ROCKVILLE—Last week the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to approve legislation with amendments that loosen restrictions on accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
ADUs are typically much smaller than the usual house or traditional apartment, but they allow homeowners to create a second dwelling on their existing property. Often homeowners convert unused garages or basement spaces into separate living areas.
ADUs make an affordable and spatially conscious alternative to housing in dense areas. During discussions of the legislation, Councilmember Craig Rice noted that ADUs are a good way to help aging relatives. They get to live closer to family while still maintaining some level of autonomy.
Supporters of the legislation noted similar findings, that ADUs are “an essential part of the answer to providing moderate cost housing,” wrote the council in meeting summary documents. “A failure to approve (the legislation) would, in their opinion, deprive aging homeowners of the only means of being able to afford to stay in their homes. Families wishing to provide some privacy to their aging relatives would be deprived of the opportunity for proximity to intergenerational relationships.”
The legislation was a considerable topic of discussion for multiple council sessions. Those in opposition to the legislation brought protest signs to the council chambers, wrote op-eds for local publications and started a petition that gathered over 1,200 signatures, according to The Washington Post.
“Residents advocating absolute support or absolute opposition could all have worn the same T-shirt: ‘The End is Nigh,’” wrote the council after the public forum on the legislation was held back in mid-June. “The opponents see the destruction of their investment in quiet single-unit neighborhoods with the inability of the County to enforce any regulations. Opponents envisioned so many houses turned into dwellings that parking would be impossible, emergency vehicles would be unable to navigate local streets and schools would be overcrowded.”
One op-ed that garnered considerable attention after being published in the Post’s op-ed section was titled “Don’t turn Montgomery County into a slum.”
The short piece, written by Katherine Gugulis, argued that the county is starting to lose its appeal, and that loosening the regulations on ADUs to make them easier to implement would be “a slap in the face to those people who have worked hard to build a comfortable home and neighborhood.”
Gugulis stated that the legislation would allow campers, trailers and storage containers to be placed in a neighbor’s backyard for low-income residents. She said she also was not in favor of the argument that the many ADUs would be used to house aging relatives, calling the suggestion a sham.
“Most people provide space in their homes, even if it means putting an addition onto their home, for family members,” Gugulis wrote.
Gugulis is a member of the county’s Charter Review Commission. Following the publishing of her op-ed, County Executive Marc Elrich called for her resignation from the commission.
In a previous interview, Gugulis said that she has no intention of stepping down from her post, to which she was appointed by Elrich.