Montgomery County planners have given their stamp of approval to a controversial proposal that would make it easier for county homeowners to build apartments onto their homes.
Current regulations allow "accessory apartments" -- small apartments that can be built onto single-family homes -- only with a special permit from the county. In an effort to increase affordable housing options, the new regulation would allow residents in certain areas to bypass the permit process for apartments as long as they meet specific standards.
Under the proposal, the apartments can be at most 1,200 square feet and house no more than three people. They also have to have at least one off-street parking space dedicated specifically for the unit, and an apartment's entrance must be on the side or back of the house "to preserve the appearance of a single-family dwelling," according to planners.
The Planning Board capped the number of accessory apartments in the county at 2,000.
But many residents are worried about the effect the apartments could have on their neighborhoods, especially since bypassing the permitting process means stripping neighbors of a forum for expressing their concerns.
"While we are very mindful of the need for more affordable housing units in our county and the desire to streamline the administrative process, we think it would be a mistake to do anything that lessens the ability of the neighbors of such proposed units to comment on their placement," Town of Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin wrote in a letter to Planning Board Chairwoman Francoise Carrier. "We know from history that the residents of our town always want to make their views known when a new accessory apartment is proposed because often they have a severe impact on the block and even the whole neighborhood."
With plans for new developments already under way in areas inside the Capital Beltway, like Chevy Chase, the county should be doing everything it can to preserve neighborhoods with single-family houses, said Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Pat Burda.
The single parking space that an apartment must have may not be enough given already limited parking, she added.
Burda and other residents also have raised concerns about the county's ability to enforce housing code requirements, but Carrier said she doubted it would be a problem.
Though the Planning Board recommended approving
the regulatory change Thursday, the County Council has the final say. Residents can testify Tuesday night at a public hearing before the County Council.