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Purple Line NOW News - Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson Briefs Purple Line NOW

We have lots to share in this addition of the Purple Line NOW News, with a recap of Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson's presentation to the Purple Line NOW Board on housing trends and affordability in the county, as well as an exciting construction update (with photos!) of the major milestone breakthrough of the Plymouth Tunnel. So, grab a cup of coffee and settle in!

We also have more good news to share. Did you know a federal judge last week dismissed a second lawsuit brought by opponents of the Purple Line, saying they had not "proven an 'injury' under the law"? You can read about it here: Judge dismisses second lawsuit against Purple Line project.

Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson Briefs Purple Line NOW

At our January Purple Line NOW Board of Directors meeting, we were thrilled to welcome Casey Anderson, Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board, to brief us on housing trends and affordability in the county.

Casey acknowledged that he hears a lot of concern about real estate development near the new Purple Line stations that could force out existing affordable housing (especially, he noted, in Long Branch and Lyttonsville). In his presentation, Casey gave us the opportunity to take a closer look at what is actually happening along the route.

The first concern he hears is that existing Multi-Family Housing (MFH) stock will be torn down and redeveloped. Many residents believe that older garden apartments and currently affordable MFH near transit stations will be redeveloped into luxury apartments/condos.

So, the Planning Board decided to do some research (you can find some links to the study at the end of this article). Staff studied all MFH parcels which were redeveloped since 1990. Casey asked us to guess how many MFH parcels were redeveloped during this 30-year period (someone guessed 50, someone guessed 2!)

The real answer: only six MFH were redeveloped in the past 30 years! Two are affordable MFHs (the Bonifant in Silver Spring and another HOC in Chevy Chase Lake.) Others are the Blairs in Silver Spring, several apartments in Glenmont, “The Lauren” at 4901 Hampden Lane in Bethesda, and “The Cameron” on Cameron Street in Silver Spring, close to United Therapeutics.

Casey went on to say that the six MFH units which were redeveloped since 1990 yielded a net increase of 318 regulated affordable units (MPDUs). Bottom line: fears that existing MFH near transit will be redeveloped has not been borne out by the statistics.

The second concern he hears is centered around displacement of Single Family Housing (SFH) units. According to Planning Board research, there have been 4,400 SFHs torn down since 1990 – the average has been about 150 teardowns per year. However, since 2015, that number has been increasing and is currently around 250 teardowns per year. About half of those are in Bethesda and the rest are in Potomac, Chevy Chase, and Silver Spring. These teardowns are due to market pressure – some people may move here for our good schools, while many others may not be able to afford a SFH in DC and therefore come to Montgomery County.

And, more so than “teardowns”, it is the improvement and additions to existing SFSs that is causing much of the displacement and again, it’s market pressure driving this. Ultimately, the impact is on middle income folks, who are important for our workforce, being priced out of the close-in SFHs. Casey reminds us to note that it is NOT the affordable units that are being displaced or upgraded. In fact, expensive homes are being torn down to build even more expensive homes.

A few other notes from Casey’s presentation:

  • Concerns about “upzoning” are not supported by evidence. In fact, it is the opposite. The increased remodeling and additions to existing SFH units result in reduced opportunity for moderate income families to find housing.  
  • The number of affordable units has held steady over time. Granted, the population has also increased during this time, BUT the number of affordable units has not decreased.
  • What we are not dealing with is the issue of supply. In 2018, only 1,500 to 2,000 new units were built (much lower than in prior years). Between 1990 and 2005, we were building 3,000-5,000 units per year!
  • Population growth in the county is slow and steady. Meanwhile, there is a decline in the annual supply of housing being built and we have had weak income growth.
  • We simply do not have enough housing supply, and it is not because of fancy condos. We are simply not building enough units!

In closing, Casey highlighted the three most defining factors affecting affordable house availability in Montgomery County:

  • Slow, but steady population growth.
  • A decline in annual supply of housing being built.
  • Weak economic growth and stagnant wages.

A big thank you to Casey and his staff for all of their hard work!

Want more information?

  • See highlights of Gwen Wright’s/Planning Staff research in a January 24 Washington Post article by Katie Shaver:

Study: Montgomery County has grown older, more diverse and pricier

  • See actual Planning Staff research report (100 pages). This will help inform the General Plan being developed:

Montgomery County Trends A Look at People, Housing and Jobs Since 1990




Plymouth Street Breakthrough!

From Wikipedia:

Tunnel hole-through, also called breakthrough, is the time, during the construction of a tunnel built from both ends, when the ends meet, and the accuracy of the survey work becomes evident.

The Purple Line reached a major milestone last week when it broke through the western portal of the Plymouth Street Tunnel

Work crews broke through the bottom portion of the tunnel’s western rock wall, substantially completing excavation of the tunnel. Excavation of the top portion of the 1,020-tunnel was completed in December 2018. Enjoy the pictures, (courtesy of MTA, the Purple Line Transit Partners, and our own Greg Sanders who was in attendance) and the awesome video (Plymouth Tunnel Hole-through). Call us geeks, but this stuff is exciting!

Purple Line NOW joined the media to witness an excavator piercing through the final portion of rock and the moment of breakthrough. It was an exciting morning for the crew, the team, and all who are eager to see the project up and running soon!


A few other tidbits:

  • Most of the Purple Line construction is still in front of us, but the completion of the half-mile Plymouth Street two-layer excavation effort is a major accomplishment.
  • Completion is ahead of schedule and is progress towards the goal PLTP CEO Fred Craig stated at our January Purple Line NOW Forum in College Park of making up time lost to the lawsuit.
  • There is still much work to be done in the tunnel, including milling of the walls, laying the track-bed, and water-proofing. It should be ready for test runs in early 2022, or late 2021, if things run smoothly.
  • This should bring to an end the loudest of the overnight work in the tunnel, which is exempted from county noise ordinances, though neighbor groups are in communication with MTA about what the next step will entail.

Fun details:

  • The construction site is also the location of the Manchester Place Station, between the Wayne Avenue station to the west and the Long Branch station to the East.
  • The tunnel is necessary because of the large Wayne Avenue hill, which is also known to prompt despair or exultation in bikers depending on their direction of travel.
  • There were pillars because the large wall predated the construction effort, the construction site presently has an extensive series of horizontal support pipes, each over a meter in diameter, and one is purple (and we love it!)

Purple Line NOW Vice President Greg Sanders described the hoe ram as, "not just jack hammering, but also nudging small boulders off of their rebar cage, as if the crane arm were the helpful head of a civic-minded dinosaur." How do you like that for some visual?!

Congratulations to everyone on the team! What an exciting day for the Purple Line!



We are working on the next Purple Line NOW forum to happen in late spring/early summer. The topic will be the trail and we are already lining up terrific speakers, so stayed tuned for the date announcement and official invitation!



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