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Jul 12 - CB-42-2014 "Single Family Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay Zone"

posted Jul 12, 2014, 6:02 PM by PJ Brennan
A letter from County Councilmember, Eric Olson.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,
 
Has a "for sale" sign ever gone up on your street, and you've lived with the anxiety that the house will be bought by an out-of-town investor?  That it will become an unmanageable rental property?  Have you experienced more and more houses converting from owner-occupied to rental in your neighborhood?  Has your quality of life been disturbed with increasing noise, cars, and litter?  Have you ever asked me or any of your other elected officials to do something about stopping more properties from becoming rentals?
 
I know many residents have, because in my 17 years representing College Park, these are the complaints I've heard the most. 
 
I now have a bill, CB-42-2014, the "Single Family Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay Zone" that would create a zone that the City of College Park, and other areas within a 2-mile area of a campus of higher education, could request be placed over neighborhoods.  The Overlay Zone would have several provisions:
 
-it would prohibit any new rental permits for single-family detached dwellings from being issued if another rental house permit exists within 800 feet;
-it would grandfather all rental house permits that exist at that time, but if one of those rental houses changes ownership, the grandfathering would expire and the rules of the overlay zone would apply;
-it would establish provisions for waivers, so that if a homeowner in the overlay district had to be away from their home for an extended time (military service, sabbatical, etc.) or similar circumstances, residents could obtain a waiver to rent their home out during that period;
 
My bill would only establish a zone to exist in the county code, it would not impose it on any area.  Only if the bill is passed, could a municipality or neighborhood within two miles of a campus request such an overlay zone for their community – and then, it would require a planning process with community meetings, hearings, and a vote of the District Council if such an overlay zone were to be established for a neighborhood.  Boundaries establishing the area would be created at that time, and neighborhoods could be excluded from the zone if they did not want to be part of it.  Similar overlay zones have been established in other college communities, including in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, to address a saturation of rental housing in neighborhoods.  Such an overlay zone was challenged in court and upheld.
 
As a City Council Member for 9 years, and now a County Council Member for 8 years, I've worked with colleagues, residents, students, University administrators, law enforcement, and more to address the many problems we have had over the years.  We have collaborated to increase the supply of student rental housing units (6,500 in a little over a decade, with 3,000 more units in the pipeline), we have increased fines, rental regulations, nuisance codes, and the University extended both its area of concurrent police jurisdiction and its student code of conduct.  These and many other measures have had a positive effect, but the conversion of residential homes to rentals has persisted.  In a recent ten-year period, from 2000 to 2010, more than one in ten houses in College Park went from owner-occupied to rental.  In a six-year period, 2005-2011, there was a 35 percent increase in rental permits for houses and townhouses. 
 
I recognize that addressing the saturation of rental houses through zoning would not be universally welcomed, but I also know that we have tried a great deal of measures and the conversion of neighborhood houses from owner-occupied to rental has continued.  I do not think residents want to see more of our streets and more of our neighborhoods tip toward a greater proportion of rentals.  We need to retain our neighborhood property values, and ensure our community remains a solid place to live, raise families, and age in place.   At the same time, I want to be clear that I understand that we live in a university community and that there will always be rentals.  I embrace the diversity of ages in our community, and part of what I like so much about living in a university town is the energy and enthusiasm of having so many young people around.  My family has had the good fortune of getting to know many students living in our neighborhood.  Over the years, many students have been babysitters for our daughters, interns in my office, and we've stayed in touch with them long after they graduate as they have gone on to further schooling, careers, and life.  I was especially proud to see Eric Swalwell, a student I became good friends with a decade ago, and who I remain close with, go on to become a Member of Congress from California.  There is currently a terrific group of students who rent homes in a cooperative manner – Cooperative Housing at the University of Maryland, "CHUM" – and they are conscientious and involved in the life of our neighborhoods in a very positive way.  So I want to be clear that I am not opposed to students living in our neighborhoods.
 
I do believe, however, that there is a need for balance.  When a neighborhood tips too far toward rentals, there are destabilizing factors, beyond even issues of noise, parking, and code issues that are traditionally cited.  For instance, students and long-time residents alike have long sought a greater diversity of retail and restaurants.  "Why can't we have a Trader Joe's?" or "why is almost every new restaurant a pizza place? (we are about to get our 7th pizza restaurant in downtown College Park).  More homes converting to rentals instead of owner occupied by professionals or families means less of a market for diverse retail.  We also lose income tax as a community, when a house with a middle-class household income is replaced with full-time students who either don't make enough to pay income tax, pay a smaller income tax, or report their taxes in their hometown elsewhere.  That means less money the City of College Park can use to make improvements to our community.
 
I am regularly approached by professionals, families, couples, who are looking to buy a house to move to College Park.  Just in the past two months, I had three families looking to buy but they could not find any inventory.  All three ended up buying in other communities even though they wanted to be in College Park.  There is demand for our neighborhoods from prospective homeowners, and it will only grow as we gain more amenities in the Route 1 corridor, with the coming of the Purple Line, and as people are priced out of the housing market in Washington, DC.
 
I want to acknowledge the trade-off of this legislation, however.  If passed, and if such an overlay zone is requested and is ultimately overlayed on a neighborhood, it could mean that if a homeowner sells their house, that investors would not be part of the buyer market.  Some homeowners have expressed to me that they would want the ability to sell to an investor if that's who will pay them the most money for their house.  I respect that, but I also believe that the overall community will be better off – and that property values will be highest – when our neighborhoods retain their value as housing for families and owner occupants.  But in full disclosure, I wanted to share the perspective that I am hearing from some homeowners.  I also have heard from some landlords who are unhappy about the concept.
 
If you are interested in commenting on this bill, there will be a committee meeting in front of the County Council's Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development Committee at 1:30 pm this Tuesday, July 15, in the second floor committee room of the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.  If you cannot make it on Tuesday, you can submit comments to the committee by emailing the Committee Director, Jacqueline Brown at: jwbrown@co.pg.md.us
 
Senator Jim Rosapepe and the Delegates of the 21st District have sent a letter of support for the bill, and Mayor Fellows and several city council members have also expressed public support for the bill.  The City Council as a whole has not yet taken a position.
 
 
Please let me know if I can answer any questions. 
 
Thank you,
Eric
 
Eric Olson
Council Member, District 3
Prince George's County Council
eolson@co.pg.md.us​
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