To the editor:
On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council will vote on whether to override the county executive’s veto of Bill 29-20, the “More Housing at Metrorail Stations Act.”
The bill only applies to Metro-owned properties. (Metro isn’t selling these properties, just offering a ground lease).
The development has to be at least eight stories and at least 50% residential rental. The residential rental needs to be 15% moderately priced dwelling units. Twenty-five percent of those moderately priced dwelling units need to be affordable to households at 50% or less of the area median income.
Many assume developers need no incentive to build high-rises on Metro property, but the market shows otherwise.
When I asked WMATA if there were any development projects on its property in the last 10 years, I was told that the most recent ones were two residential buildings (Alaire and Terano), completed in 2002 and 2007, at Twinbrook, and Aurora Apartments in 2008 at White Flint.
Metro stations are vast expanses of parking lots, impervious surface, devoid of activity.
Meanwhile, we have a huge housing demand in this county. If we don’t build it here, it will go to other counties. We’ll receive the traffic and greenhouse gas emissions, but not the income taxes.
Currently, the county collects no revenue on WMATA property. This bill extends this status for 15 years to a developer who builds on Metro property — thus, there is no net loss to the county.
In fact, development of the county’s Metro stations will generate fiscal benefits for both Montgomery County and WMATA. There will be less spending on lane miles of road and pipe miles of water and sewer; reduced cost to provide services to compact development (i.e., existing fire/police services, shorter response times); and increased fare revenue from transit users.
The bill provides one-time revenues (impact tax, transfer and recordation). Residents living in the housing will pay personal income taxes.
WMATA forecasts that about 8,600 new housing units could be built — 1,300 of which would be for the county’s affordable housing programs.
This bill moves us toward our environmental, climate change and housing goals.
Transit-oriented development in major activity corridors, with mixed income and affordable housing, takes cars off the road and promotes healthy lifestyles. Given the climate and economic situation we’ve witnessed in 2020, now is a great time to take bold actions to move this county forward.
Slater is a member of the Sierra Club Montgomery County group, but is not speaking on behalf of the organization.
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