A proposed measure in Montgomery County would enable taller buildings in commercial districts. However, it doesn’t look likely to pass in its current form.
Introduced in November, Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 20-05 would permit the county’s Planning Board to approve projects with a maximum height of 200 feet in commercial and residential (CR) zones located in Central Business Districts within a quarter-mile of Metrorail stations. The ZTA would only be valid for two years after implementation.
But that’s not where the stipulations end: the eligible sites would also need to be mapped with a designated maximum height of 145 feet and abut CR-zoned properties mapped with maximum heights of 200 feet on at least two sides. The proposed development would also have to either include a public facility or dedicate at least 15% of the residential floor area as moderately-priced dwelling units (MPDUs).
If it sounds like this leaves few sites on the table, planning staff agrees. According to their analysis of the quarter-mile radii surrounding the Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Silver Spring, and Wheaton Metro stations, there are only nine sites that would be eligible: eight in Silver Spring, and one in Bethesda.
Of those nine sites, three, including the lone site in Bethesda, are owned by entities unlikely to take advantage of that eligibility: WMATA, the county, and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Moreover, because Silver Spring is in the midst of a sector planning process, planning staff fear that passage of the ZTA would undermine public trust in the Planning Board.
“The proposed amendment seems contrary to the public nature of the engagement process and could be seen as an attempt to circumvent the planning process,” the staff report explains. “Staff is concerned that the intent of this proposed amendment will weaken the public confidence in the planning process, given the significant stakeholder outreach underway in the Silver Spring Downtown & Adjacent Communities Plan.”
There are also other means for property owners to seek additional height for their proposed developments, and Bethesda and Friendship Heights both already have a minimum 15% MPDU requirement.