ROCKVILLE—County Executive Marc Elrich has requested that Montgomery County Charter Review Commission member Katherine Gugulis step down from her position after she wrote a controversial letter to the editor in The Washington Post about accessory dwelling units (ADU) in the county.
On June 20, Elrich released a statement noting that Gugulis’ letter to the editor is not in line with his vision for a welcoming Montgomery County.
The debate centers around restrictions on ADUs in Montgomery County. These units are usually much smaller than typical houses, but allow homeowners to have a second dwelling located on their existing property. They serve as an affordable and spatially conscious alternative to housing in what is an already dense area. ADUs usually take the form of an apartment placed over an existing garage, a very small house or a basement-level apartment.
There is a proposed amendment before the County Council called ZTA 19-01 Accessory Residential Uses, which would loosen restrictions in the county’s zoning code. The change would delete existing requirements on building an additional living unit on a lot that was zoned for a single family, according to the council.
“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,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer who serves as the chair of the Planning Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee. “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.”
During the discussion of ADUs at a Montgomery County Council meeting on June 18, Councilmember Craig Rice noted the usefulness of ADUs, especially for aging relatives.
A smaller apartment or a very small house on the same plot of land would make it easier to care for a relative but still allow them privacy and some level of autonomy, Rice explained during the meeting.
The council did not reach an agreement during the discussion; however, other council members were hesitant to support legislation that would allow ADUs. Councilmember Gabe Albornoz cited concern over privacy for neighbors.
In a letter he sent out to constituents in May, Elrich noted that he had originally been in support of legislation that would encourage ADUs in the county but has since noted concern over practical issues that could make neighborhoods less comfortable, such as difficult parking, the possible increase of AirBnB’s and even environmental impacts.
“Despite rhetoric that ADUs are a tool for affordable housing, it is highly unlikely that they will help the extremely low-income households (defined as 30% of the area median income) that most need affordable housing,” he wrote.
Even though Elrich has made it clear he is not in support of loosening restrictions on ADUs in the county, he called for the resignation of Gugulis over her remarks on the matter.
Gugulis wrote a Letter to the Editor in The Washington Post with the headline, “Don’t turn Montgomery County into a slum.”
“The council seems oblivious to signs that Montgomery County is losing appeal, as if declining tax revenue and school performance weren’t enough. For most people their home is their biggest investment. Allowing campers, trailers and storage containers to be put in a neighbor’s backyard to house low-income residents is a slap in the face to those people who have worked hard to build a comfortable home and neighborhood,” Gugulis wrote in the letter, published June 16. “It is a sham to suggest that this is being done to provide housing for aging parents or adult children…Just because others flee crime-ridden and poverty-stricken areas doesn’t mean Montgomery County has to be turned into a slum to accommodate them.”
In response to her letter, four days later, Elrich released a statement encouraging Gugulis to step down.
“The language she used was inappropriate and unacceptable, especially for a person who was recently appointed to serve on the County’s Charter Review Commission,” he wrote. “At no point in the review of Ms. Gugulis’ request to serve on the Commission did my staff nor I find any indication that she held the views expressed in her letter. In light of her recent comments, I believe the county would be better served if Ms. Gugulis steps down from her position.”
As a member of the Charter Review Commission, Gugulis is part of a team of 11 people who are tasked with studying the County Charter. Members are appointed by the county executive and then confirmed by the county council.
The commission makes recommendations on revising the charter to the county council in May of every even-numbered year, according to the Montgomery County Legislative Branch Office.
“The matter I spoke about is not, nor would it be, a matter that would come before the Charter Review Commission,” Gugulis wrote in an email. “The Charter Review Commission needs diversity of opinion. I offer that diversity. If they want group think, that is not a good or healthy process.”