Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Planners find room for thousands more homes

Twinbrook plan will test use of transferable rights for commercial uses

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County planners have found space for nearly 5,500 new homes in the county, dramatically reducing an anticipated shortfall in room to build units under the Transferable Development Rights program.

Planners indicated in January that the county lacked space for between 3,685 and 7,840 TDR homes, ones that can be built at higher densities in some areas than would normally be allowed in exchange for restricted development in protected areas.

But after reevaluating, planning staff reported on Thursday that only 58 percent of available ‘‘receiving area” space was in use and the next four master plans under review — Twinbrook, White Flint, Germantown and West Gaithersburg — could be designated TDR receiving areas and accommodate up to 3,300 units.

More than 2,100 additional units can be accommodated in Clarksburg, according to Pamela Dunn, a planner in the Research and Technology Center of the Park and Planning Commission.

‘‘If there was a mismatch between the supply for TDRs and the receiving area capacity, then it is not as big as what was thought before,” said Richard Tustian, a senior policy advisor. ‘‘There seems to be a greater possibility of having these in balance.”

Zoning was changed in 1981 to create the 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve to protect upcounty farmland, allowing only one house on every 25 acres instead of one for every 5 acres.

To compensate the owners of that land, the county gave landowners one TDR for every house the owner would have been able to build before the zoning change. Those TDRs can be sold to residential developers for use in designated receiving areas.

The January planning reports of a sizable shortfall in receiving area space concerned members of the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee who reviewed data during a worksession.

But Dunn presented new data on Thursday that shows only 58 percent of TDR receiving areas are in use that the Twinbrook, White Flint, Germantown and West Gaithersburg planning areas can handle approximately 3,300 units.

‘‘That capacity, if it is realized, is sufficient to support the TDR program for the remainder of its life,” she wrote.

Dunn also said that the allocation of TDRs in Clarksburg would have a huge impact on the future of the program because there is a capacity for locating 2,153 TDRs in the community.

‘‘It is the one place left in the county where we have a large number of TDRs proposed for use,” Dunn said.

The Planning Board has also been grappling with how to convert residential TDRs for commercial use as it plans to make non-residential TDRs available for the first time.

The board on Thursday passed an amendment to the Twinbrook Sector Plan to include the square-foot calculation for determining TDR capacity in the plan.

The value of a TDR for residential use is 1,800 square feet and the value for a non-residential TDR is 1,500 square feet.

County Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown wrote a letter to Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson in early March asking the board to use the Twinbrook Sector Plan as a test case for determining how all master plans should approach the TDR program.

However, Hanson responded stating that there is not enough time to create universal TDR implementation guidelines for master plans before the Twinbrook Sector Plan is due back before the County Council.

He reiterated those concerns last week and said county planners would consider the Twinbrook Sector Plan’s application of the TDR program solely on an individual basis.

‘‘We don’t think we know enough to extend the plan for Twinbrook to make that the template for what we are going to do,” Hanson said.