Authority To Set Size Of Houses Advances
Friday, April 14, 2006
A dozen municipalities in Montgomery County would be given authority to regulate the size of houses under a bill approved by the General Assembly in the final days of this year's session.
The legislation, unanimously approved by the House of Delegates and Senate, allows incorporated towns in southern Montgomery to set standards for how tall, wide or bulky a single-family house should be.
If the bill is signed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), the municipalities -- Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Kensington, Somerset, Takoma Park, Martin's Additions, North Chevy Chase, the town of Chevy Chase, Chevy Chase Village, Chevy Chase Section Three, Chevy Chase Section Five and Chevy Chase View -- will have expanded powers to limit so-called McMansions. Ehrlich has yet to take a position on the bill.
"This gives these small towns the ability to experiment with different ways to address the issue," said Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), one of the architects of the legislation. "Some of the older neighborhoods wanted more restrictive standards."
Officials in the affected towns will not be able to set building standards that are less stringent then the county's, but they will be allowed to impose stricter rules and to enforce them with their own staffs and resources.
"If we wanted to preserve the particular character of our own little community, this gives us a little more opportunity to do that," said Carolyn Shawaker, mayor of Garrett Park.
Towns in central and northern Montgomery, such as Rockville, Poolesville and Gaithersburg, have had authority over land use for years. But municipalities in the southern half of the county, where neighborhoods are older and where fierce debates over the size of new homes have erupted, have not been able to tackle most land-use and zoning issues because the municipalities are within the boundaries of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The commission, established in 1927 to chart the look of the Maryland suburbs, is made up of the planning boards of Montgomery and Prince George's counties. It opposed the legislation.
"When you look at two municipal jurisdictions that border each other, the bill creates a potential for different standards literally across the street from each other," said Adrian Gardner, the commission's general counsel.
Municipal officials say they would proceed cautiously in implementing new standards. Nevertheless, passage of legislation signals residents' frustration with how the county's government is handling growth issues.
"It is a pretty major step toward local authority," said Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), chairman of the council's land-use committee and a supporter of the legislation.
Across the region, residents in older neighborhoods near the Capital Beltway have been wrestling over how to keep traditional houses from being torn down and replaced with larger structures that some say are out of character with surrounding structures. The debate often pits neighbor against neighbor, with one person's dream house being another's eyesore.