High-End Condos in the Quarry?

High-End Condos in the Quarry?

Developer wants to buy out of requirements to build 13 affordable units.

Right now, it’s just a bunch of rocks, but within a few years, Stoneyhurst Quarry may be home to 97 “boutique condominiums.”

The 13.3-acre site is on River Road near the intersection with Seven Locks Road, next to Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Station. Its development is addressed directly in the Potomac Master Plan, and the development plan which has been submitted on behalf of Bill Rickman, owner of the land, conforms to the Master Plan’s guidelines.

Some residents, however, are worried about the developer’s plan to “buyout” of the requirement for Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs) or affordable housing.

“We don’t like to see people buy their way out of the requirements for affordable housing,” said George Barnes, president of the West Montgomery County Citizen’s Association.

Potomac is frequently cited for not having its “fair share” of affordable housing units, Barnes said, so he would like to see the affordable units included in projects where they are required (see “No More Buyouts?”).

“Everybody’s concern about putting units out there is such a good thing,” said Tom Brault of Woodside Ventures. Brault is assisting Rickman in developing the quarry.

According to the county’s affordable housing regulations, the project should provide 13 affordable units. In order to qualify for an affordable unit, county residents must make less than $37,000 for an individual or $57,000 for a family of four, said Elizabeth Davidson, head of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The developers would like to include some affordable units in the project, but not at the expense of their 97 market-rate units. “There’s creative ways to address the issue,” Brault said. “We’re hoping to do a blend of buyouts and units.”

Brault wants to buyout of 10 of the required units and build three, but he wants the three to be in addition to the 97 market-rate units.

“If Park and Planning doesn’t allow us on this, we’ll have to buy out of them all,” he said. “We just don’t want to be harmed by it.”

Adding three units is not likely to happen, said Callum Murray, team leader for Potomac at Park and Planning. “They can’t get extra density on top of the 97 units,” Murray said.

Buying out of the required number of MPDUs does not mean that the developer is allowed to build additional market-rate units in their stead, Murray said.

The neighboring development of River Hill has 101 market rate units and 10 affordable units on just over 12 acres, Brault said.

He said that since the quarry project will involve fewer units, and more open space on a larger plot of land, that they should be allowed to have the extra density. “Give us the same ratio that you gave River Hill,” Brault said.

“[The Developer’s] already gotten extra density,” Murray said.

The Planning Board has yet to rule on the proposal.

The location is a reasonable place for a buyout, said Davidson, because the $1,400 per month condo fee would likely be prohibitive to any residents whose income level is below the threshold for affordable housing.

Davidson said that there is a law prohibiting charging residents of affordable units a lower fee. “There’s a state law saying you have to charge everyone the same,” she said.

Buyouts do not happen for a set amount.

“Typically what we’re looking for is the land cost,” Davidson said. In the case of a multi-family dwelling, Housing and Community Affairs ties to negotiate a buyout price of about 10 percent of the sale price. In this case, where the developer is projecting the units to sell for $1 million, Davidson hopes to get $100,000 per unit.

She said that the range of money they get for buyouts is so wide that an average per-unit cost for buyouts would be meaningless.

The amount is currently under negotiation.

Also under negotiation is the number of Transfer of Development Rights (see sidebar) which would need to be purchased.

Developers who need to purchase Transfer of Development Rights credits to go forward with a project usually need fewer TDRs if there are affordable units in the project.

“If they don’t build the MPDUs, they don’t get the credit,” Murray said.

Brault says that the developer would be able to carve one of the larger units into three smaller units in order to create the affordable units.

In this way, they would not increase the size of the development but would lose only one market-rate unit instead of three.

This way, the amount of open space is not negatively impacted and the floor area of the project would not increase. “What difference does it make if we do this?” Brault said.

Brault would like to see those affordable units dedicated to “life-safety personnel” like police, firefighters or nurses. These groups, along with teachers, are typically cited in the examples of why affordable housing is needed, they provide services vital to Montgomery County, but often can not afford to live in it.

Additionally, Brault thinks that the project qualifies for the additional units because there is no density bonus included. A density bonus — extra density which translates into more housing units than would normally be allowed — is usually incorporated into projects with affordable housing so the developer does not lose money by providing affordable housing.

“The Master Plan doesn’t allow for bonus density,” Brault said.

The Master Plan does not specifically mention a density bonus for the project. It recommends, “Under the optional method, up to 97 multi-family units (including MPDUs) are permitted.”

The project is still under review. The preliminary plan is expected to come before the Planning Board in the next few months.