Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Key council decisions will come after break

Fall schedule filling up with, already heavy with growth policy issues

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The fall calendar for the County Council is filling up fast with unresolved issues carried over from the past few weeks of meetings. In its second-to-last meeting before a monthlong summer break, the council put off decisions on affordable housing recommendations and a possible survey of the county’s hospitals.

The council decided earlier this month to postpone a vote on the county’s growth policy until the fall to allow for more debate and alternative recommendations on traffic tests and development taxes. A vote on the policy was originally scheduled for next Tuesday, the final meeting before the break.

In committee discussions this week, the council heard from its oversight office on a report released last week on the status of the county’s Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program.

According to the report, the MPDU program — which requires developers to set aside a portion of their residential units as affordable housing — are still too expensive for many residents and lack consistent design standards.

To make the units more affordable, OLO staffers recommended changing the way MPDU’s are priced. Currently the units’ prices are based on how much it costs to build them, but as construction costs have increased, so have the prices making the units unaffordable for 27 percent of eligible buyers. The recommendation is to base the price on what program participants can afford.

‘‘The main thing is the question of pricing and how to get to the issue of affordable that we are trying to reach ... and what is affordable to the folks we are trying to help,” said Richard Nelson, director of the county’s Housing and Community Affairs department.

Also included in the recommendations is a need to strengthen enforcement of the program’s rules and to request MPDU analysis when considering zoning reclassifications.

Council President Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton tabled action on the OLO recommendations until questions regarding community housing fees are examined, as well as affordable housing regulations expected from County Executive Isiah Leggett.

Also included in the fall MPDU discussions will be a decision on a proposal by Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park to eliminate developers’ option to buy out of the MPDU program by making a contribution to the county’s Housing Initiative Fund.

The buyout elimination would mostly affect developers of high-rise buildings in which construction costs can make building the affordable units too expensive.