Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2019

Zoning Changes Easing Requirements for Accessory Dwelling Units Under Consideration by Montgomery County

By Sharon Canavan

In January, Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-01, which would liberalize the regulation of Accessory Residential Uses — Accessory Apartments.  If adopted, these changes would make it easier for residents to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property.  Riemer supports these zoning changes as a way to increase the supply of affordable rental housing and promote inter-generational housing.

An ADU is an independent unit with a separate entrance and separate cooking and bath facilities, which can either located within a home (e.g., a basement apartment) or as a separate external unit (e.g., a backyard cottage).  Montgomery County has permitted ADUs as Accessory Apartments since 1983, but required a special exception hearing unless the unit was occupied by a relative or caregiver.  In 2014, the requirements were eased to allow “limited use approval,” so no hearing is necessary for any application that meets the requirements for an ADU (such as size, parking, etc.), although the ADU must still be licensed as a rental unit by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA.)

ZTA 19-01 would allow ADUs as a limited use in areas zone R200, R90, and R60 (the Northwood community is zoned R-60).  Detached ADUs are not currently permitted in these zones, but would be allowed with a setback of as little as 12 feet from the rear lot line and eight feet from side lot line under the proposed measure.  As introduced, the measure would also:

At a public hearing in February, homeowners and organizations raised concerns about adding more density in single-family neighborhoods, inadequate parking, overcrowding in schools, and lack of staffing to enforce compliance with safety requirements.

In mid-April, the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee adopted amendments to ZTA 19-01 to limit the size of an interior unit to 1,200 square feet and to limit a detached ADU to 10 percent of the lot size up to a maximum of 1,200 square feet.  An amendment was also adopted to retain the current requirement to build an additional parking spot, unless the property is less than a mile from a Metro or Purple Line station.  Under current and proposed law, a property with an ADU must be owner-occupied; that is, only the main house or the ADU may be rented, but not both.

After a briefing on ZTA 19-01 at the April NFCCA meeting, members voted to authorize the NFCCA Board to draft a letter to the County Council urging improvements to the proposed bill (ZTA 19-01) and expressing concerns about its shortcomings (such as safety concerns, licensing and inspection requirements, overcrowding, impact on school capacity, and preventing negative impact on neighborhoods), while also emphasizing support for the measure’s stated goal of providing affordable housing.  The Montgomery County Council is expected to take up ZTA 19-01 for further consideration in mid-June.   ■

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