Comrade Elrich: Dissent on Zoning Policy Will Not Be Tolerated
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has demanded the resignation of a recently appointed member of the county’s Charter Review Commission.[i]
What was Katherine Gugulis crime?
She wrote a letter to the editor published in the Washington Post opposing proposed Montgomery County zoning changes to allow more “auxiliary dwelling units.”[ii]
The county is currently considering proposals to “de-gentrify” Montgomery County neighborhoods by allowing more single-family houses be carved up into multiple dwelling units. These include newly created apartments in existing houses, such as converted garages and basements.
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According to Elrich, Gugulis’ concerns about lower property values reflected: “thoughts and beliefs that are not consistent with my commitment to fostering a more inclusive and culturally sensitive County.”
Not to be out done by Comrade Elrich, Council President Nancy Navarro smears Gugulis by claiming that she and others were framing the auxiliary apartment “issue as a binary; rich and poor, black and white, immigrant, and non-immigrant, and is quite frankly appalling,”
In fact, Gugulis’ letter said absolutely nothing about race or immigration status. Elrich’s and Navarro’s comments might even be interpreted as their suggesting that they think homeowners who are immigrants or people of color are less concerned about their own home values. Both Elrich and Navarro raise cultural inclusion, race and immigrant status as a convenient rhetorical cudgel to sidestep addressing the proposal’s merits.
Auxiliary apartments reflect the time worn urban real estate phenomena under which aging houses in once, upscale neighborhoods are divided into smaller, more affordable apartments. Both Baltimore and Washington are filled with houses that were originally built for middle class buyers. Over time these houses were converted into multiple dwelling units and these neighborhoods underwent economic decline.
Among the proposed zoning changes involves reducing the required number of parking spaces. Currently at least one space is needed for every apartment and 2 spaces for units with 3 or more separate bedrooms. The evidence contradicts the contention that these accessory apartment tenants can do with less parking. Nationwide, the average number of vehicles per person has been increasing since 2012 to .75 vehicles per person and 1.95 per household.[iii] Similarly, Metro’s sinking ridership suggests that more parking spaces are required.
This controversy comes the same week as the Montgomery County Planning Board announced a one-year residential building freeze covering 12% of the county because of school crowding. [iv] The new tenants will contribute to more crowded schools and more congested roads. Yet accessory apartment advocates apparently do not expect to collect “impact fees” on their new units. Other new homes in the county must shoulder the tax burden of up to $45,000 in impact fees per unit, $23,000 for schools and $22,000 for transportation.
The attacks by County Executive Elrich and Council President Navarro on Katherine Gugulis provides a potent reminder that their concept of “diversity” does not extend to those who disagree with them politically.