Planning Department Supports Changes to Construction Moratorium Policy
Amendment would allow certain projects despite residential building freeze
A change to the county’s moratorium policy that would allow certain, specific projects to proceed despite a residential building freeze has received support from the county Planning Department staff.
An amendment, introduced by County Council members Craig Rice and Hans Riemer, would allow certain projects to skirt moratorium laws and be approved by the county Planning Board if they are projected to yield fewer than 10 new students and either replace a 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.
The Planning Board will discuss the proposed amendment on Thursday and transmit its comments to the Council for consideration. The Planning Board does not have the authority to approve or deny the amendment.
Planning Department staff recommends supporting the amendment because it will apply to only a handful of projects and have “minimal” impact on nearby schools, according to a Planning Board staff report.
“The amendment is estimated to have a limited impact on student enrollment since not many projects will meet the criteria,” according to Planning Department documents. “At the same time, the amendment provides the Planning Board with the opportunity to approve projects that could help advance two worthy goals – eliminating blight within our communities and encouraging the creation of more affordable housing.”
Four school clusters – groups of schools – and eight other individual schools are expected to be placed in a one-year moratorium beginning July 1, meaning no new residential building projects in those areas can be approved because the schools are too crowded to accommodate the new students the projects may generate.
There are now two exceptions under which the Planning Board could approve a development application in an area under moratorium: If the project has a net increase of three or fewer residential units, or if all the project’s units are age-restricted and only available to senior citizens.
Despite the proposed amendment’s potential impact on schools, Planning Department staff says it supports “an important public priority” of encouraging reinvestment and revitalization of “underserved communities,” which can “have long-term benefits beyond the timeframe of a moratorium.”
Planning staff also says that despite data that shows apartment complexes with higher rates of affordable housing generate more new students, they believe it is a “worthy tradeoff” to provide affordable housing in Montgomery County.
“Not only does this amendment demonstrate a balanced approach to achieving policy goals, it provides the Planning Board with the opportunity to do the same at the project level,” Planning Department staff wrote. “While the amendment would allow the Planning Board to approve certain residential projects in areas under moratorium, it does not require the Planning Board to do so.”
A public hearing about the proposed amendment is scheduled for later this month.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org