Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ervin briefs council on rebate status in tight budget year - Gazette

Council Notes | Jeremy Arias |Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin briefed the City Council about possible upcoming challenges stemming from the county's tight budget in a discussion Monday night that also included a presentation from county Park and Planning about infill development.

Ervin (D-Dist. 5) expressed hope for a strengthened relationship between the city and the county, mentioning the possibility of enacting a SmartBike program in Takoma Park. She also warned of future financial shortfalls at the meeting, particularly in response to Mayor Bruce Williams' renewed calls for the county's report regarding rebate returns to municipalities.

"I can tell you right now that unfortunately the news from Annapolis is not good," Ervin said about the possibility of cutbacks due to county budget restrictions. "We're going to have to take a hard look at everything."

Councilmembers mentioned rebates during last week's briefing by County Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park. The city is upset over county delays on an agreement they hope will solve double taxation issues faced by Takoma Park residents, who pay for both city and county services. The disagreement stems from the amount of money rebated to the city for services usually provided by the county each year.

Following Ervin's speech, Marybeth O'Quinn of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission briefed the council on a variety of approaches different municipalities have taken toward infill development, or the construction of large mansion-style houses by adding onto or demolishing existing homes.

A PowerPoint presentation of a county task force study on infill development reviewed the different tactics employed by surrounding municipalities and cities nationwide, but during the council's question period O'Quinn seemed to recommend the city implement a tailored version of a "floor area ratio" plan to keep future increases to building sizes in check.

There's no question that floor area ratio is the most accurate way to control the size of the house," she said. "What it doesn't give you is where [the house] sits on the lot, what style it is, the height. … To really render FAR as the control tool you want, you'd want to include either some design guidelines or height [restrictions]."

The floor area ratio is the ratio of a house or building's total floor area compared to the total area of the lot that building is in. The ratio only limits the ground floor, so the task force stressed height restrictions as important considerations to prevent developers from building ungainly multi-story buildings, O'Quinn said.

The presentation came in response to a proposed amendment to county zoning regulations on infill projects that may include house height limitations for certain categories of houses and limitations on the maximum floor area covered by single-family homes. The task force is still meeting on the issue and has not presented to the county.

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