What’s Wrong With the Minor Master Plan? Q & A

Sligo Creek runs through the Plan Amendment site

Q: What IS the “Minor Master Plan Amendment“?

A: This Plan Amendment upzones the former Washington Adventist Hospital site and surrounding neighborhoods, AND all along Maple Avenue from Sligo Creek to the Community Center.   

Q: What is upzoning?

A: Upzoning increases the zoning to allow buildings of greater heights and more dense neighborhoods. In this case, the upzoning encourages new high-rises in “empty spaces” on Maple, and at the hospital site. The Plan Amendment is designed to allow more than 3500 additional units of housing in the Plan Amendment area, a significant share of that on Maple. This could expand the population of the City by up to 40%. This is not minor.

Q: I understand that we needed to rezone to build housing on the hospital site, but why was Maple Ave included?

A: No one has given a compelling explanation of why the rezoning of Maple was added on to the Plan Amendment. The landscape (already dense) and needs (renovation) on Maple are completely different from the landscape and needs on the abandoned hospital site. So why were they joined? What IS clear is that residents of Maple Avenue were not asked (or adequately informed) about upzoning their neighborhood.   

Q: What is wrong with upzoning?

A: Sometimes upzoning is necessary. On the former hospital site, there is common ground that some rezoning is needed to see multi-family housing on that site. But Maple already has dense multifamily housing. Upzoning on Maple Ave will increase land values. Increased land values benefit owners, not renters. Increased land values put pressure on owners to sell or tear down buildings, displacing current residents in order to build market-rate housing.   In short, as nationally-renowned architect Carl Elefante’s analysis of the Plan Amendment sums it up, “It threatens, rather than protects and enhances, the City’s most
substantial inventory of affordable housing.”

Q: Aren’t most residents on Maple protected by rent stabilization?

A: New “infill” buildings, and buildings that are torn down and rebuilt, do not have to conform to rent stabilization for five years, under City code. Right now, we have the lowest rents in the County. The average rents would rise, creating market pressure.  So no, rent-stabilized buildings (less than half the current buildings) are not protected.

Q: Aren’t most of the buildings on Maple protected, because they are owned by non-profits with “deed covenants” to provide government-subsidized apartments? 

A: No, only about half of them. We have asked for a map detailing all the apartment buildings that would be affected, and all of the potential “infill” building spots on Maple, but so far there is no such map. What we know is that only about half the housing units on Maple are currently protected by “deed covenants,” and those covenants expire in different years. 

Q: I’ve heard that Montgomery County needs more housing. Why not put that housing on Maple?

A: Why are we expecting one of the most dense neighborhoods of affordable housing in the County, on Maple, to shoulder the burden of yet more density? Is there nowhere else in the County to put needed housing? Right now, residents on Maple benefit from the open spaces, green spaces, and parking spaces in their neighborhood. How would residents feel about losing that open space to additional density? Do they want more traffic? More congested schools? Did anyone ask the residents these questions?  And, does the City have some plan we haven’t heard about yet to protect them from displacement?

Q: The County says they did outreach to residents on Maple. Did they?

A: Unfortunately, the County outreach campaign occurred during the pandemic, which made it difficult to reach residents. And, the outreach featured sticky note responses to vague questions such as “Why do you love your neighborhood?” and “What would you like to see on the hospital campus?” There is no evidence Maple Avenue residents were asked about how they felt about the effects of upzoning their neighborhood.   

Q: But it says the plan recommends “no net loss” of affordable housing. Doesn’t that protect us?

A: New buildings in Takoma Park are free from rent stabilization for five years, and are only required to have 12.5% affordable units. So, even if we built enough buildings to maintain the number of affordable housing units, they won’t have the same people in them, and they won’t be rent-stabilized. And even if we had “no net loss” of housing units, the market will push landlords to build studios and one-bedrooms, which won’t accommodate families. In any case, the Plan’s recommendation for “striving to achieve no net loss of affordable housing” as a goal does not actually require the City, or County, or developers, to reach that “no net loss” target. In other words, it would not be a requirement, just a wish.     

Q: Why is this upzoning an equity issue?

A: The City created the dense affordable housing on Maple Avenue through a complex collaboration of non-profits, government, and building owners. Upsetting that delicate balance risks displacement of current residents, who are primarily people of color, and currently benefit from either deed covenant housing (government vouchers) or rent stabilization. There is a risk of overall gentrification as new buildings without rent stabilization are built, and land values rise. And there is a risk of displacement of current Maple Ave residents if current buildings are torn down (either because they are low garden apartments that could become high-rises, or because they are high-rises torn down as “too old” as land values rise). A plan that takes these risks does not conform to the City or County’s commitment to equity, and to preserving affordable housing.  And neither the City nor County requires an equity analysis before proceeding with this Plan Amendment.

Q: I’ve heard the high-rises on Maple are old, and need to come down anyway?

A: The most environmentally-friendly way to treat older buildings is to upgrade them, not tear them down. Maple Avenue needs government and non-profits to work together to ensure that the buildings there are safe, efficient, and up-to-date. But this Plan Amendment will not make that happen. Instead, it would incentivize teardowns, which, again, would create displacement.

Q: I’ve heard it makes environmental sense to upzone near transit stations for walkable “infill.” Is that what this is? 

A: Again, Maple Avenue is already very dense. And Maple Ave is not considered by planners to be walkable distance from the closest major transit center, which is the Takoma Metro. Planners consider “walkable” to be a half-mile, or ten-minute walk. That walk to the metro is not walkable for seniors or people with disabilities, and it takes longer than the ten-minute walk most people are willing to take before they end up using a car instead. So, no, this is not walkable infill development. And, for reasons that are not clear, the County is proposing even more density here than they did for recent rezoning in neighborhoods that actually DO have current or future transit stations, including Glenmont, Forest Glen, or Lyttonsville.  

Q: With Sligo Creek Running Through the Plan, Surely the County Did an Environmental Analysis? 

A: Unfortunately, the County is not planning to release an Environmental Analysis for this Plan until much later in the process, after the County Planning Board votes on it, and just before the County Council takes the final vote on it. That is going to be very late in the process to try to make changes. And there is no plan for a traffic analysis of impact on local streets and other infrastructure effects. Read the environmental analysis by expert Paul Chrostowski HERE.

Q: What Plan Changes Could the City Ask For?

Suggestions for work session discussions will not be enough. The City needs to make these changes a condition for their final approval:

  • Reduce the proposed density and heights on the hospital site so that high-rises are not near the perimeter, and there is a gradient to lower housing near the Creek and the perimeter. Townhouses and garden apartments would make great “missing middle” housing on the campus.
  • Reduce the proposed commercial zoning that would allow entirely commercial buildings in these residential neighborhoods.
  • Restrict the plan boundaries to the hospital site…
  • …OR reduce the density and heights outside the hospital site to match the current building heights, removing pressure to raze smaller multifamily buildings.
  • Do not proceed without a local traffic analysis.
  • Do not proceed without an environmental analysis.
  • Do not proceed without an equity analysis.

Q: How Can I Weigh In?

Sign on to express concerns with the Planning Board via this sign-on letter. (Send your name and mailing address to the contact at the top of the letter).

Write the Mayor and Council at clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

Write the County Planning Board at mcp-chair@mncppc-mc.org by the close-of-day on September 30th. Be sure to include your mailing address, reference to the TP MMPA, and the date of the Public Hearing, Sept 14th.

Resources created by residents:

Paul Chrostowski’s environmental analysis.

Architect Carl Elefante’s annotated commentary on the Plan.

One-page map with highlights of Carl Elefante’s analysis.