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September 26, 2002

Moderately Priced Dwelling Units Proposed for Frederick County

Al Duke

The Frederick County Board of County Commissioners is currently considering a proposal to establish a Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) Program. This program would be similar to the Montgomery County MPDU Program that has been in operation since 1973.

Frederick County is now experiencing some of the factors that led to the enactment of the Montgomery County program. Many families are moving into the county. Growth is restricted by the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. The demand for housing exceeds the supply, thus causing an increase in the price of the housing. (This is one of the few things I actually understood in my Economics 101 class.) Housing for people with moderate incomes is becoming more and more difficult to find.

It should be noted that the MPDU housing is not low income housing. Nor is it housing for transients. It is designed for people whose income is in a range of about 60-80% of the median income in the county. The actual amount will be set in accordance with the regulations that are published under the ordinance that establishes the program. The people who are eligible for this type of housing are generally people who have regular jobs but who don?t make enough money to buy a house at the current market prices in Frederick County.

Some of the people who might be eligible for this program are young adults who are beginning their families, government employees in moderate income ranges, service and business employees whose work is needed in the expanding economy but who receive only moderate salaries, and retired people on moderate fixed incomes. A county commissioner whose income is solely from the performance of that job would probably qualify.

There are two parts to the MPDU proposal. First, the ordinance establishing the program will go before the county commissioners at an as yet undetermined time. However, the current board would like to put the program in place prior to the end of its term on December 1. The second part of the proposal, the amendments to the Zoning Ordinance that will enable the program, are currently on the Frederick County Planning Commission agenda for a work session review.

The planning commission recently held a public hearing on the amendments. One candidate for county commissioner (not on the current board) expressed the view that the MPDU proposal should be tabled to await action by the next board. Several other speakers strongly endorsed the MPDU proposal, saying it has been long needed in the county. Many of these speakers work in the social services arena and see the need for this type of housing on a regular basis. Lastly, several speakers suggested changes to the zoning ordinance amendments that they felt would improve the operation of the program.

The issues that need to be aired as part of the public discussion of this proposal include the cost of the program to the taxpayer and how the program should be established as part of the county government. Other issues include whether rental housing will be part of the program; whether some part of the MPDU housing that is constructed should be designed as handicap-accessible; what size development should trigger the ordinance; what the density bonus should be; and whether developments that have moved past certain points in the planning process should be grandfathered.

As to whether this board or the next should take up the issue, that is a political question, and I will steer clear of that quagmire.

So far, there has not been much notice taken of the MPDU proposals by the local media. The citizenry needs to learn about this issue and the media plays an important role in education and in formulating public opinion. This significant issue is worthy of being high on the media horizon. And with several county commissioner candidate forums scheduled for the near future, perhaps one or more candidates in their talks will develop the issue.

This discussion is late getting started but it is not too late to learn about it and make your opinions known.

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