar” zoning change with Council President Tom Hucker back in January 2020, my goal was to build a cornerstone of Montgomery County’s climate action policy.

By allowing less than 2% of the land in the County zoned “Agricultural Reserve” (which is itself one-third of all land in the County) to be used for privately funded community solar projects, the proposal would have generated enough clean energy to power more than 50,000 homes, while continuing agricultural practices on that land.

Regrettably, with opposition fueled by the County Executive, a majority of Councilmembers adopted two amendments to ZTA 20-01 that are so restrictive that the proposal may result in very little if any solar.

As a result, I voted “no,” because I am concerned that rather than a small step forward for Montgomery County, it may be a large step backward for Maryland. Consider these words from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which along with the Sierra Club and Poolesville Green strongly supported the original plan:

Clean energy has to go somewhere. If liberal Montgomery County can’t reach a sensible compromise policy, imagine the push back from Republican county and state elected leaders who think climate change is a hoax anyway.

We should be leading. Our county has adopted climate goals. We declared a “climate emergency.” We have conducted studies on how to reduce our carbon footprint. At the end of the day though, the only way to make a difference is to make policy changes, and changes will require disruption to the status quo.

Yes, many incumbent farmers and preservationists were opposed, due to impacts on their business models (shifting from commodity crops to agrivoltaics, solar grazing, or pollinator-friendly habitats on that portion of land) or a perceived threat that allowing solar is a step to allowing residential or other development (just a fear, not a reality).

There are reasonable questions about how we transition to a clean energy economy. One idea I offered was to use tax revenue from solar arrays to support additional agricultural preservation, grants to help small farmers purchase or lease land, and funds to support agrivoltaic and solar grazing. Nevertheless, under this plan, farming would continue, the Reserve would endure. Frankly not much would seem all that different but we would have made a huge impact on our carbon emissions.

Other choices that we have before us are far more costly, either financially to taxpayers or to businesses or homeowners. This is one of a very few ideas that does not actually require County funds — in fact it would generate millions in new county revenue that could be devoted to the climate agenda while creating new clean energy and solar grazing jobs.

Some of the important points to remember about this proposal include:

  1. Solar fields would have been limited each to 2MW in power generation, about 10-15 acres per property maximum (in contrast to portrayals of “industrial solar”)
  2. Total acreage allowed would have been limited to 1,800 out of the 100,000+ acre reserve, which itself is one-third of all land in the County
  3. Grazing sheep on pollinator-friendly plants beneath the arrays was encouraged and could have been incentivized with new tax revenue from the solar arrays
  4. Solar grazing and agrivoltaics would increase local food production in the Reserve — less than 1% of the land in the Agricultural Reserve today is farmed for fruits and vegetables destined for local farmers markets
  5. Rooftop and parking lot solar, while important, is significantly more expensive than ground-mounted or terrestrial solar fields, which is why you don’t see enough of it
  6. There is nothing more important to saving the climate than creating cheap clean energy
  7. By only allowing “community solar” installations on the land, energy companies taking advantage of the program would be required to offer discounted energy subscriptions to low income residents

The Council majority acknowledged that they are not sure if their proposal will result in new solar projects and that we should return to the topic in two years to evaluate progress.

In that respect, while I am disappointed in the final vote, I am also grateful that we have now opened up the possibility of farms providing community solar (which was previously entirely prohibited; now is mostly prohibited) and I am committed to growing that potential in the future as a necessary public benefit from our Agricultural Reserve.

In the meantime, while it is clear that the original proposal has overwhelming support from voters, we need to build grassroots support, and in particular, we need to educate residents about the primacy of clean energy and the social justice value of community solar.

To be continued.

Sincerely,
Hans

*****

Now let’s consider Elrich’s statement, issued on February 25.

*****

Dear Friends:

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday voted to adopt changes to the County zoning code that will provide opportunities for locating solar collection systems in the Agricultural Reserve. I extend my thanks to the seven Councilmembers who found common ground that allows for community solar projects while protecting our agricultural resources.

Zoning Text Amendment 20-01 strikes the right balance between the need for renewable energy and the equally important need to protect the Agricultural Reserve’s unique and vital contributions to local food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.

The new standards allow solar collection systems generating up to two megawatts of power as a conditional use on the lesser productive soils in the Ag Reserve. Other provisions protect streams, wetlands, steep slopes greater than 15 percent and forests.

In addition, the areas under the arrays must be used for farming or agricultural purposes. Examples include pollinator-friendly designation, agrivoltaic plantings or crops suitable for grazing farm animals. Another significant change affects property owners who install smaller solar systems to serve their individual energy needs, increasing the amount of on-site energy they can produce from 120 to 200 percent.

The County Council also mandated a formal review process to assess the outcomes of these changes in two years. This will give us the opportunity to observe whether and how this experiment will work, especially regarding the emerging field of agrivoltaics, which focuses on the co-development of land for both solar power and agriculture.

In the meantime, my administration continues to prioritize increased solar energy production in innovative ways. For example, we are currently planning the installation of a six-megawatt array on the County-owned site of an old landfill. We also are looking at ways to incentivize solar projects on existing parking lots and buildings elsewhere throughout the County. These types of projects are essential to our efforts to address climate change through clean energy solutions.

I deeply appreciate the work of all those involved in this year-long review, most especially members of, and advocates for, the farming community and Executive Department staff members. The Ag Reserve, established by prescient County leaders more than 40 years ago, is recognized as a national model of farmland and open space preservation. Its importance and significance grow with each passing year as we witness the effects of climate change on our food and water supplies. The legislation adopted by County Council embodies the need for protecting this resource while allowing us to see whether agriculture and solar systems can co-exist in a mutually beneficial way in Montgomery County.

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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Riemer Attacks the Police Union

By Adam Pagnucco.

Several months ago, Council Member Hans Riemer requested that the council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) research the county’s administration of its collective bargaining agreements with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 (FOP). OLO’s report was a stunner, revealing that the county’s sloppiness resulted in different sets of collective bargaining agreements being regarded as definitive by the two parties and that the agreements contained benefit levels exceeding maximums set in law. When OLO briefed the council on the report on Tuesday, multiple council members expressed concerns about the issue. But Riemer outdid them all with a brutal attack on the police union.

A bit of background. When Riemer was first elected to the council in 2010, he was supported by all three county employee unions (MCGEO, the Fire Fighters and the FOP) as well as the two largest MCPS unions (MCEA and SEIU Local 500). While the MCPS unions continued to endorse him, none of the county employee unions endorsed him in his next two reelection campaigns.

Over the years, Riemer’s relationship with the county employee unions has gradually deteriorated. He’s not alone – majorities of the county council voted to abrogate one or more of their collective bargaining agreements in 2016, 2019 and 2020. But the intensity of union sentiment has focused more on Riemer than his colleagues, culminating with a picket of Riemer’s home last May.

The FOP is particularly incensed with Riemer owing partly to his actions over the past two years. During the current term, Riemer has lead-sponsored three bills disliked or outright despised by the union, including legislation to establish a police advisory commission, reduce the union’s collective bargaining rights and prohibit school resource officers. The OLO report on collective bargaining, which was requested by Riemer, prompted a furious response from the FOP. The end result was that when the council first discussed the OLO report in public, Riemer held nothing back.

I may have a comment about the merits of Riemer’s criticisms in a future column, but for now let’s hear what he had to say. The following is a transcription of his remarks at the council briefing on February 2.

Council Member Hans Riemer: I think what you see here is the result of an organization, which is our police department, frankly being under siege for 25 years from a hyper-aggressive legal adversary that uses every means at its disposal to gain control. And I think it’s very reasonable to separate our strong support for our officers who need our support. They need to know that we are there for them, we will equip them, we will train them, we will fund their salaries – at the same time, not having a dynamic where the legal advocacy of that organization takes over the department, which I think has unfortunately happened in so many different ways.

And if you saw the letter to the editor from the FOP to the Bethesda Beat over the weekend, I thought it was shocking. You know, they actually said nowhere in county collective bargaining law does it say that a third party or the county council need to be able to decipher all collective bargaining documents. Put yourself in a mindset to be able to write those words, that the public has no right to know or need to know what is in our governing documents. That is the mindset that we are dealing with. And it is a huge problem.

So we need to tackle the many consequences of this in discipline, we see this playing out, officers committing egregious offenses, sitting on payroll for year after year after year, and there’s legislation that Council Member Rice and I, co-sponsored by Council Member Jawando, Council Member Navarro, have introduced that will address a lot of the root causes of these problems. And I would really like the county council public safety chair and committee to review that legislation. It’s been before the council for months. It has not had a meeting. We need to review that legislation and have a discussion about it. The fact that the use of force policy is now being bargained despite our clear intention is problematic.

*****

Note: That last sentence from Riemer refers to legislation passed by the council last August that codified a use of force policy for the county police department. Both Riemer and Council Member Will Jawando claimed that it is now being bargained despite its presence in county law, which supersedes county collective bargaining agreements.

(Disclosure: I was Riemer’s Chief of Staff from 2010 through 2014. I have worked for labor unions but have never worked for the FOP.)

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Corporate MoCo Council Adopts Supply-Side Economics

The Montgomery County Council talks a good game when it comes to progressive politics, but their policy choices are straight out of the corporate conservative Republican playbook.

Consider their most recent action to lower impact fees that pay for public services, like schools, on development.

Heeding calls by Empower Montgomery (which advertised being founded by David Blair until he ran for county executive), the Council is eliminating moratoria on development required by law due to the county’s failure to provide public services needed for existing residents in these areas. The Council didn’t solve the problem providing the public services needed to meet legal requirements but by simply eliminating the moratoria.

In the past, councilmembers have argued against moratoria on the grounds that the impact fees from new development are vital to providing these services. No one has trumpeted this line more strongly than the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee Chair Hans Riemer.

In an October email blast, Riemer justified the Council’s last corporate welfare giveaway (eliminating real estate developments on WMATA property from property taxes for 15 years) by pointing to the impact fees they will generate:

These projects generate more construction jobs and more one-time revenue for the County, such as impact tax revenue that can be used to add school and transportation capacity.

Now, the Council has voted substantial cuts to the impact fees that they touted as the reason to eliminate the moratoria and pass the property tax giveaway for developers. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but this nevertheless remains an impressive feat of quick dumping down the memory hole.

The Council’s decision sounds like straight supply-side economics. It contends that reducing impact fees will result in more development. If they believe that this will result in an impact tax gusher, it’s the exact same fantasy that fueled massive deficits under Reagan, Bush and Trump, when tax cuts for the wealthy did not swell the nation’s coffers. Otherwise, they are bringing in more people who will require services but leaving the county even less equipped to pay for needed infrastructure.

The Council has conveniently left the decision as to what cuts should be made due to revenue reduction to County Executive Marc Elrich. They’ll lay the blame for the fall in revenue and cuts at his door even though their policies will cause the problem.

Elrich vetoed the bill despite unanimous Council support. As they vote to override it and further starve public infrastructure, the Council will cast Elrich’s fiscally responsible decision simultaneously as far-left crazy and anti-affordable housing.

During his ten years on the Council, Hans Riemer has cast himself as the leader of efforts to provide affordable housing. He vilifies Marc Elrich’s policies as the source of the problem. Yet it’s Riemer and his allies, like two-three-term Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, who pushed this supply-side legislation, who have long been running the policy show in this area.

That hasn’t stopped them from regularly declaring current policy a failure to justify their latest idea. Obliviously, the Council regularly passes new legislation that Anderson, Riemer and friends claim will address the lack of affordable housing while simultaneously lamenting the continuing decline of affordable housing.

But don’t let the rest of the Council off the hook either. It voted to raise your property taxes while cutting those on favored developers (Councilmembers Hucker and Jawando opposed the latter). And all voted to reduce impact fees even though they all ran on improving public services.

Supported by monied interests, this show has been running for a long time. The Council gift wraps another tranche of money to wealthy interests that lobby for it in the gauzy rhetoric of affordable housing and social justice. The policy failure is then used to justify the next giveaway. Recycle and repeat.

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Council Drops the Other Purple Penny

We already know that the Purple Line is going to be massively delayed and way over budget. The Montgomery County Council inadvertently revealed just before the election that it also won’t bring the promised economic or housing benefits.

The Council voted 7-2 to heap new tax incentives on developers in order to make project happen around Grosvenor-Strathmore and other Red Line Metro stations in the County. Metro carries more passengers than the Purple Line and Grosvenor-Strathmore is a desirable location for development, as are several other Red Line locations.

If we need to give developers gobs of money to make development happen at these locations, the same will surely be true at Purple Line stations. Yet the Purple Line wasn’t sold that way. Land has been upzoned around all the Purple Line stations and we were told that development would follow.

No one mentioned the need for massive subsidies once the Purple Line was built. On the contrary, we were promised that development around these stations would help fill the county’s coffers even as it produced more housing and economic development around the stations. Turns out that’s not the case.

The only place where development is planned or underway is at Chevy Chase Lake. Unfortunately, this appears to be the only place where the economics make sense. We’ve paid literally billions to subsidize one economic development. The lobbying by the Chevy Chase Land Company paid off. For them.

So add the cost of huge development subsidies to the Purple Line tab.

The major advocates of the Purple Line have a lot to explain, but perhaps at the top of the list among the current county leadership are County Councilmember Hans Riemer and Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson. Hans Riemer was a former leader of Purple Line Now before joining the Council and has continued to advocate relentlessly for the project, as has his good friend, Casey Anderson, on the Planning Board.

Both present themselves as certain of the solutions to the region’s transit and housing problems. Even ignoring the out-of-control costs and massive delays, and I don’t know why we should, they heavily touted the housing and economic development benefits of the Purple Line. Neither Riemer nor Anderson ever explained that we would need to heap subsidies on top of the transit costs to make the housing and economic benefits happen.

Though they are far from alone in needing to shoulder blame, rather than being an economic cash cow, the Purple Line has now metastasized into the monorail episode from the Simpsons. Only it’s a lot less funny to be living it.

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Council Must Sustain Elrich’s Veto of Corporate Welfare

On a 7-2 vote, the Montgomery County Council approved a bill that would completely exempt real estate developments on WMATA property from property taxes for 15 years. Councilmembers Tom Hucker and Will Jawando voted against. The Council should sustain County Executive Marc Elrich’s veto of this corporate welfare masked as a social justice housing project.

This bill is such a bad idea that one hardly knows where to begin.

Proponents of transit endlessly sell the considerable funding required for it as the motor for development and smart growth that not only attracts jobs but increases land values and property tax revenues. We are told “if you build it, they will come.” Now, these same people tell us that they won’t come unless we “incentivize” (read: pay) them.

Even stranger, we are to pay these incentives to build high-priced apartments in desirable locations with very little extra affordable housing thrown in above normal requirements. I understand establishing enterprise zones with lower taxes in struggling neighborhoods, but Grosvenor-Strathmore and other Red Line stops don’t fit the bill.

Councilmember Andrew Friedson (D-1) has been quite aggressive in trying to sell Councilmember Hans Riemer’s bill:

None of the WMATA sites are being developed and developers with Joint Development Agreements are walking away all over the region, due to unique infrastructure requirements on these sites, high costs of high-rise construction, etc.

These sites currently collect ZERO property tax, generate ZERO housing, and provide virtually no public benefits aside from surface parking. I view that as an abject public failure, but respect anyone who prefers this status quo.

Multiple fiscal analyses have demonstrated both that high-rise projects don’t work without the incentive and that the Grosvenor project in particular would generate more revenue to the County in impact and income taxes than the property tax abatement (which the county wouldn’t otherwise receive without a project).

Councilmember Friedson argues we need to step up our corporate welfare game to compete when we shouldn’t even play this game. His argument also ignores that demand for homes in Frederick or Fairfax is based on other factors that far outweigh tax incentives linked to individual projects.

The uniqueness of the site argument fails to impress as somehow many buildings have been constructed around the whole region, indeed the whole country, around transit and difficult sites without the magic of tax incentives. (Manhattan exists!) I’m sure WMATA, developers and their supporters on the Council are happy to produce analyses showing otherwise, just as they always have in support of public spending on their agenda.

The incentives are a roundabout subsidy to WMATA. When we establish tax incentives the land becomes more valuable, so WMATA raises the price and recoups much of it. So it’s not even clear what share of this supposedly badly needed incentive the developers will see.

This tax giveaway also won’t increase the housing stock. When it’s built, Councilmembers Riemer and Friedson will point to it and say, “look what we did!” Except there will be another nearby project that didn’t happen because you’ve already pre-satisfied any demand with this one. Montgomery has plenty of land zoned for housing and buildings.

Councilmember Friedson also neglects to mention that the building will not have a zero cost to the county. Providing county services will cost money but Montgomery will receive a lot less than normal to cover those costs.

Andrew Friedson has been touted with much hope, including here, as the Council’s bright new economic light. If he wants to live up to this promise, he needs to shift his focus fast from this old-style ineffective developer welfare to more original ideas to attract commercial business to Montgomery.

The bill reflects Councilmember Hans Riemer’s long-term approach over several terms to housing, which has long dominated the Council. Unfortunately, it has had far more success in pleasing monied interests than it has accomplished in producing affordable housing. No doubt it also pleases David Blair’s developer-heavy crowd.

Councilmember Nancy Navarro has presented herself as second to none as a champion for social justice. She has stood up unflinchingly for often abused undocumented immigrants to the frequent dismay of their opponents around the State. Here, she argued that the Council needed to “be bold” and support this bill.

Except there is nothing remotely new, let alone bold, about giving a tax subsidy to developers. Speeding the production of high-priced apartments strikes me as the opposite of social justice.

I cannot help but wonder why this proudly progressive Council is focused on this legislation at this time when so many county residents are facing far more immediate and desperate problems. Even managing the day to day is still far from ordinary.

Charter Amendment A on Property Taxes

The crowning insult of this legislation is its juxtaposition with County Charter Amendment A. The short version is that the Council majority is now proposing to collect more in property taxes from ordinary residents even as it engages in this tax giveaway that has no valid economic or public purpose.

Charter Amendment A garners support from many because the current property tax system is not ideal for a variety of reasons (not the subject of this post). It effectively asks voters to loosen the very tight tax corset (it can only rise with the rate of inflation) so that the county can collect more if property values rise, as would likely happen now if the measure passes. It’s a tough ask at a time when many have seen incomes drop. One can argue that it is necessary when so many are in need.

But it is insupportable for the majority of the Montgomery County Council to offer a tax holiday to developers while increasing the take from ordinary citizens. It’s not progressive. It’s not liberal. It’s just bad economic policy wrapped in gaudy rhetoric that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It goes against this county’s good government traditions.

County Executive Elrich was right to veto this bad bill. The Council should vote to uphold his veto tomorrow.

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That Day When Our County Exec Had to Explain Economics to the Council in a Veto Message

Yesterday, Montgomery County Executive issued the first veto of his administration. It was of a major tax giveaway bill to developers — the county would likely lose over $400 million in revenue according to Elrich — passed in the name of sparking additional housing development around Metro.

My favorite part of the veto message in where Elrich, a progressive often accused of being an impractical lefty by opponents, explained the economics of these sorts of tax subsidies:

Under Federal law, WMATA must seek the highest and best price for their land. Land that is exempted from all property taxes for 15 years is more valuable because the calculation of its value includes the costs to acquire and develop, including taxes, weighed against market rents. If two properties are side by side, one exempt from taxes and the other not, and they were producing the same value of unit, the land value of the exempt property would be greater because its cost of development would be less than the cost to develop the tax-paying property. This would, in turn, likely raise the parcel’s appraised value. The Bill could potentially be counterproductive by raising the value of WMATA’s land.

Put another way, by reducing the tax burden, all the county has done is make WMATA’s land more valuable and increased the amount that they can charge for it. They will capture that value in the sale price of the land with Montgomery County taxpayers, who already heavily subsidize WMATA, having footed the bill.

They say you can’t get something for nothing. But if you’re not careful, you can get nothing for something. Or, at P.T. Barnum put it, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

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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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