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Affordable Housing: A Challenging Goal

As the first Master Plan to come before County Council since a new commitment to affordable housing, the Potomac Master Plan is a test case.

While the County Council committee working on Potomac’s Master Plan has supported almost every provision in the final draft of the Plan developed by the Planning Board, the shortage of affordable housing has been a major sticking point. The Council's allegiance to the new Housing Policy makes all undesignated publicly owned land in Potomac fair game.

"Recently, the Council indicated strong support for affordable housing. This is the first Master Plan to come to committee since the Housing Policy was adopted," said Derick Berlage (D-5), chairman of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee. "The gist of this is to make a strong statement to do everything possible to the existing stock of housing."

But providing additional affordable housing in Potomac is difficult because of high land cost, low density and lack of transit service.

In order to provide more affordable housing in the future, the Council discussed sites the County owns as possibilities for generating additional units.

For example, three unused school sites — Brickyard Junior High School, Kendall Elementary School site and the Churchill Elementary School site — will be considered for all possible county uses, including affordable housing.

<mh>Some Here Already

<bt>The subregion has 1,288 of the county's 10,600 affordable housing units under the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program, which requires some affordable housing be included in any new development of more than 49 homes.

As of January 2000, the Potomac subregion also contains approximately 800 of the county's 15,600 government subsidized or mandated affordable housing units.

A fourth unused school site, the heavily wooded Brickyard Road Elementary site was recommended for park acquisition rather than housing because of its topography, because of difficult access around a sharp turn, and because it is located across the street from Rock Run Stream Valley Park. (See story, page xx.)

Other sites that will likely provide some additional affordable housing were the Cabin John Shopping Center, Stoneyhurst Quarry, Fortune Parc, Rock Run Advanced Waste Treatment Site at Avenel, and a site adjacent to Potomac Village, including the Habibi and Srour properties west of Falls Road and north of River Road.

The committee recommended against listing specific sites in the final Master Plan because it did not want to give the impression that sites excluded from any such list would not be considered in the future.

<mh>Deleting Criteria

<bt>The Council's PHED committee — consisting of Berlage, Howard Denis (R-1) and council president Steve Silverman (D-At large) which will make recommendations to the full Council in February — voted 2-1 on Monday, Jan. 28 to take out the following language in the Master Plan:

"Because of the nature of the subregion, not every acceptable site will meet all of these criteria. Ideal locations include sites: in or adjacent to activity center; planned as mixed-use centers; well served by public transportation; convenient to shopping, medical offices and other services and amenities; located in priority funding areas and areas served by public water and sewer."

The Council discussed issues of equity between different county master plans.

"Why are we suggesting as a policy matter where the best places are? Do we require that for any other Master Plan in Montgomery County?" said Silverman. "What other parts in the county have you specifically tried to discourage people?” Denis disagreed.

"That is very important because it puts the idea into relative context; transit use and jobs are two important criteria. Those are criteria that should be retained."

In worksessions held during the summer, the Planning Board discussed the possibility of the 20-acre Brickyard Road Junior High School site, which is currently being used as an organic farm, as a potential site for affordable or elderly housing. It decided that the lack of proximity to transit and to shopping kept it from being an ideal site.

Callum Murray, Potomac team leader of the Master Plan, told the PHED Committee that he and planning staff "don't feel as strongly about” the 20-acre site as they do 8-acre River Falls Elementary School site further down the road.

"The junior high school site is 20 acres, with no trees and is used by farmer. When we looked at it, we thought it would be appropriate for ballfields; there's no sewer there and there has been a lot of interest in it by private schools," said Murray.

Some residents on Brickyard opposed a recreational park on the site, as proposed in the Plan. The County also faces a shortage in soccer and ballfields.

At last week's West Montgomery County Citizens Association meeting, the residents and the board of West Montgomery said they would support the Master Plan if it suggested the use of the site as a "local" rather than "recreational" park.