- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

The Montgomery County Planning Board today will not consider penalizing a developer who has yet to build 102 affordable housing units in a Germantown subdivision.

Civic activists say it’s the latest example of officials not enforcing its nationally recognized affordable-housing laws.

“We are at a loss as to why this isn’t a violation hearing,” said Jim Humphrey of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, a consortium of homeowners groups that requested the county discuss penalties.

The Washington Times first reported Dec. 23 that county officials have issued building permits to developers for more than a decade without requiring them, as county law specifies, to construct affordable housing in their subdivisions.

According to county records and interviews with officials, the county’s practice did not change until the Clarksburg planning scandal this summer prompted the responsible housing and permitting agencies to start following the law in September.

Elizabeth Davison, the county’s housing director since 1996, said her agency had not carried out steps specified by law for affordable-housing agreements with developers “for years,” but instead followed a “less formal system,” The Times reported.

The office of County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat running for governor, said the county has not lost any affordable housing units. However, officials would not provide evidence to support their assertion unless a Freedom of Information Act request is submitted.

Since 1973, county law has required developers to allot 12.5 percent of residential subdivisions to “moderately priced dwelling units” in projects of more than 20 homes. The law specifies that agreements providing for the affordable housing be signed before building permits are approved.

However, the Department of Permitting Services, which reports to Mr. Duncan, has issued hundreds of building permits to developers who had not signed the agreements.

One such example is the 714-home Kings Crossing in Germantown. Construction began there in 2000, and the last units were permitted in fall 2003. The affordable housing agreement was signed Jan. 24, 2004.

“It would probably be considered [a violation] today. But if you look at the majority of agreements, most of them were not signed until after construction had begun,” said Rose Krasnow, development review chief for park and planning.

“It wasn’t good, and we changed it. But that was the way business was done,” she said.

The Planning Board today will amend the requirement for 102 affordable housing units to allow the developer to construct a cluster of homes for senior residents.

Ms. Davison yesterday noted a 1990 County Council resolution that stated that any affordable housing in what is now Kings Crossing should be built in one location, not interspersed, because of concerns about the effect of runoff on the environment.

She also defended the county’s record on affordable housing.

“Only the most uninformed would suggest that our program has been anything other than a huge success,” she said.

But civic activists say the county has allowed builders to buy their way out of hundreds of affordable housing units at low prices that do not come close to providing enough money for affordable housing elsewhere.

In addition, Mr. Humphrey said Kings Crossing’s developer, Arcola Investments Associates, should still be fined, based on an Aug. 26 letter sent by Ms. Davison.

The affordable housing agreement had specified that construction would begin in June. By late August, nothing had happened, and Ms. Davison had threatened fines of $500 per violation per day if construction did not begin in 90 days.

Kings Crossing residents have slowed progress by insisting that most or all of the units be senior-citizen housing, and Ms. Davison said Arcola has cooperated sufficiently since receiving her letter.

“If people show that they are working diligently towards whatever outcome you’re looking for, we hold back on issuing citations,” Ms. Davison said.

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