Takoma Park testimony supporting Montgomery County zoning text amendment (ZTA) 20-07, to promote “missing middle” housing

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando’s proposed Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 20-07 would allow duplexes, townhouses, and small apartments in neighborhoods zoned R-60 (single-unit houses on lots 6,000 sq. ft. or larger) within a mile of a Metrorail station. I drafted Takoma for All’s testimony asking the Takoma Park City Council to support the bill and request it cover the whole of Takoma Park, and I presented TFA’s position at the January 21, 2021 council meeting. Here’s our testimony —

Takoma for All (TFA) is an advocacy organization that promotes a sustainable, equitable, transit-oriented community through the creation and preservation of affordable and market-rate housing, commercial spaces, and community amenities.

TFA supports Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando’s proposed Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 20-07 with amendments that we will describe and for which we ask Takoma Park City Council support.

ZTA 20-07 would allow duplexes, townhouses, and apartments — often called “Missing Middle” housing —  in the R-60 zone close to certain transit hubs. It supports infill development that would create much needed relatively affordable housing in certain Montgomery County neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes. Montgomery Planning’s report, Missing Middle Housing in Montgomery County, explains that “Missing Middle housing provides housing options affordable to a range of incomes for an increasingly diverse population of downsizing seniors, professionals without children, young families and newcomers to the region.”

Many Takoma Park neighborhoods already support a mix of Missing Middle housing types in the form of houses subdivided into apartments and small-scale apartment buildings as well as townhouses. These areas include Carroll and Tulip Avenues in Ward 1 and Flower Avenue in Wards 2 and 5, plus Ward 2 and Ward 3 townhouses, in areas that were zoned R-20 and R-30 in the 2014 Montgomery County zoning rewrite, to reflect existing uses. In much of the rest of the city, including in Ward 1 and Ward 3 historic district neighborhoods, you will find houses that were formerly subdivided into apartments. Takoma Park regrettably lost naturally occurring affordable housing when these houses were converted to single-family homes. 

ZTA 20-07 would allow much of Takoma Park to regain its past form by supporting restoration of housing diversity in affected neighborhoods. It would advance the goals of the city’s 2019 Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan and our city’s commitment to racial equity and economic diversity.

Noting these benefits, we urge the Takoma Park City Council to endorse ZTA 20-07 and further to ask it be amended to cover the entirety of the City of Takoma Park, just as 2019’s ZTA 19-01, liberalizing accessory dwelling unit (ADU) rules, was extended to cover the whole city.

Takoma for All recommends the following amendments to ZTA 20-07 as introduced to the County Council on December 8, 2020:

  • The use changes should cover a) the R-40 zone county-wide subject to the current draft’s limitations and b) the R-60 and R-40 zone in the entirety of the City of Takoma Park, specifically:
    • Two-Unit Living, Section 3.3.1.C.2.c.ii, lines 45-47. Duplexes are already allowed in the R-40 zone so we ask only coverage of the R-60 zone in the entirety of the City.
    • Townhouse Living, Section 3.3.1.D.2.a.iii.d, lines 81-84.
    • Multi-Unit Living (apartment buildings), Section 3.3.1.E.2.c, lines 105-107.
    • Residential Infill Compatibility, Section 4.4.1.B.1, lines 125-127.
    • Vehicle Parking Spaces, Section 6.2.4.B, line 162.
  • All clauses that reference a radius distance from “a Metrorail Station entrance” should also be amended to cover that radius distance from “a Metrorail Station entrance, Purple Line station, or bus-rapid transit (BRT) station.”
  • Modifications similar to those made to “Section 4.4.9. Residential – 60 Zone (R-60)” and “B. R-60 Zone, Standard Method Development Standards,” lines 142-149, should be made to sections of the Zoning Code for the Residential – 40 Zone (R-40).

While we do not see that ZTA 20-07 will encourage tear-downs, we note and will address others’ concerns. Much of Takoma Park is covered by historic district rules that limit alterations to covered properties. The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) has existing authority to prevent tear-down or unacceptable alteration of historic homes. ZTA 20-07, as drafted or as it may be amended, can not override historic preservation rules. Any claim that “your homes and neighbors’ homes will be torn down” is simply false so far as the historic district is concerned. Further, owners have been expanding smaller homes throughout Takoma Park for decades. There are equity issues when additions are allowed but multi-unit houses and small apartment buildings are prohibited or segregated into a minority of city neighborhoods.

Back to amendments: While there are no properties zoned R-90 or higher within the City of Takoma, we recommend that the County Council amend ZTA 20-07 cover those additional “residential detached” zones.

Finally, we would like to see elimination of parking minimums, or failing their elimination, reductions; however we will save that advocacy and discussion of historic district reforms for other occasions.

Takoma for All urges the Takoma Park City Council to support ZTA 20-07 amended to cover the entirety of the City of Takoma Park and with other amendments described in this testimony.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. 

Submitted January 21, 2021 on behalf of Takoma for All  by Seth Grimes, seth.grimes@gmail.com.

Takoma Park’s Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan includes: 

Objective #1: “Increase the number of units and variety of housing types across the affordability spectrum that are attractive to a diverse demographic and do not result in economically segregated communities or increase existing economic segregation.”

Strategy A: “Encourage and facilitate the creation and expansion of housing types that are under-represented in Takoma Park, or in a particular section of Takoma Park, and desired by existing and new residents of various incomes, needs, abilities and family configurations; work to change County allowable use and zoning provisions to accomplish this.”

Strategy D: “Encourage infill housing development, such as single-family detached homes, townhouses, and multifamily structures; encourage investments to grow residential capacity on properties with existing single-family homes through accessory dwelling units and owner-occupied group homes. Build in such a way as to be resilient to the effects of climate change; and, where possible, use grants, credits or other methods to lower purchase prices, maintenance costs, and energy costs to allow for greater affordability.”

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