Lawmaker wants to boost building high-rises at Montgomery County Metro stations

A Montgomery County, Maryland, lawmaker believes that high-rise buildings near Metrorail stations could be the answer to the housing needs in the county.

At-Large Council member Hans Riemer said Bill 29-20 aims to spur development around Metro stops.

“We want tall buildings on top of Metro stations, we’re just not getting them,” he said.

Several developers have looked into but backed out of leasing land and building at Metro stations at stops in White Flint and Grosvenor-Strathmore, according to Riemer.

The cost of building safely over operating stations and a need to replace parking lots with garages are just some of the big-dollar reasons developers have decided not to go through with the projects, Riemer said.

“The facts of the matter seem to be pretty clear — the market is just not working. We’ve got to do something that’s more fundamental to try to get this going and accelerate the delivery of all this housing that we so badly need,” Riemer said.

He believes that incentivizing developers to build high-rises could bring more than 8,600 additional housing units to the county. Those buildings would also include affordable housing, he added.

The benefits of the projects wouldn’t stop there. “We can have a climate solution, and a housing solution, and an economic development solution all rolled into one,” Riemer said.

His plan would offer developers, who agree to build the tall buildings, a 15-year break on paying annual property taxes. Riemer, who is also the chair of the Montgomery County Council Housing Committee, said developers would still pay other fees, and those who live in the high-rise would bring in income tax revenue and property tax revenue.

Not offering incentives and waiting for development at stations will cost the county lots of new housing options, according to Riemer.

“It could come, but it might be 15 or 20 years before it comes,” he said.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are choosing options other than public transportation due to concerns of catching the virus, which, Riemer said, is concerning; but he is hopeful people will return to transit ridership.

“We need to continue pressing forward to the future that we have envisioned; it is still going to be the one that we want,” he said.

Many of the county’s Metro stations provide parking spaces for commuters, and if high-rises go up, it will be up to Metro to decide how much available parking would remain.

The bill is expected to be introduced to the council on July 28.

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