The Montgomery County Council has decided that approximately 226 Victorian homes in Takoma Park, which have been divided into apartment units in predominately single-family neighborhoods, must be reconverted to single homes. Their owners have 10 years to phase out and reconvert the houses.
The Council decided the fate of the multi-unit houses, as they are called, recently after months of debate, community lobbying and argument against the houses.
"There were so many things to consider," said Council President Elizabeth Scull who, like several other Council members, decided first during an informal vote a month ago to let the apartments remain and then, during the recent final vote, to phase out the multi-unit houses.
"All along I have been trying to be fair," she said, "to consider the units needed by the owners and at the same time protect the neighbors from things they did not need."
Many of the big old homes that Takoma Park has become noted for were divided into small apartments about 25 years ago, in violation of zoning regulations and as a result of encouragement, some say, from the city which wanted to help house the large numbers of people who had come to Washington during World War II.
But during the past few years residents of Takoma Park have claimed that the houses were crowded, poorly kept, unsafe buildings where the tenants were transient and the landlords were speculators.
In addition, they said the tenants brought more cars to the neighborhoods, which crowded the streets.
Landlords on the other hand claimed they cared for the property, and rented to respectable tenants.
According to county official Ralph Wilson, the new text amendment specifying a 10-year phase out, will only be granted to those houses that were divided before 1954, when the city of Takoma Park stated that no more multi-units would be allowed. The houses will have to be registered with the county, meet requirements of maintenance and comply with on-street parking regulations.
Any multi-unit houses that were divided after 1954 will have to be phased out by September 1.
The County Council has also directed the Planning Board to draw up a special exception rule, which will allow landlords to present circumstances for keeping their multi-unit houses.
"They would be decided on a case-by-case basis," said Wilson. "We would examine the impact the multi-unit has on the neighborhood. We're not creating a special exception for conversions. This applies only to already existing multi-units."
Council Member Esther Gelman, who voted against the phase out of multi-units, called the Council's action "one of the most tragic errors this Council has made. We talk about providing moderate-cost housing. We talk about programs (for moderate housing) costing tens of thousands of dollars. And what we've done here is we've eliminated moderate housing. All those units were very modestly priced.
"I get notes from postal workers, people without high-paying jobs who expect to stay there (in the multi-unit houses) and retire . . . there have been abuses (of these units), but don't deal with the non-abuses heartlessly. This is a sweeping measure in a time when we have such a need (for housing)."