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Votes

Council to Vote on Housing

Proposed changes to the county’s affordable housing program may be passed by the end of the month.

The Montgomery County Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee is nearing a vote on a proposed changes to the county’s affordable housing program and the full Council hopes to pass legislation before the end of the month.

“I’m interested in getting something enacted by November 30,” said Council President Steve Silverman. “We need to wrap this up before we go on recess.” A full-Council work session on the proposed Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) legislation was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 23, after The Almanac's press deadline and the Council will go on recess following their Nov. 30 meeting — Silverman’s last as Council president.

In August 2003, then-Council President Michael Subin directed Council staff to conduct a comprehensive review of the county's 30-year-old MPDU program, which was started in 1973. The resulting report was released in February of this year. The Councilmembers drafted legislation and the Montgomery County Planning Board met Sept. 9 to make recommendations on the proposed measures. The council heard from the community on the measures in a nearly five hour public hearing Sept. 23.

SILVERMAN MAY WANT TO enact the legislation this month because he is widely thought to be planning a bid for county executive in 2006 and the MPDU changes would be a significant feather in his cap.

The Nov. 15 PHED meeting was the committee’s fifth — it met previously on Oct. 6, Oct. 15, and Oct. 20 and Oct. 29 — and the first in which it seemed to be nearing votes on how to tweak proposals set forth in two competing Council bills and six zoning text amendments (ZTAs) to bring before the full County Council. The committee comprises Councilmembers Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), Marilyn Praisner (D-4) and Steve Silverman (D-At Large).

The committee took testimony from representatives of the Parks and Planning Commission, the Housing Opportunities Commission, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs and consultants from the private sector.

The two-and-a-half-hour meeting was used to address some of the most controversial issues in the proposed legislation: MPDU control periods, buyout provisions, condominium fees, and the minimum subdivision size in which Moderately Priced Dwelling Units would be required.

The committee took tentative straw votes on each of the issues while the Council attorney Michael Fadden and Council staff clarified or added language to different parts of the legislation.

Councilmembers Floreen and Silverman both said they felt that both rental and sale control periods should be increased to 30 years while Councilmember Praisner supported a 99-year control period for rental and the 30-year period for sale.

"What we have been trying to do every way we can think of is put MPDUs in the building," said Elizabeth Davison of the DHCA on the subject of getting the affordable units into luxury high-rise apartment buildings, which has been a challenge due in part to condominium fees that make the living in the units unaffordable.

ONE SOLUTION IS to "unbundle" condominium amenities and relieve the MPDU residents of the cost, but that proposal has met strong opposition. Another suggestion is to spread the condo fees of the MPDU owners among the market-rate unit owners of the building.

The Councilmembers reached a tentative unanimous agreement that developers should be able to "buy out" of the obligation to build affordable units only under limited circumstances when an indivisible package of services would make the MPDU unaffordable. Councilmember Praisner asked staff to add language to the legislation that would allow buyouts when "environmental constraints" would make building the MPDUs environmentally damaging.

The minimum subdivision size requiring MPDUs to be built will probably be 35, as proposed in the legislation, and not reduced to 20 as suggested by the Planning Board. Silverman said that the county needed some experience with the threshold at 35 before evaluating whether to lower it further.

"We want to provide a toolbox of planning options for the planning board and DHCA to use to ensure that MPDUs are in the projects," Silverman said. "You’re not going to have a one size fits all. ... I think we’re starting to reach an understanding of what the options are. "

“I think they’ve made some … changes,” Council Spokesman Patrick Lacefield said. “But the devil is in the details.”