Montgomery County weighs changes to zoning in single family neighborhoods to open housing opportunities

The Montgomery County Planning Board has approved an initiative that would allow owners of single-family homes to replace them with duplexes, triplexes and, in some areas, even quadplexes — all as a way to increase housing opportunities in the county.

Montgomery County Planning Director Jason Sartori told WTOP the high price of single-family homes — which average $970,000 in the county — has left many people locked out of homeownership.

“We have very few opportunities for first-time homebuyers, people who might want to downsize on a fixed income,” said Sartori, who added that the county is looking for ways to provide more housing for the “missing middle.”

Sartori says the planning board’s move is needed as the county looks ahead to demographic changes. “Our population is expected to grow by 200,000 people over the next 25 years, and our housing production is just not keeping pace,” Sartori said.

The county’s agricultural reserve — which takes up a large portion of the northwest area of the county — would not be affected by the proposed change. “The areas that are generally the focus of this are inside the Beltway” as well up the Interstate 270 and Route 29 corridors.

Sartori said the quadplexes — homes that could accommodate four families — would be restricted to certain areas called “growth corridors” zoned for single-family homes.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich blasted the move.

In a statement to WTOP, Elrich wrote: “If I had veto power over it, which I don’t, I’d veto it. The idea that you’re going to rezone the entire county, and one-third of the county will see this and you feel no obligation to go to the neighborhoods and neighborhood meetings and hear what people have to say, just astounds me.”

While the five-member planning board approved the initiative, the proposal has to go before the Montgomery County Council for approval. The council’s Planning, Housing and Parks Committee will get a briefing on the plan on June 24, Sartori said.

Sartori said that “there’s nothing that requires that they be owner-occupied or that they can’t be renter-occupied.” But he added, the initiative addresses the issue of housing equity, allowing more families to gain homeownership and create “generational wealth.”

Looking ahead to the June 24 briefing before the council committee, Sartori said the council could take an “a la carte” approach. “I’m confident that the council will certainly move on some of this, and the way that we’ve packaged this, they can pick and choose among the recommendations.”

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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