Council Passes Zoning Change To Increase Affordable Housing in County

Developers may build more market-rate units if more than 15 percent of a project is affordable units

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The Montgomery County Council passed a zoning text amendment Tuesday aimed at increasing the amount of affordable housing in the county in exchange for providing developers with extra density for multifamily housing projects .

The bill to amend county zoning rules, sponsored by council member Nancy Floreen, requires that in some parts of the county , developers will be rewarded for building housing projects with 15 percent or more of housing units designated as moderately priced (MPDUs). In exchange, the developers will be entitled to more than 22 percent bonus density for their projects, based on a formula outlined in the bill. Previously, the county required that 12.5 percent of housing units in a proposed project be designated as MPDUs, and the amount of bonus density was capped at 22 percent . The bill does not apply to the Bethesda overlay zone.

“I am delighted that the council has embraced this approach so that we can create more homes for residents of modest means. The demand for affordable places to live is breathtaking. I am confident that this change to our zoning law will help,” Floreen, who serves as chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee and also is running for county executive, said in a press release.

MDPUs were introduced in the county during the early 1970s as a mechanism for incorporating affordable housing into large, dense development projects. Bonus density is awarded based on how many affordable units are built as a way to offset the cost of MPDUs and help pay for market-rate units.

Jeff Zyontz, a senior legislative analyst with the council, said the bill commits developers to building more affordabile units, with the opportunity for more market-rate units in return.

Zyontz added that for projects in wealthier places in the county, county zoning rules already require 15 percent of units to be MPDUs. That change was the result of a bill sponsored by council President Hans Riemer and approved by the council last summer.

The passage of the zoning amendment follows another change to the county’s affordable housing program that the council also approved last summer. The new law, also sponsored by Floreen, required developers of small projects of between 11 and 19 homes to make payments to the county’s Housing Initiative Fund and changed the methods by which the department of housing and community affairs calculates the required amount of affordable housing. That figure is now based on the proposed square footage of a project instead of the proposed number of units.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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