A developer may soon be able to tear down that house next door and replace it with multifamily apartments or condos and you couldn’t stop it, under the new comprehensive plan labeled Thrive Montgomery 2050. The plan is poised to take effect for much of Montgomery County if the County Council votes to approve it Tuesday.
The council intends to proceed with this vote, notwithstanding the turmoil at the Montgomery County Planning Board that led to the resignation of the entire board last week. Unless homeowners protest between now and the vote, a majority of the council is expected to approve it.
While Thrive doesn’t itself accomplish the rezoning of single-family neighborhoods, it provides the basis for doing so, and amendments to zoning rules are waiting in the wings to implement it.
That means it’s possible that developers could locate duplexes, triplexes or quadplexes (four-unit apartment buildings) on many properties within 1 mile of a Metro or light-rail station, or within a quarter-mile of a “growth corridor” (e.g., Wisconsin, Connecticut, Georgia and New Hampshire avenues; and River, Colesville, Randolph and Veirs Mill roads, among others), according to the recommendations of county planners. Builders could replace homes “as of right,” i.e., without notice or input from neighbors. No requirements for compatibility with the neighborhood would apply. No consideration need be given to strains on street parking, traffic, school capacity, etc.
The new housing would not help meet the acute need in the county for affordable housing; rather, studies have shown that condos would likely sell for at least $850,000 and rents would be comparably high. Instead, helter-skelter multifamily projects would destroy the character of the single-family home neighborhoods that have made Montgomery County such a desirable place to live.
Building apartments in established single-family home neighborhoods is not a sensible way to increase the total number of housing units in the county. Rather, higher-density projects should be planned closer to transit, without ruining single-family home neighborhoods.
County Executive Marc Elrich is strongly lobbying the council against the proposal, but does not have veto power. Yet the council seems determined to plunge ahead and adopt Thrive Montgomery 2050 even though it has given insufficient opportunity for public comment on the final language.
For example, in a recent work session, the council staff stated that it had received comments only from two pro-developer groups. But there had been extensive comments on very similar language in the previous draft. And in a Sept. 19 letter, 32 community groups also urged the council to pause consideration of Thrive Montgomery 2050 to allow additional input on multiple aspects of the proposal.
Concerned residents should contact members of the County Council, both from their districts and the at-large members, to protest adoption of Thrive Montgomery 2050 prior to Tuesday’s vote. The rezoning proposal in its current form lacks significant benefit and threatens significant adverse consequences to our single-family residential neighborhoods. It certainly deserves further study.
Daniel S. Koch is a retired attorney living in Chevy Chase.