But now Dulaney and Olsen, both 64, find themselves in the middle of a fierce debate in Montgomery County that pits affordable housing advocates against residents concerned that such efforts might adversely affect parking, public services and property values.
“We know why we wanted to live here, but now it’s a question of how to afford it,” Dulaney said.
A Montgomery proposal to change restrictions on converting basements, garages and other spaces into apartments makes sense, Dulaney said. He and his wife came from North Carolina, where housing costs were significantly less, he said, and the proposal would help them remain near their children and grandchildren.
Montgomery planning officials say they want to make it easier for people like Dulaney and Olsen to rent space in their homes — as long as they meet certain conditions — by eliminating the requirement that they go through a public hearing.
But some longtime residents and elected officials worry that changing the rules would lead to a big increase in such rental units and spur conflicts over parking and a loss of privacy. They also said they fear that the increased density of development would strain public services such as police, fire and schools — particularly in neighborhoods where such units are not common.
“This particular proposal isn’t well thought out,” said Meredith Wellington, a former member of the Montgomery County Planning Board. “It fails to preserve the character of our neighborhoods.”
Focus on affordable
A similar debate is playing out in the District, among a growing number of jurisdictions across the country. And the controversy over “accessory dwellings” will probably intensify in the region because a relatively healthy job market is attracting a steady influx of 20-somethings who are looking for housing and often finding that they are priced out of the market.
In the past 13 years, the District’s population increased by more than 45,000 people, most of them 18- to 34-year-old newcomers. During the past decade, the number of low-cost rental units fell to 34,500, from 70,600, according to a recent report by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
D.C. and Montgomery officials are considering revisions to zoning rules governing accessory dwellings (referred to as accessory apartments in Montgomery). In the District, as well as Montgomery, the changes would allow applicants to go forward with such projects without a public hearing as long as they meet certain conditions. Under the current rules, neighbors have to be notified when such a change is proposed.