Wednesday, September 25, 2019

On zoning changes to produce housing across Takoma Park

The following is comment I sent to Takoma Park City Council members, given their September 25, 2019 discussion of Takoma Park's Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan.


Mayor Stewart, Councilmembers,

I'm glad to see work advancing on Takoma Park's Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan.

I note that one of the plan's three thematic points is that the City should "Produce more housing and opportunities for local businesses to start and grow across the income spectrum and in neighborhoods across the City to meet the diverse housing and economic needs." One strategy within the first objective of the Produce thematic point is "changes in allowable use or zoning may be considered as a way to accomplish this."

For the city to produce more housing "in neighborhoods across the City," zoning and land-use reform must be a central strategy. In neighborhoods such as my own Ward 1 neighborhood -- and especially in our historic district -- the only way to create housing, "across the income spectrum" in particular, is by allowing conversion of existing single-unit housing stock to multi-unit buildings and, in certain locations, the creation of new multi-unit apartment buildings.

I wrote about this in a January, 2019 article in Greater Greater Washington, "Montgomery County needs more homes. Here’s how it can ‘densify’ with little disruption." (https://ggwash.org/view/70533/montgomery-county-can-densify-housing-with-little-disruption.) Recent Montgomery County Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) reforms were a step in the right direction, but they're far from enough.

Would you please study zoning changes that would allow greater residential density in Takoma Park, "in neighborhoods across the City," and ways to implement them? This study should account for possibilities that include creation of new housing -- preferably as part of mixed-use development -- at locations that include the Washington Adventist Hospital campus, the Washington-McLaughlin property, and locations along New Hampshire Avenue and University Blvd.

Implementation approaches would include creation of a new Takoma Park overlay zone that modifies the rules for properties zoned for Residential Detached construction, including R-60 and R-40 zones. This overlay zone would be different from the existing Takoma Park/East Silver Spring (TPESS) commercial revitalization overlay zone, which covers only selected non-residential areas in the city. Montgomery Planning and the Montgomery County Council would consider legislation to create this overlay zone if the City of Takoma Park requested it.

I suggest also studying whether modifications to Historic Preservation guidelines and decision processes to facilitate the city's achieving its goals are feasible. If one focuses on form rather than use, and on modernization steps that create resilience that protects our historic resources, they should be. As part of this study, please look at changes that would facilitate progress toward the city's Climate Emergency goals. Historic preservation does not intrinsically impede progress.

The second Produce objective of the Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan lists a strategy point that mentions master planning efforts. I note that the Takoma Park Master Plan was last revised in 2000 (https://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/communities/area-1/takoma-park/). The normal revision cycle for area master plans is 15-20 years, so we're due for a rewrite. This would be a multi-year, systematic process that would be the formal way to come to a recommendation to change or add an overlay zone for the area (not that that couldn't be done outside the master plan process). Please evaluate whether it's time to ask Montgomery County and MNCPPC to consider a Takoma Park Master Plan rewrite, which would take into account conditions and priorities that have evolved very significantly over the last two decades.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Seth Grimes