County outside of D.C. eyes a major zoning overhaul

Montgomery County is looking to ease single-family zoning

County Outside of D.C. Eyeing Major Zoning Overhaul
Montgomery County executive Marc Elrich (Getty)

Restrictive zoning is often seen as a barrier to solving the affordable housing crisis across the nation. One well-to-do county outside of Washington, D.C. is ready to tackle the problem.

Last week, the Maryland-based Montgomery County Planning Board unanimously advanced a plan that would allow housing units to proliferate across many of its residential neighborhoods, Bisnow reported. The plan could allow duplexes, triplexes and even small apartment buildings to pop up.

The plan doesn’t affect the zoning across the entire county, as some of its more rural areas will remain largely single-family zoned. But much of the southern and central parts of the county will be impacted.

“The time has come for Montgomery County to break free from outdated zoning that has constrained the housing supply, led to skyrocketing real estate prices, and has forced more of the county’s middle-income population to search elsewhere for housing,” Planning Board chair Artie Harris said.

The plan includes a number of recommendations for zoning changes, broken down into categories. So-called “Small Scale Attainable Housing” would consist of two-to-four unit properties that would match the size of surrounding homes. “Median Scale Attainable Housing” could include up to four-story stacked flats, townhomes and small apartment buildings. “Large Scale Attainable Housing” would be apartment buildings at least four stories tall.

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Montgomery County’s efforts to change its zoning dates back to 2021. A plan approved the following year singled out the need to expand and diversify the local housing stock.

The county council still needs to approve the zoning overhaul. Officials expect to hold a series of public forums ahead of any vote.

Local communities have taken it upon themselves to loosen single-family zoning to alleviate housing affordability, though the effort tends to come with resistance from those interested in upholding the status quo. Other communities eyeing major zoning changes include Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Holden Walter-Warner

Read more

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Inside the quest to change single-family zoning
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