Monday, April 4, 2011

Council Approves Housing Element of General Plan

On March 29 we unanimously approved revisions to the Housing Element of the County’s “General Plan,” making changes that will guide the development of new housing and redevelopment of existing housing over the next two decades while also seeking to protect the character of existing neighborhoods. The Housing Element of the General Plan is intended to be a 20-year policy document that drives decisions made in the formulating and updating of master plans, sector plans and zoning text amendments. The Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee, which I chair, has been holding worksessions on updating the Housing Element over the past couple of months. The Montgomery County Planning Board previously proposed updates to the Housing Element. As part of their worksessions, the PHED Committee discussed the Planning Board’s intent to describe how most future new development in the County will create communities that have higher density housing, depend more on residents using public transit and less on using automobiles. These communities would likely be mixed use, with office, retail, entertainment and recreation opportunities nearby to residences—lending themselves to being walkable. The Housing Element continues to emphasize the County’s goals for all types of housing for ranges of household income. The amendments that the Council adopted put stronger emphasis than did the Planning Board draft in regard to protecting existing neighborhoods that will be adjoined by newer, high-density neighborhoods. The Council’s amendments also encourage the County to diligently enforce housing codes to prevent deterioration of housing in existing neighborhoods and to prevent overcrowding in those neighborhoods. PHED Committee recommendations that the Council adopted include policies to strengthen established neighborhoods through targeted programs that improve schools, parks, safety and new or upgraded pedestrian and bicycling facilities. Other policy revisions would ensure that infill development complements existing houses and neighborhoods and protects residential neighborhoods from excessive traffic that could result from new development. I believe the amended housing element provides needed and reachable guidelines for the type of new development that will come to Montgomery County over the next 20 years. In addition, we made sure that the existing neighborhoods—neighborhoods that have given Montgomery County its character and helped make it such a desirable place to live—will continue to not only sustain, but also to thrive in a way that will continue to give us variety in the types of housing available in our communities. The PHED Committee also recommended amending the Housing Element to reflect actions the County is already taking to require and encourage the use of green design and materials and to improve energy efficiency.

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