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With The Pandemic Almost In The Rearview Mirror, Montgomery County Focuses On Growth And Housing

Montgomery County

Last May, when some areas of Maryland began to relax coronavirus restrictions, the state’s most populous county remained vigilant.

Now, as more than 194,000 Montgomery County residents have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, things are looking up. Residents have a lot to look forward to, from the county forging ahead with its Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan, to a progressive housing plan to several exciting new developments, including luxury apartments, unique office space and a high-end senior living community. 

Read on to learn more about the developments that have been recently completed or are in the pipeline in Montgomery County, how the county was able to move forward with construction during the pandemic and its plans for the future of residential housing. 

Construction Soldiers On 

Construction has continued during the past year throughout Montgomery County. 

Ripley II in Silver Spring is a 26-story, 550K SF residential and mixed-use building from Washington Property Co. The building is scheduled to be completed in 2022 and will include 403 luxury apartment units, a rooftop amenity space, ground-level retail and five levels of above-grade parking. Once finished, it will be 270 feet tall, making it the tallest building in Silver Spring.

The Atelier in Glenmont, a collection of studio, and one- and two-bedroom homes from Elion Partners, Buchanan Partners and JAG, is set to open sometime this month. Located north of Wheaton, steps from the Glenmont Metro station, the building will feature a rooftop deck with an outdoor flat-screen TV and fire pit, a fitness center, a pet spa and a business center with a private conference room. 

909 Rose at Pike and Rose is a 212K SF office building with retail tenants on the ground floor from Federal Realty Investment Trust that is currently leasing. This is a Class-A building with a fitness center, conference center, rooftop terrace, multiple meeting areas, bike storage, and a pantry and café-lounge area.

Modena Reserve in Kensington is a senior living community from McCaffery and Solera Senior Living completed early this year that includes private dining clubs, cafés, a theater, a salon, a fitness center, and independent living, assisted living and memory care unit homes. 

Along with these new advancements, Montgomery County’s retail sector has been spared some of the staggering vacancy rates seen in other areas. Montgomery Planning reports that Q4 2020 retail vacancy in Montgomery County was 4.2%. Its office vacancy rate was 14%, but that elevated rate is partially due to the fact that more than 850K SF in new inventory has been delivered in the last 18 months.

Montgomery Planning's technology division kept the development review process moving forward virtually during the pandemic without any delay in applications and approvals, it said. The planning board meetings also moved over to Microsoft Teams to allow the board to continue to conduct business uninterrupted and for the members of the community to participate live during online meetings. 

The Bethesda Downtown Plan monitoring and tracking tool shows how construction is moving forward in the area. It highlights density allocated to each site, the number of affordable housing units and the amount of funds directed to the Park Impact Payment for future park sites in Bethesda. 

A Renewed Focus On Housing 

Thrive Montgomery 2050 is a three-pillar plan to make changes to the county over the next few decades. The plan takes aim at Montgomery County’s lack of housing: With 85% of land in the county already developed or otherwise constrained, there is little room to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of new residents that the area is expected to add over the next few decades.  

The plan proposes reconsidering sites that were once deemed unsuitable for development, including parking lots and the air rights over existing buildings. It also includes efforts to make the area more urban, diverse and interconnected.

One of the key goals is to tackle the county’s housing crisis. Almost half of the housing in Montgomery County is made up of single-family homes, thanks in part to widespread zoning laws that keep multifamily housing from being built. But there are plans in the works to make MoCo more affordable for all residents. 

“We can support diversity in our communities by diversifying our housing options,” Montgomery Planning Director Gwen Wright said. “Looking beyond single-family housing will help integrate communities with people across the ethnic, racial, social and economic spectrums. It will also allow residents to stay in the same area by accommodating their different needs as they age.”

The Montgomery County Council directed Montgomery Planning staff to review housing options in the county. In response, the organization has launched an Attainable Housing Strategies initiative, in which it will evaluate and potentially change proposals in an effort to spur the development of more diverse types of housing. 

All of this is part of the Complete Communities chapter of Thrive Montgomery 2050, which aims to overhaul infrastructure in the area, from creating new workplaces, to creating more diverse housing types, goods and services offerings and parks, to building new infrastructure to support walking, biking and transit. 

“We are more than up to the challenge, since addressing Montgomery County’s housing needs is already a critical part of planning work,” Wright said.