Changes to Building Moratorium Laws Facing Council Review

Changes to Building Moratorium Laws Facing Council Review

Residential construction around three high school clusters could be frozen this summer

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Two Montgomery County Council members want to change a county law that prohibits new residential development if nearby schools are crowded.

Three areas around Albert Einstein High School, Walter Johnson High School and James Hubert Blake High School could be placed a one-year residential building moratorium beginning in July because the schools are at 120% or more of their student capacity, against county law.

The list of school zones under moratorium is reviewed annually and areas added in July will remain in a building freeze until July 2020. A building moratorium is already in place for properties around Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

An amendment to the county’s law, co-sponsored by council members Hans Riemer (D-at large) and Craig Rice, a democrat representing Clarksburg, Damascus and Germantown, would allow certain projects to be approved by the county Planning Board if they are projected to yield fewer than 10 new students and either replace a blighted or condemned structure in or adjacent to a state-designated “opportunity zone” or if more than half of the residences are designated as affordable housing.

Montgomery County has 14 opportunity zones – which allow investors to receive federal tax incentives for projects in the area – and are “areas that most likely have blighted and/or condemned structures that plague a community,” Rice wrote in a memo to Council President Nancy Navarro.

“This (policy) amendment would allow the Planning Board to consider the overall community benefits in allowing development in … these areas to help spur growth and vitality,” Rice wrote.

Along with Blair, the Northwood High School cluster is in moratorium, an area that includes five elementary schools. Other schools are open “conditionally” with planned projects to address crowding.

A public hearing about the proposed amendment is scheduled for June.
“Moratoriums were put in place for a good reason and I do not want to diminish the purpose they serve,” Rice wrote. “This amendment ensures that any new development would not significantly add to the overburden of capacity of schools in moratorium by enacting a strict limit of (10) or less students that any new development might generate.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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