Moratorium Damages County’s Competitiveness and Affordability, Fails to Fix School Capacity Shortfalls

Posted by & filed under Design, Research.

The Montgomery County Council has the chance to better the County’s future by voting to approve the County Growth Policy

We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that developers are expected to pay a large part of the cost of building schools, based on the eminently reasonable theory that the construction of new housing generates demand for classroom space as families move into the housing, have children, and send them to local schools. If the schools get too crowded, county rules impose a moratorium on the development of new housing until classroom space is made available to “catch up.”

The logic behind this approach appears unassailable. If new housing produces a need for more seats in schools, it follows … Continue reading

Over-housed: Number-Crunching Montgomery’s Housing Crunch

Posted by & filed under Research.

By now I think –or hope, anyway – that just about everyone who has spent any time studying the region’s housing realizes that we are not building enough of it. One part of the housing supply problem that has not received as much attention is the mismatch between the types of housing already built (and being built) and the kind needed for a changing population who are adopting different living arrangements.

The proportion of householders living alone has increased significantly while the proportion of households consisting of an adult couple with young children has decreased. In 1960, single-member households made up 7 percent of all households in the county. By 2018, that proportion had reached 25 percent, or about three-and-a-half … Continue reading

Montgomery County Is (Literally) Well-Positioned for the Future – But Will We Take Advantage of the Opportunity?

Posted by & filed under Research.

Land use and transportation planning are the responsibility of local government, but economic changes at the regional, national and even global levels are forcing us to adapt to forces outside of our control – including automation, international trade, and even competition for natural resources as basic as the sand used to mix the concrete in large apartment and office buildings.

Among the biggest changes is what some economists have called the trend toward a “winner-take-all-economy.” This is the idea that wealth, talent and innovation are increasingly being concentrated in a small number of places, typically large metro areas anchored by cities capable of attracting people and capital from around the world. Nationally we can see this trend in the … Continue reading

Schools and Growth, Part Four: Where are all these kids coming from?

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In previous posts, I documented six Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) clusters at risk of entering a development moratorium due to overcrowding. Enrollment in these clusters grew by 4,157 students between 2011 and 2015, yet only 184 of these students are living in the new multifamily residential buildings and townhomes constructed within the clusters during this period. That statistic means that new development was responsible for only about four percent of enrollment growth in these clusters, while the vast majority of the enrollment growth is coming from neighborhood turnover – that is to say, families with children moving into housing previously occupied by families without children.

I can’t say with certainty why these six clusters have experienced such … Continue reading

Schools and Growth, Part Three: New Development and Overcrowding

Posted by & filed under Planning, Research.

When schools are overcrowded, it doesn’t much matter to children (and their parents) whether developers are paying their share of the cost of adding capacity, because kids need space in classrooms (along with gymnasiums and cafeterias) in order to learn and thrive. That’s why the county’s growth rules, known as the Subdivision Staging Policy or SSP, prohibit new residential development in any school cluster where the schools are at 120 percent of capacity.

The “annual school test,” which determines whether a school cluster goes into a residential development moratorium, is applied in July of each year. The impact of a development moratorium is felt as new residential projects in an area are put on hold and, in some cases, … Continue reading

Schools and Growth, Part Two: Student Generation Rates and Children Who Live in Apartments

Posted by & filed under Planning.

I often hear claims that the school impact tax rates charged to developers are based on faulty assumptions about the number of children who live in new housing units. While no one can predict exactly how many kids will live in a specific dwelling in the future, the methodology used to produce the generation rates used in school impact tax calculations is far more sophisticated and comprehensive than most people realize.

Every other year, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) provides the Planning Department with a dataset that includes the address and grade of every MCPS student (with all other identifying information scrubbed from the dataset). The Planning Department then cross-references this information with parcel data that identifies the type … Continue reading

Schools and Growth, Part One: Impact Taxes and School Construction

Posted by & filed under Planning.

Few topics in local government generate as much controversy and misunderstanding as the relationships among population growth, real estate development, school enrollment and impact tax revenue. I want to provide the data and background information needed to understand how – and how much – new development contributes toward the cost of providing classroom seats for schoolchildren.

I often hear people say that new residential development “doesn’t pay for itself,” by which I take them to mean that the cost of providing capacity for additional students coming from new development exceeds the revenue raised through school impact taxes.

In Montgomery County, school impact taxes are calculated to cover 120 percent of the cost of each additional seat generated by a new … Continue reading

Man-made and Environmental Constraints on Development in Montgomery County

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Numerous Constraints Limit the Availability of Developable Land

In my last post, I showed how new development can help us meet our environmental sustainability goals, including the county’s commitment to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions entirely by 2035 and reduce stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

I also have discussed (here, here and here) the ways in which New Suburbanism adds needed housing while satisfying consumer demand for walkable urban places, even in areas that aren’t transit-oriented or adjacent to existing urban centers like Silver Spring and Bethesda.

Now I want to direct your attention to a related problem: While we know that we need to add more than 20,000 housing units over the next five years to accommodate additional job … Continue reading

The Environmental Benefits of New Suburbanism

Posted by & filed under Planning, Research.

My last series of blog posts explained some of the challenges facing Montgomery County’s economy. I discussed how encouraging walkable, compact, mixed-use development can help us grow our tax base, control housing costs and improve the quality of life for all our residents. This “New Suburbanism,” however, is about more than economic competitiveness. It helps in addressing our most challenging environmental issues, including climate change and pollution from vehicle emissions and stormwater runoff.

Take a look at these charts from the Planning Department’s most recent Mobility Assessment Report:

Between 2005 and 2015, Montgomery County grew by more than 100,000 people. While our total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has increased in the last few … Continue reading

New Suburbanism: Walkability & Transit

Posted by & filed under Design.

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the economic challenges facing Montgomery County: stagnant wage growth, an aging workforce and increasing poverty. I’ve also highlighted our assets, including high incomes, low unemployment and a highly educated workforce. I’ve pointed out that high housing costs are the result of limited supply and that both businesses and residents of all ages prefer neighborhoods that look and feel “urban,” even if they aren’t located near transit or in major city centers. I hope that I have been successful in showing how and why real estate development is essential to economic development. In particular, the supply of housing (at every price point and including both subsidized/regulated projects and market-rate units) is crucial to attracting and retaining the mix of workers needed … Continue reading