Revised Accessory Apartment Plan Sets Limits on Size

Revised Accessory Apartment Plan Sets Limits on Size

Amendments would also ease restrictions on parking requirements

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The PHED committee discusses accessory apartments at a meeting in March

Dan Schere

The Montgomery County Council’s proposal to allow more accessory dwelling units, sometimes called in-law apartments, has been amended to tighten restrictions on the size of some units and ease parking-space requirements for others.

Since January, the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee has been reviewing a proposal by council member Hans Riemer to increase the number of ADUs in the county by allowing them in three additional residential zones.

An amendment would limit the apartments to 10% of the size of the property, with a maximum of 1,200 square feet.

Additionally, the requirement that the ADU provide an additional parking spot would be waived for units that are within a mile of Metrorail stations or future Purple Line light rail stops, and in Takoma Park.

“As we worked on the proposal we were mindful that homeowners can expand their homes already and frequently do. The committee’s ADU proposal does not increase the amount of space a person can build on their lot. ADUs are subject to the same limits as additions — and in fact they are somewhat more restricted in smaller lot zones under this proposal,” Riemer, the committee chair, wrote in a news release.

Council member Andrew Friedson, who is also a member of the planning committee, said he has brought up the issue of accessory apartments at his weekly community meetings.

“We’ve spent a tremendous amount of effort reaching out to as many folks as possible,” he said.

Friedson said most of the ADUs will be on lots that are smaller than 1 acre, with the three residential zones having minimum lot sizes of 6,000, 9,000 and 20,000 square feet.

“What we’re typically talking about here are smaller than 1 acre lots. What this bill does is it extends the ability to have an detached ADU in a less-than-an-acre lot,” he said.

Friedson said the one-mile rule for the parking waiver doesn’t assume that everyone who lives close to transit will have a car. In the case of the Takoma Park, he said that some ADUs are on properties slightly beyond one mile of a transit line, and city staff had asked for the accommodation.

“Rather than try to overcomplicate it, they have a unique circumstance, and it was carved out accordingly,” he said.

County Executive Marc Elrich has opposed the construction of additional accessory apartments, due to concerns over the possibility of traffic volume increases near transit centers and schools.

Barbara Goldberg Goldman, chairwoman of the annual Affordable Housing Conference of Montgomery County and a member of Elrich’s transition team, said she hopes a compromise is possible between the county executive and council.

“I’m not troubled by it. I just think it warrants more discussion,” she said of Elrich’s opposition.

Goldman said she favors the addition of ADUs, but wants to ensure that they receive proper inspections from the housing department.

“It’s a good tool to add to the toolbox, however ADU owners of units do not get a pass on making sure that the units are safe, affordable and decent,” she said.

Ralph Bennett, the president of Purple Line Now’s board and a co-chair of the affordable housing conference, said adding more ADUs is essential to solving the county’s affordable housing crisis.

“It allows the over housed people, of which there are many, to have a house that’s bigger than they need. Their kids have left, and they could use some financial help to continue to live there. So it’s another unit that they can rent out or use to accommodate a relative or a caregiver, you get another dwelling unit that doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything,” he said.

Bennett said he is concerned about Elrich’s opposition to the ADU proposal, as well as the county executive’s opposition to a proposal to give tax benefits to developers who commit to building 15% of their units as so-called affordable housing. Elrich, Bennett said, is in danger of going back on one of his key campaign pledges.

“I’m just not enthusiastic overall about his position on affordable housing,” he said.

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

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