Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Builders, residents to testify at hearings
Legislation on homebuilding will set new standards
by Audrey Dutton | Staff Writer
Business Gazette - Gaithersburg,MD,USA
Montgomery County homeowners looking to build additions or new homes and neighbors looking to thwart McMansions will be able to make their cases in the next week as county planners and the County Council hold public hearings on legislation that sets new standards for homebuilding.
The legislation sponsored by County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac reflects recommendations from an ‘‘infill development” task force of builders, architects, residents and county planning staff that Berliner convened last year in response to residential teardowns and rebuilds in Montgomery County.
The legislation is set to go before the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee July 21.
The zoning text amendment that Berliner introduced in April and that residents can comment now on, limits house size and height based on its lot size instead of based on the zone in which it is built. The ordinance also uses increments of square footage to set guidelines for how much of a lot can be covered by a house, reduces the height limit in most single-family residential lots of 20,000 or more square feet and changes the way house setback limits are established. It also excludes certain architectural elements, such as porches and bay windows from lot coverage measurements.
The proposal requires a clear, codified method of calculating sloping lots. It mandates neighbor notification of home demolition and rebuild projects, and requires builders to review neighborhood construction guidelines. The regulations would be effective 20 days after council adoption.
‘‘I want to make sure everyone understands what the bill says. It’s somewhat confusing to people because it’s written in a way that doesn’t really bring to light the true unintended consequences,” said Larry Cafritz, a Bethesda-based builder. ‘‘When I testify, it’s basically to bring the facts to light so that people, especially the council members, understand what they’re voting for.”
Homeowners who may want to put additions on their houses ‘‘might not be able to do that after this passes,” he argued.
Cafritz said he is ‘‘not strictly opposed to this bill; I think there are some good points to it.”
Excluding porches from lot coverage was ‘‘an excellent part to this bill,” he said.
‘‘The thing I wish they would allow would be one-story additions being exempt from the bill, because one-story additions are not mansions, you know?” he said.
Cafritz offered an example to illustrate the facts as he intends to lay them out during his testimony. A homeowner with a 9,000-square-foot lot, he said, would be allowed 26 percent lot coverage according to the legislation. With a 500-square-foot garage on the property, a homeowner could live in a house with a 1,840-square-foot footprint.
‘‘That’s a pretty small footprint for an updated home,” he said.
Task force member Len Simon, of the Edgemoor neighborhood, said he will testify before the council in support of the legislation.
When asked if he would like to see the legislation amended in any way, he said, ‘‘No.”
He said task force members understood that Berliner’s intention was to develop legislation that would likely scale down ‘‘certain very large houses in smaller lots in older neighborhoods.”
Neighborhood association representatives were very pleased with the end result, he said. But he acknowledged that the building community wants changes made to the legislation as the council considers it.
They are ‘‘certainly open to improvements, suggestions and new ideas, particularly if any of those enhancements can bring about greater support for neighborhood compatibility,” he said.
Mimi Brodsky Kress of Sandy Spring Builders and chair of a builders’ group called Renewing Montgomery said the 20-day period between council adoption and effective date was her top concern, contrasted with Simon’s opinion that there would be ‘‘sufficient transition time.”
‘‘Someone who’s put in six months designing a project needs enough time to reverse course if their property is affected,” she said.
Brodsky Kress said it felt like another setback during a time when the housing market is crunched.
Berliner’s district, which includes Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Friendship Heights, North Bethesda, Potomac and Somerset, easily claims the majority of home building projects.
‘‘This is not some little bill here. This is going to be affecting an enormous number of people in enormous ways, and the public needs to understand the facts of this bill,” Cafritz said. ‘‘It’s important that they know this is a sweeping zoning change that we haven’t seen maybe in the history of this county.”
Legislation, memos on the proposal and related information on infill development is posted at www.montgomerycountymd.gov⁄RogerBerliner.
To speak out on infill laws
Planning Board hearing on the infill legislation will begin around 1 p.m. Thursday at 8787 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring. To sign up in advance to testify, call 301-495-4600 or visit www.montgomeryplanningboard.org⁄agenda. Planning Board comments will be transmitted to the County Council.
County Council hearing on the infill legislation starts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Stella B. Werner Building, 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. Speakers must sign up in advance by calling the Council Office at 240-777-7931. Comments can be sent to the council via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org before the hearing.