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Space for Employers, Not for Homes

New residents generally cost the county money. The average household in the county pays about $6,500 in property, income and other taxes to the county. But the county spends about $8,500 a year educating the average school student, not including state and federal aid.

"This policy is good for the tax base," Duncan said.


Residents Madeline Hanington, left, with her dog Bilbo, and Alana Taylor stroll through still-developing Clarksburg. (Photos Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)


______ Spreading Sprawl ______
The Role of Government
County policies deflect growth rather than control it.
The Price Commuters Pay
To live in housing they can afford, many people drive a long way to work.
The Limits of Smart Growth
To planners, density is a good thing. But not to everyone.

______ Graphics ______
How Far Will We Grow?
Satellite images show the expansive growth of the Washington area since 1986.
Super-Commuters
Some residents are commuting roughly an hour or more to work.

No Shift in Howard County
Rural areas have grown in lock step with growth areas in Howard County.
______ Multimedia ______
Audio: Washington Post reporter Peter Whoriskey discusses the Post's series Washington-area sprawl.
______ Live Discussions ______
Transcript: Washington Post reporter Peter Whoriskey discussion on area sprawl.
Transcript: Gerrit Knaap of the University of Maryland Smart Growth Center fielded your questions.

_____Growth and Development_____
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Or, as a Montgomery County booklet puts it: Creating workplaces faster than homes is "the economic development strategy yielding the greatest long-term net fiscal benefits."

County policy aims for employment growth of 2 percent and household growth of 1.4 percent annually. Though it won official approval only this summer, it appears to have been in practice for more than a decade.

In a major 1993 review of county development, planners found that the number of jobs and homes in Montgomery County were "reasonably balanced." Since then, Montgomery County increased its jobs figure by 110,000 while increasing its home supply by 42,000, according to county figures. Assuming the average of 1.5 workers per home, this leaves a shortfall of roughly 30,000 homes.

David Platt, the county's economist, said that assuming that those who work in the county continue to want to live in the county, the gap between the growth in jobs and the growth of homes will create an upward pressure on prices.

Ideally, the housing limits in Montgomery and other suburbs would propel buyers and builders into the District, some planners say, because there they would be close to the jobs core and generally close to mass transit. Thus far, however, the market for homes has moved more outward than inward, as the development maps show.

Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg), who voted against the strategy, called the new policy "indefensible."

"It exacerbates two of the most serious problems in Montgomery County: traffic congestion and housing affordability," he said.

County Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), who supports the policy, acknowledged that "we have a regional housing shortage because of hurdles put up by local governments."

But, he said: "I get elected to represent the people of Montgomery County, not the region. I support broadening the tax base."

Silverman noted that although the policy may drive up home prices, the county has an affordable housing program that at one time was considered a national model. In 2003, developers created 143 units under the county's Moderately Priced Dwelling Units program, and the annual average since the program began in 1976 is a little more than 400.

Duncan and Silverman said it was wrong, too, to assume that when Montgomery's job creation outpaces the number of new homes, the county has to "import" more of its workforce.

Some of the new jobs, they explained, will be filled by people already living in the county and commuting elsewhere. When they find a job in the county, they said, it will reduce commuting.


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