Showing posts with label Halpine View. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Halpine View. Show all posts

Thursday, December 6, 2018

With affordable units vacant in Rockville & countywide, does MoCo really have a housing "crisis?"

Ability to lose 162
units, low demand at
Halpine View raise new 
questions about MoCo's 
supposed affordable 
housing "crisis"

How serious is the affordable housing "crisis" in Montgomery County? We've been hearing off-and-on about the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission's development plans for the Ambassador Apartments in Wheaton since 2012. At one point, it was said that a new building would be constructed on another part of the property, allowing current residents of the Ambassador to remain in their homes. But now, the building - a former Best Western hotel at the corner of Veirs Mill Road and University Boulevard - has been shut down and fenced off. Businesses in the ground floor have also been vacated.

Residents have supposedly been relocated by the HOC to other properties around the county. However, the HOC declined to respond to media inquiries made earlier this week by press time. From what I can find in County documents, it appears the building will be demolished at a cost of up to $1.5 million, a cost that will be picked up by County taxpayers. HOC has previously requested the funds from the County Council for that purpose.

Demolition was to have begun this year, and construction of the new development was to break ground in 2019. It appears that would still be possible if demolition occurs soon.

The loss of 162 low-income housing units near Metro - and the apparent ability of the HOC to find that many vacant units for the departing tenants - raises questions about just how serious the affordable housing "crisis" is in Montgomery County. Last year, the owners of Halpine View in Rockville off Veirs Mill Road stated that demand for their affordable apartments was declining, and that they had a substantial number of vacancies.

Beggars cannot be choosers, as they say. A modest, older apartment at Halpine View or the Ambassador would beat being homeless any day of the week. There should not be vacancies at Halpine View, and it should not have been possible to find vacant homes for 162 families before closing the Ambassador. Dogged apartment hunters would surely have found these affordable gems in their desperate housing searches. What is going on here?

County residents are being told we must now throw traditional, common-sense zoning rules out the window to address a housing "crisis," a move that will destroy existing single-family home neighborhoods. It appears further study of just what is going on here is clearly needed before making such irresponsible planning and fiscal decisions, especially with the County facing a structural budget deficit every year as far out at the forecasts go. More transparency is also needed. How many vacant affordable apartments are there countywide as of today? Taxpayers and homeowners deserve to know before accepting the new onerous costs, and reduced quality of life, that would come with adding multifamily urban housing within residential SFH neighborhoods.

Friday, December 20, 2013

MONTGOMERY COUNTY PLANNING BOARD ABANDONS ASPEN HILL ROAD EXTENDED

The Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to abandon the Aspen Hill Road Extended right-of-way between Veirs Mill Road and Twinbrook Parkway. "I don't see any reason not to abandon it," board chair Francoise Carrier said. This vote clears the way for redevelopment of the Halpine View garden apartments, which currently comprise one of the few existing affordable housing complexes in Montgomery County. Such redevelopment will surely allow luxury apartment buildings to loom over the adjoining Twinbrook neighborhood within the City of Rockville.

I do not know who might have submitted written testimony on the matter besides me. But the questions raised in my testimony were never addressed by the board. In fact, my written testimony was entirely ignored. The only significant issue of any sort, which was not in my testimony, was raised by Commissioner Casey Anderson. Anderson expressed concern that some notation be made in the record to preserve the county's right to provide trail access from Twinbrook Parkway for pedestrians and cyclists.

It is simply beyond belief that a body responsible for planning and transportation can simply decide not to consider the future uses of such a right-of-way. And why the county continues to aid and abet the demolition of what existing affordable housing we have, is a serious question that needs to be answered.

During the discussion, it was revealed that conditions 3, 4, and 5 were revised - 4 substantively - since the staff report was made public. Not even the applicant had the language. Is this what passes for open data and citizen involvement in planning in Montgomery County?

Prior to the hasty vote, Carrier said, "I'm helping the developer here." No one can dispute that.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

ABANDON ASPEN HILL ROAD EXTENDED? HOLD ON A MINUTE...

The Montgomery County Planning Board will take up a landowner's request to have the county abandon its right-of-way through the Halpine View apartment complex, originally planned as an extension of Aspen Hill Road from Veirs Mill Road to Twinbrook Parkway, this Thursday afternoon.

A perfunctory planning staff report is recommending the board vote to abandon the right-of-way, citing the North Bethesda-Garrett Park master plan recommendation to do so.

The ramifications of the abandonment are far more complicated than the staff report would suggest, however.

First, and foremost, the main driver of the abandonment is neither sound transportation policy, nor concern for the environment (an Aspen Hill Road extension would cross Rock Creek). Rather, it is to promote and facilitate urban redevelopment of the Halpine View garden apartment complex. Halpine View is one of a dwindling number of affordable and spacious housing developments in the county. Its design, much like Privacy World in Glenmont, emphasizes a suburban scale setting, and well-maintained trees and green space. Certainly, the buildings are aging. But to preserve existing affordable units, renovation would be far better than turning the site into another "town center" for rich people. Current rents at Halpine View range from $1000-$1600 a month, and only about two blocks from the Twinbrook Metro station. This makes the complex a valuable one for working families in Montgomery County.

But much like Privacy World and other models for suburban, multi-family housing development, Halpine View is now sought after by developers for dense, urban-style development. Such "town center" density is entirely inappropriate at this location, literally across the street from single family homes in Twinbrook and Aspen Hill. Furthermore, the lure of redevelopment - dangled by developer-beholden council members for decades in front of landowners in Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill, Rockville, Bethesda, Long Branch, etc., has discouraged routine renovations and maintenance at some properties. After all, why spend money to upgrade your building(s) if you think you're going to be tearing them down in a few years? Remember that when supporters of redevelopment try to convince you that this or that shopping center or apartment complex is "shabby," or obsolete for "the modern amenities young professionals demand today." Any such amenities can be added to any building.

Rather than giving massive tax giveaways to developers, the county would be better off using those funds to assist property owners - as necessary - to finance such renovations and improvements. That would be a far better use of $72 million than just giving it away to White Flint developers, as the county council did a few years ago.

Beyond the crisis of affordable housing we continue to experience in Montgomery County, Aspen Hill Road extended is a potentially vital transportation facility. Current county leaders have no intention of completing the Rockville Freeway/Rockville Facility (a.k.a. Montrose Parkway, in part) all the way from Falls Road to the Intercounty Connector. Therefore, lateral traffic movement remains severely constrained in the county.

Should the Rockville Facility never be extended to Connecticut Avenue, Randolph Road and other local roads remain the only routes between White Flint and Aspen Hill. In that case, Aspen Hill Road Extended would be an important transportation facility.

There is also great potential for inappropriate use of "rapid transit" to upzone retail centers in Aspen Hill to high-density urbanization. Again, Aspen Hill Road Extended would certainly be a necessity under those circumstances.

Finally, a potentially high-traffic redevelopment is going to occur at the intersection of Aspen Hill Road and Connecticut Avenue - as a Walmart, or otherwise. Yet again, Aspen Hill Road would be a major route for patrons of that site.

In conclusion, there is no immediate need to abandon Aspen Hill Road Extended, other than private profit by a developer. The Planning Board should table this request indefinitely.

Retaining the Aspen Hill Road Extended right-of-way is in the best interests of the public, public safety, transportation needs, and vital to maintaining existing affordable housing units.