ROCKVILLE—Councilmember Hans Riemer was at the forefront of discussions about police accountability and housing in Montgomery County during the regular council session on June 18.
Riemer, who has served on the county council since 2010, formally introduced legislation during the council session to form a police advisory committee. He also led talks concerning changes to housing policy in the county.
The legislation he introduced, called the Policing Advisory Commission and also called 14-19, would create an opportunity for civilian involvement in the creation of Montgomery County Police Department (MCP) policy. The goal, according to Riemer’s office, would be to improve oversight of the police department and increase community trust and engagement with the police.
The committee would gather information on best practices and initiatives, and recommend policies, programs and legislation for the police department to the county council.
“I know that we have an excellent police department, full of conscientious and highly professional public servants,” Riemer said. “But we are not immune from the challenges that communities are facing all over the country.”
According to Riemer, the committee will have 13 members, including representatives from community organizations and individual residents. The council will be allowed to appoint nine members to the committee, and the county executive would appoint four. Also, one representative each from the police department and from the Fraternal Order of Police will be able to serve as ex-officio members. These ex-officio members will be affiliated with the committee by virtue of holding office within the police department.
Councilmembers Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Tom Hucker are co-sponsors of the bill to create a Policing Advisory Commission.
“The creation of a Policing Advisory Commission will provide an opportunity for community participation in the review of police department policies and practices,” Jawando said. “This input is a critical component of community-based policing and will help create more transparency and trust between the police and the residents they serve.”
The committee will be expected to compile an annual report by July 1 of each year that gives an overview of its work.
A public hearing about the bill is expected to take place on July 9.
Later in the council meeting, Riemer led the discussion of regulations on accessory dwelling units in Montgomery County. He serves as the chair for the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee.
These units allow homeowners to have a second dwelling located on an existing property. These kinds of units are usually much smaller than typical houses, but they serve as affordable and spatially conscious alternatives to housing. Some accessory dwelling units take the form of an apartment over an existing garage, a basement level single-floor apartment or a very small house.
There has already been considerable discussion about whether accessory dwelling units should be allowed in Montgomery County and what kinds of restrictions they should be subject to.
A public hearing on accessory dwelling units took place on Feb. 26.
Supporters of accessory dwelling units saw them as essential for providing moderate-cost housing, which is beneficial to families who want to move aging family members closer without having them live in the same household.
Opponents, however, view accessory dwelling units as the end of quiet, single-family neighborhoods. Their worries included overcrowding, lack of parking and anxiety over whether emergency vehicles would be able to navigate the crowded streets.
“Our region is growing, and if our rules make it impossible to build new housing, then the options that we have are just going to grow more and more expensive,” Riemer said in his introduction to the discussion. “This is what is happening today, and the middle class is being priced out of this county. Accessory dwelling units could be one small piece of the solution.”
Riemer went on to say that accessory dwelling units would not change Montgomery County profoundly in one way or another but could serve as a targeted and tailored solution.
He also noted his displeasure with the statements that County Executive Marc Elrich made about the issue.
“Our council staff actually prepared a memorandum that looked into a number of the factual misstatements in the letter that I received from the county executive,” Riemer said. “I think it is regrettable that there has been information put out there that is having the effect of stirring up public opposition without a real factual basis.”
Riemer pointed out that in Montgomery County, zoning allows only for housing with a permanent foundation to be inhabited and licensed.
“I think it’s a real low blow using the word ‘trailers’ to refer to accessory dwelling units. A trailer is, by definition, only a temporary housing unit, and it does not have a permanent foundation. These statements have served to create a lot of public confusion and anxiety,” Riemer said.
In the council chamber, some attendees had brought small protest signs to express their opposition to accessory dwelling units.
Councilmember Gabe Albornoz said that he was in support of accessory dwelling units in principle but that he was concerned about units that are detached from the primary building on the property and was uncomfortable with the pace of the legislation. He also noted concern over disrupting neighborhoods, which was met with some applause from the audience.
Councilmember Craig Rice took another perspective on accessory dwelling units and was in favor of allowing them in the county. He cited the usefulness of having an accessory dwelling unit for his own mother. A smaller apartment or very small house on the same plot of land as an existing house would allow family members more privacy and autonomy but still makes helping much easier.
Rice also noted that restricting accessory dwelling units based on the size of the lots would be unfair.
“That says to me that you need to be more affluent to have a larger lot size and to have an accessory dwelling unit,” he said.
The council is expected to have another work session on July 9, when they are anticipated to conduct a straw vote to see where consensus on the matter lies.