2021 | Government

Council committee tweaks housing chapter of Thrive Montgomery 2050

Riemer, county’s housing director disagree on goals

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The County Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee met Monday to review and tweak the “Affordable and Attainable Housing: More of Everything” chapter of Thrive Montgomery 2050. Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the county’s proposed update to the Wedges and Corridors Plan, which originated in the 1960s.

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A County Council committee on Monday made some minor changes to a controversial part of Thrive Montgomery 2050: How the county should address its housing goals.

Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee members, their staff and and the planning staff reviewed the “Affordable and Attainable Housing: More of Everything” chapter in the plan.

That chapter states that county officials need to build more housing than in recent years to keep up with overall population growth. That housing can be of all types, the plan says: “tiny houses, cottages, duplexes, multiplexes, and small apartment buildings; shared housing, cohousing, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), social housing and cooperative housing.”

It also urges officials to seek more opportunities to increase residential density where appropriate, like along major corridors, and adopt more flexible regulations to allow more infill development and redevelopment and reuse of office parks, shopping malls and other similar properties. 

Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the county’s proposed update to the Wedges and Corridors Plan, which originated in the 1960s and was last updated in 1993.

The Wedges and Corridors plan included how growth should occur along major road corridors in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Now, with how much the region has grown, Thrive Montgomery focuses on just Montgomery County.

Committee Chair Hans Riemer and Council Members Will Jawando and Andrew Friedson mostly agreed with the changes proposed by the council and planning staffs at a meeting on Monday. 

They discussed the different types of housing, including “social housing.” Riemer said that term appears to describe an actual building type in the plan, when it is actually an idea of how to build particular communities with both affordable and market rate housing.  

Riemer said the corridor of the Purple Line — a 16-mile light-rail line planned between Bethesda and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County — is a great example of where “social housing” should be considered. 

“I really would like to see the county adopt that vision for that area, so that we’re expressing that it’s going to be an economic driver and that it’s going to be a place of growing prosperity,” Riemer said. “And at the same time, there is a vision of how it will be permanently inclusive.”

Multiple times, committee members, the council staff and the planning staff said the proposals in Thrive Montgomery 2050 are “visionary” recommendations and not policies that will become law if the plan is passed.

County Executive Marc Elrich has been opposed to much of the current version of Thrive Montgomery 2050, arguing that it does not do enough to bring more affordable housing units to the county and that it will not lead to the job creation that its proponents claim.

Aseem Nigam, the director the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said he was concerned that there were not enough “teeth” in the plan to encourage more affordable housing units to be built.

Nigam was concerned that the plan focuses a lot on market rate housing and middle housing but not as much on affordable housing, which is sorely needed in the county.

Riemer, who is running against Elrich in the Democratic primary for county executive next year, disagreed.

“I just can’t agree at all that the general plan that we’re considering in Thrive Montgomery 2050 … doesn’t speak forcefully to affordable housing,” Riemer said. “I mean, we’ve been talking about affordable housing all day.”

Broadly, the housing chapter in the plan states that current affordable housing units need to be preserved and that more affordable units must be built to keep up with demand.

Overall, though, Thrive Montgomery 2050 states various housing types must be built to keep up with demand.

“The construction of a wider variety of sizes and types of housing and a focus on affordability and attainability will help diversify the mix of incomes in neighborhoods across the county, improving access to services, amenities, and infrastructure for low- and moderate-income residents, who are disproportionately people of color,” the plan reads.

Near the end of the meeting, Friedson cautioned that although Elrich and council members disagree on Thrive Montgomery and future planning for the county, it’s important to recognize that it is a visionary document, not concrete policy.

“The idea that you would add teeth to something that is a vision is incongruent,” Friedson said. 

The PHED Committee is nearing the end of its work with Thrive Montgomery. Pamela Dunn, a senior legislative analyst for the County Council, said the committee could finalize its version by the end of October and send it to the full council. 

The County Council would have roughly a month-and-a-half, a tight time frame, if it wants to finalize and vote on the plan before its winter recess, Dunn said.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com