The Montgomery County Council, taking the final steps to reestablish its program of transferable development rights, designated eight areas of the county yesterday where developers will again be able to use the controversial program to build more housing units than zoning would normally allow.
The council had voted unanimously last month to restore the seven-year-old program, which had been ruled illegal in April by the Maryland Court of Appeals. Yesterday's action, while closely watched, was mostly a technicality.
"I am disappointed, but not surprised at all," said Mary Anne Thane, member of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, which blames the use of development rights for overdevelopment and had successfully sued the county. The council actions fully restore the development rights program, as if the lawsuit never happened, she said.
The state appeals court, in a case involving the Avenel Farms subdivision in Potomac, ruled the program illegal because the council wrongly used its planning powers to establish development rights rather than passing a formal zoning change required by law.
The council, in action June 1 and again yesterday, enacted the formal zoning change that had been cited by the court.
The development-rights program limits the ability of owners of rural property to develop their land, but allows them to sell the development rights of that land. Developers buy those rights and use them in specially designated "receiving areas" to build more housing units than zoning would normally allow. For example, in the Avenel case, the development-rights program allows the construction of 850 houses on the 1,000-acre tract, rather than the 391 houses permitted under its zoning.
The receiving areas redesignated by the council yesterday are Potomac, Damascus, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Olney, Darnestown, Travilah and the eastern county Rte. 29 corridor.
Council members have acknowledged that the development-rights program is flawed and needs a reexamination.
The council has established a committee to study the program and suggest changes.