Montgomery lawmakers back rules for homeowners to add apartments

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

A committee of Montgomery County lawmakers expressed its support Monday for new rules that would make it easier for residents to build apartments onto their single-family homes.

Under current law, anyone who wants to add an "accessory apartment" has to go through a lengthy zoning approval process, including a hearing before the hearing examiner and approval by the Board of Appeals. The changes, backed by the Montgomery County Council Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee, would allow residents in specific types of residential zones to bypass the process, though neighbors still would have the opportunity to object to the addition through an optional hearing process.

As discussed Monday, the regulations would limit accessory apartments to one per house, with no two apartments being within 300 feet of one another, and require them to be less than half the size of the main house. Every accessory apartment would need to have its own parking space -- two if the main house does not have a driveway. No more than two adults would be allowed to live in one apartment, though there is no limit to the number of children who would be allowed.

The owner of the house where the apartment is built would have to list the house as his primary residence in tax and voter registration records.

The committee plans to vote on the issue in the coming weeks, though all three members expressed support for the proposal.

The apartments have been pegged as a way to add more affordable housing options in the pricey county -- though as Legislative Attorney Jeff Zyontz pointed out Monday, the regulations do not offer any requirements regarding how much owners can charge for rent -- and a way for residents to bolster their incomes.

But residents have flooded lawmakers and the county Planning Board with concerns that the apartments will create more density in their single-family neighborhoods, fundamentally changing the neighborhoods' character. The apartments could add students to some of the county's already crowded schools, like in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster, residents worried, and make parking harder to find.

These concerns are unnecessary, said County Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large and a committee member.

"There aren't going to be a whole lot of these things because it's really never been the process that's kept people from doing it," he said. "It's always been the expense of converting people's houses, so I don't think this changes that."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner