GAITHERSBURG — Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer (D-At Large) came to Gaithersburg City Hall Monday night to update Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council on various issues, as well as to respond to their questions and concerns.
Riemer began by discussing population growth in the County and its impact on the housing market.
“It’s a growth that has slowed down, but is a steady upward trend in our population,” Riemer said. Riemer said that the County’s housing market had rebounded after the Great Recession, but was still growing at a slower rate than it had in previous years, at a current rate of roughly 2500 new units per year.
“We think we have an issue where the annual housing supply is not growing the way you might think it would, given the growing population and the challenges we have. As a result of that, housing affordability is becoming an issue,” Riemer said, who cited a recent study done by the Council into the percentage of households who were spending 35 percent of their income on housing, the point at which residents are considered cost-burdened. According to the study, about 40 percent of renters were cost-burdened.
“Our job growth numbers are positive but they’re slow,” Riemer said. “I think we created about 900 jobs in the past year…Our office vacancy is an underlying issue. It’s about average for the region, so maybe that’s a little better than you might think, because we hear a lot about office vacancy. But when you look at where the vacancies are located, it’s very different today than what it used to be. In 1995, the Silver Spring business district had one of the highest office vacancy rates and I-270-Montrose Road had one of the lowest. Today, I-270-Montrose road has one of the highest rates and the Silver Spring business district has one of the lowest.”
“What are you guys doing about small cell?” Ashman asked. The construction and regulation of small cell towers has been a pressing issue in Gaithersburg for some time.
“We actually passed out of committee today and recommended to the full Council our small cell ordinance,” Riemer said. “Under the recommendations of the County Executive, in neighborhoods with underground utilities, it will remain conditional use. So, companies will not have the right to just go in there and put the antennas up because there are no poles to put them on. So, when they have to install a new pole, they’re going to have to go through the conditional use process, which involves the County to examine the request and to negotiate a bit. A conditional use has a public hearing each time.”
Riemer said that the County would join with other jurisdictions in fighting the Federal Communications Commission in court to preserve the authority of local governments to regulate small cell towers and other projects.
Council member Michael A. Sesma asked about the merits of the County government’s control of liquor distribution, and whether this policy was negatively impacting private suppliers.
“As you know, a few years ago, I had a proposal to partially privatize the warehouse,” Riemer said. “There was a warehouse here in Gaithersburg and every bottle or can not produced by a local brewery passed through there and it can only stock so many products. My proposal was that if the warehouse can’t stock the product, then a restaurant or bar should be able to order them from the private sector. In my view, that was the way to get the most out of partial privatization with a minimal fiscal impact to the County. Unfortunately, you know the story, the folks who said we should destroy the whole thing kind of trampled over the carefully-aligned proposal that I had. And, if you get rid of the whole thing, it does have a significant fiscal impact on the County, of about $30 million and $100 million out of the capital budget.”
Ashman and the Council also issued a proclamation designating October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Gaithersburg. The proclamation stated in part, “[d]omestic violence is an unspeakable offense against human dignity that shatters families and can produce lifelong feelings of hopelessness and despair.”
Destiny Jefferson, a representative of Women Who Care Ministries, a nonprofit based in Montgomery Village, accepted the proclamation. Women Who Care Ministries and the City of Gaithersburg are among the hosts of the Annual “Restore the Joy” Domestic Violence Empowerment Luncheon, which features a resource fair and an expert panel discussion on domestic violence. The event will be held Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Radisson Hotel at 3 Research Court in Rockville. Tickets are available at womenwhocareministries.org.