Staff Recommends Tweaks to Montgomery GIP

The Montgomery Planning Department staff’s preliminary recommendations for modifications to the Growth and Infrastructure Policy (GIP), the rules governing developer contributions to public infrastructure, would align the policy more closely with recent county policies such as Thrive Montgomery 2050 and address some unintended consequences of the current rules.

The transportation recommendations, presented to the Planning Board today, would create new exemptions and discounts for favored types of development such as affordable housing and day care centers and for projects in locations targeted for growth.

The staff noted that many stakeholders have “voiced concern that the rates charged under the current structure are making it challenging to increase housing supply,” with “development impact fees and taxes are more than double the amounts charged by any other jurisdiction in Maryland.”

The staff proposals make several helpful changes to reduce the cost and difficulty of complying with the GIP, but they also eliminate favorable treatment for properties in federally-certified Enterprise Zones (although they retain discounts for Opportunity Zones, a similar program with areas designated by the state).

The staff recommendations also include changes to the system of payments charged to developers to help pay for school capacity, but these amendments are relatively minor. Perhaps the most significant part of the school changes is the absence of any attempt to revive development moratoria as a solution to school capacity constraints; moratoria had been included in the GIP until they were removed in the last major update, which was adopted in 2020.

The Planning Board will hold a series of work sessions on the proposed changes in June and July and then send the package to the County Council, which must approve a final version by November.

Among other highlights in the preliminary recommendations are proposals to:

  • Align the Transportation Policy Area designations (the Red-Orange-Yellow-Green map) with the land use priorities in Thrive Montgomery 2050. The colors on the map determine both the type of transportation tests required for development projects as well as the applicable impact fees. The staff recommends:
  • Establishing three new “red” policy areas that would include properties in the Great Seneca Life Sciences area, FDA Village in White Oak, and Rock Spring. As the most urbanized parts of the county, motor vehicle congestion tests are not applied in the red areas, but they are subject to the highest standards for pedestrian, bicycling, and transit infrastructure.
    • Expanding the “orange” policy area to include the vast majority of the “corridor-focused growth” areas identified in Thrive, including properties along Route 355 (Rockville Pike), Route 97 (Georgia Avenue) and other major roads.
    • Changing Damascus from a “green” policy area to “yellow,” reflecting a recognition that while Damascus is not an urban center it is an established community where some growth is desirable. Yellow areas have slightly more relaxed congestion standards but similar impact tax rates as green areas.
  • Adjust Local Area Transportation Review (LATR) fees and credits to encourage specific kinds of development, including:
  • Exempting affordable housing units from off-site mitigation construction and fee-in leu payments.
    • Exempting multifamily units with three or more bedrooms from off-site mitigation construction and fee-in leu payments.
    • Extending the existing LATR exemption for life sciences projects to January 1, 2029.
    • Crediting development projects for uses previously on the site covered by the application for purposes of calculating LATR obligations.
  • Align Impact Tax Credits and County Policies by:
    • Making any improvements that contribute to transportation adequacy and safety eligible for credit against impact taxes (current law provides credit only for improvements that increase transportation capacity, excluding the cost of traffic signals, bike lanes, and pedestrian improvements in most cases).
    • Exempting multifamily units with three or more bedrooms from impact taxes.
    • Extend the impact tax exemption for life sciences projects to applications filed before January 1, 2029.
  • Eliminate requirements for affordable housing and day care facilities to provide off-site improvements (such as sidewalk extensions beyond the frontage of the property to be developed) applicable to other kinds of projects.
  • Clarify the State Highway Administration’s role in the development review process to discourage duplicative and inconsistent requests for modeling of traffic impacts and mitigation.

Some industry suggestions, however, were not included in the staff’s proposals. We plan to continue advocating for several of these changes, including:

  • A priority list for off-site improvements in the LATR guidelines. Without explicit priorities, applicants are forced to make educated guesses as to what improvements will be well received by reviewing agencies. Each off-site improvement proposed by an applicant requires preparation of 10% engineering drawings, which are both labor- and cost-intensive to develop. In addition to providing a clear set of priorities, we believe the guidelines should eliminate the need to evaluate improvements that are clearly not feasible due to right-of-way or environmental constraints or other issues that are readily apparent without the need for 10% plans to be developed.
  • Expansion of the “red” policy areas to cover a ¾ mile walkshed around major transit hubs.
  • Adjust trip generation adjustment factors to account for changes in travel behavior over the past 8 years.  For instance, the significant increase in telework should be reflected in the adjustment factors to reflect real-world travel patterns to the maximum extent practicable.

Three Rodgers professionals were selected to represent the real estate industry on the Planning staff’s advisory committee for the GIP, and we were pleased that many of the recommendations we helped to develop have been adopted by the staff.

Robert Graham, Randall Rentfro and Neil Blanc are civil engineers at Rodgers and serve as industry representatives to the Montgomery Planning Department’s advisory groups on transportation and school issues in the GIP.