County Growth Policy (formerly, SSP) Update: Planning Board Draft Transmitted to the County Council

AvatarLaura Tallerico

On July 30, the Montgomery County Planning Board (Board) voted to transmit its recommendations for the 2020-2024 Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP) to the County Council. A copy of the Planning Board Draft can be found here. The Board recommends renaming the SSP the County Growth Policy, but its other recommendations will meaningfully impact development in the County. In worksessions, the Board has made significant changes to what was proposed in the hearing draft of the County Growth Policy (Hearing Draft). Several of our land use attorneys testified at the June 11 public hearing before the Planning Board and the Lerch Early Land Use Group collectively submitted detailed written testimony on the recommendations contained in Staff’s Public Hearing Draft.

Schools: The SSP recommends dividing the County into three new categories for purposes of calculating student generation rates and school impact taxes: “Greenfield Impact Areas,” “Turnover Impact Areas,” and “Infill Impact Areas.”  These categories will also be used for the purposes of determining whether moratoria will apply where a school exceeds capacity. The Board has made several notable changes to the Hearing Draft, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Under the current SSP, when school capacity reaches 120% the affected area goes into moratorium, preventing any new residential development.  This applies Countywide.  A major change proposed by the pending SSP is to eliminate the County’s residential moratorium policy in certain areas.  The Board agreed with Staff’s Hearing Draft and retained the recommendation that moratoria on residential development will only apply in “Greenfield Impact Areas” (i.e. Clarksburg).  However, the Board recommended raising the moratorium threshold to 125% (rather than 120%) and applying an exemption to moratorium where capacity exists at a nearby school, subject to certain conditions.
  • Utilization Premium Payments will apply in all areas of the County, where the applicable school exceeds 120% capacity.
  • The Hearing Draft recommended that the Board have discretion to deny projects in Turnover and Infill Areas if the applicable school exceeds 120% capacity. The Board rejected this recommendation.
  • The Planning Board moved Purple Line stations areas from Turnover Impact Areas to Infill Impact Areas, thereby lowering the applicable impact tax rates.

Transportation: The Board’s focus throughout its review of the transportation element of the County Growth Policy has been twofold: 1) look for ways to encourage growth in key areas; and 2) ensure bicycle and pedestrian safety. In that vein, the following are some of the Board’s notable revisions to the Hearing Draft:

  • The Board recommended placing all Purple Line station areas in the Red Policy Area (previously limited to Metro Station Policy Areas) thereby lowering impact taxes and eliminating motor vehicle LATR testing.
  • The Board recommended setting a 50 person trip trigger for the testing of pedestrian, bicycle and transit facilities. This is a significant change from the current policy which requires 50 trips in the relevant modal category before testing is required.
  • The Board recommended altering the motor vehicle test to only require HCM testing where the project fails the CLV test.

Taxes: The Board made the following key changes to the impact tax recommendations in the Hearing Draft:

  • The Board recommends a 60% discount in most Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Activity Centers and along 500 foot BRT line buffers (for BRT lines with funding for design/engineering and a final route). The following activity centers are excluded: Olney, Kensington, NIH/Walter Reed, Bethesda and Clarksburg.
  • The Board recommends that Opportunity Zones, in addition to Enterprise Zones, be exempt from impact taxes. The Board continues to recommend the elimination of the impact tax exemption for former Enterprise Zones, which include the Silver Spring and Wheaton central business districts (CBD). However, because these CBDs are also largely within Opportunity Zones, those areas included within a qualifying Opportunity Zone would remain exempt from impact taxes under the Board’s recommendation.
  • Currently, projects providing at least 25 percent affordable units are completely exempt from impact taxes. The Planning Board recommends altering this as follows: 1) requiring the affordable units to be registered in the MPDU program; and 2) reducing the exemption to the amount of lowest standard impact tax for the applicable dwelling type.

Next Steps:

  • The County Council will hold a public hearing on the County Growth Policy September 15th at 7:30pm.
  • The County Council must act on the County Growth Policy by November 15, 2020.