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Council hopes newly approved zoning will help with housing crisis

by Judith Hruz
Multifamily housing will be permitted to be constructed on properties used for
religious assembly or private educational institutions following a unanimous vote by the
Montgomery County Council on April 2.
One councilmember, Gabe Albornoz (D-At large), was absent.
The housing will not be permitted by right, thus prohibiting projects if they not fit with
already established neighborhoods.
The projects must also adhere to tighter building guidelines than originally presented.
The council’s Planning, Housing and Parks Committee accepted council staff-
recommended amendments, which included tightening and making consistent the
compatibility requirements and increasing the required side setbacks from 20 feet to 25
Resident organizations and homeowner associations had expressed concern about
the changing landscape of their communities.
Before the vote was taken, Council President Andrew Friedson called the Zoning Text
Amendment allowing such development, which he and Council Vice President Kate
Stewart sponsored, “a really important next step as we address the housing crisis” in
the county.
Friedson said the county cannot solve the housing crisis with one tool or with one
group; it must be a partnership.
He said the Zoning Text Amendment will “unleash untapped resources and surplus
land that we otherwise have not be able to access,” referring to land owned by houses
of worship or private educational institutions that is not being used.
Stewart (D-Dist. 4) and Friedson (D-Dist. 1) introduced the zoning measure on Jan.
15, following up with a press conference and public hearing on Feb. 27.
“We are facing an affordable housing crisis. At the same time, houses of worship in
our community find themselves with an oversupply of land, but too many barriers to
easily put their land to use to support their mission and our broader community," Stewart
said. "The overall goals of the FAITH ZTA are to assist faith-based and private
educational institutions to continue their work in the community and to facilitate a
quicker, less cumbersome process to increase housing at all levels for both renters and
Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 24-01, also known as the Facilitating Affordable
Inclusive Transformational Housing (FAITH) ZTA, would remove barriers to the creation
of affordable housing and provide reasonable flexibility in the development standards for
multi-unit and townhouse living on properties associated with faith and educational
After the press conference, Stewart said the townhouses and apartments are a
conditional use, not one guaranteed by right.
All proposals for such development must go through the planning process. The ZTA,
she said, “just gets rid of the cumbersome burdens” blocking such residential
communities as the zoning now stands.

“Our faith-based institutions have been committed partners in addressing the
affordable housing crisis but are currently limited in their ability to best support these
efforts,” Friedson said in a press release. “The FAITH ZTA would facilitate the creation
of more affordable housing and bring forth a new and innovative opportunity for our
faith-based organizations to provide for the community. These mission-driven
institutions are at the forefront of supporting our most vulnerable communities and have
the resources available to assist with addressing this crisis head on.”
Projects will qualify under the FAITH ZTA if dwelling units meet one of four
affordability thresholds defined in the zoning measure. The projects will be reviewed as
a conditional use before the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings.
After the press conference, the Rev. Dr. Michael Armstrong of Colesville United
Methodist Church, co-chair of Action in Montgomery (AIM), said he would hope any new
development would not detract from existing neighborhoods, but serve as value-added
parts of the community.
He also offered to work and plan in conjunction with communities that would like to be
AIM is a broad-based collective of local communities encompassing elementary
school parent groups and faith institutions.
Many civic associations in the county, especially those near New Hampshire Avenue,
which carries the local nickname “Highway to Heaven” because of the large number of
houses of worship on or near the roadway, have expressed concern over proposed
Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 24-01.
The Sandy Spring Civic Association held a second meeting in February — a week
after its regular monthly meeting — to discuss its stance on the issue. The civic
association members researched what the ZTA would mean for its rural community and
made it clear to the council what it wanted the councilmembers to consider.
The Sandy Spring Civic Association requested that the County Council amend the
proposed text of Zoning Text Amendment 24-01 so that:
The requirements for townhouses and multi-unit living buildings that “height, density,
coverage and parking standards must be compatible with surrounding uses” be defined
more carefully, and specifically that height of approved townhouses and apartment
buildings be limited to the height of surrounding single-family homes in the RE-2 zone;
The requirement of a “minimum of 35 percent common open space” be defined more
specifically to require a “minimum of 35 percent usable, visible common open space.”
During the Feb. 27 public hearing, Quentin Remein, president of the Cloverly Civic
Association, said he is concerned about numbers of housing units and their impact on
environment, the need for the county to provide more public amenities, more traffic
congestion and other issues.
He asked the council to “please place more conditions on this zoning amendment.”
Members of the Sandy Spring Civic Association, which includes Ashton, reiterated
their proud legacy of faith and values, and said their concern had nothing to do with the
faith-based institutions. They are concerned about the change to their community’s
“We recognize that change is coming,” said Basile Whitaker. “But our vision for our
community is different.”

“There are people in the world who don’t want everything developed,” said Daryl
Thorne, civic association president.

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