Montgomery Planning Board votes to send comments to County Council on Missing Middle Housing Zoning Text Amendment

February 5, 2021

Board members generally support the ZTA but call for further improvements to support creating more attainable, smaller scale housing options for residents, such as duplexes, townhouses and small multi-family structures

WHEATON, MD – The Montgomery County Planning Department, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), offered its assessment on Zoning Text Amendment 20-07 (ZTA) to the Montgomery County Planning Board to inform the Board’s comments to send to the County Council on this policy ahead of its public hearing next week. This ZTA would amend the county’s Zoning Code to allow duplexes, townhouses, and small multi-family structures, also known as Missing Middle Housing, to be built within a mile of a Metro station entrance. Planning Board members generally supported the ZTA, but highlighted elements that need to be adjusted to make the policy most effective at creating Missing Middle Housing in the comments they voted to transmit to County Council.

Montgomery Planning staff offered their technical expertise to the Planning Board as they normally do when County Council ZTAs appear before them prior to County Council’s consideration. Planning staff stressed that Montgomery County’s current housing options are often not affordable for low-income families and middle-income residents. The current housing shortage combined with the projection of 200,000 more residents expected to be in the county by 2045 indicate that a mix of housing types is needed to meet the demand. Through Missing Middle Housing, new and existing residents can have an option in between single-family homes and downtown high-rise apartments at the right size and price point for their needs.

“It is critical that we expand Missing Middle Housing options in Montgomery County,” said Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson. “Councilmember Jawando’s ZTA is a good first step, but we need to consider it as part of a more comprehensive look at how to introduce a wider range of options and calibrate our approach to this issue to make sure it is as effective as possible.”

View the ZTA 20-07 Planning Board Staff Report

Some of the comments the Planning Board provided to the County Council include:

  • The scope of the ZTA should be expanded to include the R-40 and R-90 zones to increase the likelihood of obtaining the desired outcome of new Missing Middle Housing within one mile of a Metro station.
  • The ZTA should be expanded to include properties around Purple Line stations, current and Planned BRT stations, and MARC stations.
  • Additional residential use types, such as triplexes and quadraplexes should be considered, with appropriate development standards, to increase the variety of housing options available in the county.
  • Design should be integrated into the development review and approval process before the Council adopts this ZTA.
  • Parking minimums should be completely removed for new housing within one mile of the Metrorail stations.

The Planning Board agreed with staff that additional analysis on ZTA 20-07 should be conducted to consider modifications to development standards, including parking and building height, that would be needed to support building Missing Middle Housing. The Board also stressed that further discussion needs to occur on how to integrate design into the development review and approval process before the County Council adopts this ZTA.

“We are committed to pursuing Missing Middle Housing for Montgomery County residents,” said Planning Director Gwen Wright. “Our 2018 Missing Middle Housing Study and the 2020 Montgomery County Housing Needs Assessment are key examples of this. We are also actively pursuing more Missing Middle Housing options in the Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan and the update to our General Plan, Thrive Montgomery 2050.”

Missing Middle Housing is typically two-to-four story multi-unit, clustered housing such as smaller townhouses, duplexes, triplexes, quadraplexes, detached courtyard cottages, attached courtyard apartments, or smaller apartment buildings (with fewer than 20 units) that are typically in walkable, transit-accessible neighborhoods. Approximately 17% of Montgomery County’s current housing stock could be defined as Missing Middle Housing.

Through the Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan, Planning staff are taking a detailed and nuanced approach to researching best practices for implementing Missing Middle Housing in the single-family neighborhoods adjacent to Downtown Silver Spring. Planning staff’s full analysis is not yet complete, however, they said the zoning changes currently proposed by this ZTA are not likely to be effective in producing more Missing Middle Housing.

“We need a clearly articulated and comprehensive approach that builds off of the Missing Middle Housing efforts already underway,” said Housing Planner Lisa Govoni. “We want community members to know that we value their input and appreciate all of the comments we have received so far on our ongoing Missing Middle initiatives, including Thrive Montgomery 2050 and the Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan.”

The County Council will hold a public hearing on ZTA 20-07 on February 11.

Frequently asked questions about Missing Middle Housing

Would Missing Middle Housing address equity issues in the county?

Racial disparities in wealth and homeownership exist in Montgomery County. These disparities were shaped in part by a legacy of discriminatory lending practices, restrictive covenants and single-family zoning. An important step in how the county begins to address past inequities in housing choice, while also creating more equitable, mixed-income neighborhoods, is by allowing production of more types of housing near transit, including in existing single-family zones. Visit Montgomery Planning’s Equity in Planning website to learn how we are incorporating equity into land use planning for Montgomery County.

Will building Missing Middle Housing fix Montgomery County’s housing affordability issues?

Missing Middle Housing is not income-restricted affordable housing. Most Missing Middle Housing is market-rate housing that generally will be more affordable than the typical new detached single-family home due to its smaller size. For FAQ on how Montgomery County defines and builds various types of income-restricted affordable housing, please visit the FAQ on Montgomery Planning’s housing website. Missing Middle Housing alone will not solve Montgomery County’s affordable housing shortage, but together with other steps it will help make more housing available at lower prices. Missing Middle Housing is one of many solutions that Montgomery County can use to address our housing affordability issues.

How can more Missing Middle Housing be built in Montgomery County?
Building Missing Middle Housing will require us to reassess the county’s longstanding pattern of exclusively single-family neighborhoods. This will include reviewing existing single-family zone standards, including the usable area, density, and parking requirements, as well as the process for development review and approval. Community involvement and support will play a critical role in enabling Montgomery County residents to access more choices in housing to meet their needs.

Zoning changes would take place in two ways. A countywide zoning change would require a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) that will entail at least two public hearings (one held by the Planning Board, and one held by the Montgomery County Council). A Sectional Map Amendment (SMA) is the final step in the process for a Sector Plan, which focuses on a specific geographic area. A SMA will implement zoning recommendations included in an adopted Master or Sector Plan and is approved by the County Council.

If a property’s zoning is changed to allow for Missing Middle Housing through a countywide ZTA or as part of a Master Plan SMA, this housing would be built only if the property owner chooses to redevelop the property into Missing Middle Housing.

View the ZTA 20-07 February 4, 2020 Planning Board Staff Report
Learn more about Missing Middle Housing
Learn more about Thrive Montgomery 2050 and the Attainable and Affordable: More of Everything chapter
Learn more about the Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan