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Tom Hucker

Councilmember

Councilmember Tom Hucker

Tom’s Newsletter – August 10, 2018

Dear Friend,

As the County Council is in its annual August recess, I wanted to update you on what we’ve been doing this summer.

Council responds to need for more affordable housing

Last month, the Council approved two bills that will grow the supply of affordable housing in the county through our Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program.

With the median sales price of a county home climbing to $477,750 in June — up 8.6 percent from a year ago and the highest June level on record — too many residents and workers are being priced out of the housing market.

That includes our teachers, police, firefighters, nurses and other valuable professionals who contribute so much to our quality of life and should be able to buy a home in the county where they work.

The county’s Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program was established in 1974 to help provide more affordable housing. The program requires developers of new housing to set aside a certain percentage of units for lower-income residents who meet income guidelines.

The program has been successful, creating more than 11,000 affordable units, but needed revisions to broaden its reach, revisions which the Council has worked on for the past nine months.

The changes we’ve adopted will strengthen the MPDU program in several ways:

  • It will help lead to more units with more bedrooms, to accommodate more families with kids.
  • It will encourage more affordable housing in the county’s more affluent areas, such as Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase, by raising the requirement for MPDUs from 12.5 percent to 15 percent in these areas.

    This will lead to more socially and economically diverse communities and schools. Studies show that lower-income children have better academic results when they attend schools in higher-income areas.

  • It creates a new requirement that new housing developments of 11 to 19 homes — which needn’t set aside any MPDUs — must make a payment to the Housing Initiative Fund, which helps provide more affordable housing in the county. Also, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs will be authorized to accept payments to this fund in lieu of including MPDUs in any development.

Read more here https://bit.ly/2mFaeaX and here https://bit.ly/2v0zdJl.

Council adopts a sensible approach to stormwater management

Our county, along with others in Maryland, is required to minimize polluted runoff from rain that ends up in the Chesapeake Bay, through technologies such as dry wells, grass drainage swales, green roofs, ponds, rain barrels and porous pavement.

As the Council Lead on environmental issues, I was proud to play a strong role in the debate over our stormwater management policies and procedures this spring and summer.

It is concerning that our Department of Environmental Protection failed to meet the goals in our state MS4 permit to reduce runoff into the Chesapeake. It’s also troubling that we’ve spent tax dollars to design more than 40 projects that were shelved and not completed.

This spring, the county executive proposed in our six-year capital budget a radical overhaul of how we manage these projects. His proposal could have resulted in having only a small handful of contractors — or even one — managing the projects, from designing and building to maintaining them.

With only limited information on both the factors that led DEP to fail to meet its requirements and what the new state requirements will be, it didn’t make sense to rashly combine as much remaining stormwater funding as possible into a single long-term contract with no input from the public or the County Council.

In addition, most of us on the County Council — and many community environmentalists — were concerned that these contractors would be able to cherry-pick which projects to work on, and would choose the “low-hanging fruit”: those projects most profitable to them, regardless of their environmental benefit.

Ultimately, most of the Council agreed with me. We voted to adopt a two-track approach: to restart the contracts on the most promising suspended stormwater projects, but not to fund the county executive’s proposed new five-year contracting system for the county’s stormwater management obligations at this time. There were simply too many concerns and too few details about this drastic proposal to justify such a large appropriation of taxpayer dollars at this time, particularly when we do not yet know exactly what our next five-year state MS4 permit requirements will be.

The approved bills also ensure that at least 60 percent of the projects involve “green” infrastructure, such as swales, green roofs and reforestation, vs. “gray” infrastructure — concrete and steel projects. The measures also provide for greater transparency and citizen oversight of the stormwater management process.

All of us involved in this process want the same thing: the most watershed protection for our investment. I want us to build on the strengths of our existing stormwater management program and not reinvent the wheel by handing over lots of careful planning and design work we’ve already done to a new contractor, which would certainly lead to increased cost.

During our deliberations, I also expressed my strong belief that in addition to our local environmental advocates, all constituents deserve to have a real chance to learn about the details of a big shift in our stormwater management work program and provide feedback to us on it.

More information is here: https://bit.ly/2OvaHZS.

Second zoning change would mean more solar power

Last month, I introduced a zoning text amendment designed to make it easier for businesses to install solar energy panels on their property.

It’s a follow-up to the zoning change the Council approved this spring allowing community solar projects that can provide electricity to residents who can’t have their own solar panels.

This new proposal would exempt accessory use solar projects from the costly and lengthy site plan process.

Too often, the cost of the site plan process can outweigh the benefits of adding solar panels to a property.

Many of our businesses want to participate more in the new green economy, for both financial and environmental reasons, and this proposal would help them do just that.

The zoning change would apply only to properties zoned for commercial, employment, industrial and mixed-use without residential.

Together, by promoting more solar energy, these two zoning changes can help our county meet its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Sept. 11 at 1:30 p.m. You can sign up to testify at the hearing online at montgomerycountymd.gov/council/phsignup.html or by calling 240-777-7803.

More information is here: https://bit.ly/2Ap0LOA.

Latest crime report paints a mixed picture

First the good news: So far, overall crime this year in the county is down 49 percent from the same time last year.

That’s what our Public Safety Committee, on which I serve, heard in a midyear update from our police last month.

The big decrease has been driven by big drops in property crimes, such as burglaries and larcenies.

But crimes against persons have increased in 20I8, with more homicides (11 vs. 10 a year ago), of which five were domestic-related, with the rest probably drug-related. Last year, homicides rose to 23 vs. 16 in 2016, with eight of them gang-related.

Sex offenses are up 53 percent, which Chief Thomas Manger attributed, at least in part, to broader definitions of the crime and more willingness of victims to report these crimes — the vast majority of which are committed by acquaintances, not strangers, he said.

There have been no gang-related homicides this year, but gang-related robberies and assaults have risen 36 percent and 43 percent, respectively, from the first half of 2017. And some areas in the 3rd District remain among the more active areas in the county for gang-related crimes.

All this is why I fought in our new budget to increase the size of our police recruitment classes and direct more resources toward preventing and suppressing gang activity. Arresting and convicting gang members for their criminal activity is, of course, important. It’s even more important to prevent our teenagers from joining gangs in the first place, through school, community, nonprofit and other organizations’ intervention programs.

Read the full update: https://bit.ly/2mDFx5X.

Health update: We’re doing well, but …

Our county is generally among the healthiest in the state and the nation — but we could be doing much more.

That’s the message from our new health officer, Dr. Travis A. Gayles, who gave a highly informative presentation to the Council last month that showed correlations between health and income levels.

Among the key findings:

  • From 2008 to 2016, mortality rates have dropped and are lower than Maryland’s and the nation’s rates. Cancer and heart disease remain the county’s top killers.
  • More pregnant women are getting prenatal care, and while rates of low birth weight and infant mortality are lower than the state’s and nation’s rates, they’re highest among Montgomery’s black population.
  • Teen birth rates have fallen, but are highest among Hispanics.
  • Blacks had the highest rate of diabetes-related deaths and emergency room visits.
  • Tuberculosis rates were significantly higher in the county than in the state and nation, with residents of Asian and Pacific Island ancestry having the highest rates.
  • The rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have increased.
  • The percentage of children with high blood lead levels is much lower than in the rest of the state.
  • While the level of particulate matter in our air has fallen, it is consistently higher than in the rest of nation.
  • Among adults, 10.5 percent smoke, vs. 15.1 percent in Maryland.

All this shows that we’re doing a good job but can do much better through our county’s preventive and therapeutic health initiatives. For example, by promoting healthful lifestyle choices, we can help cut down on conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.

The County Council — which is also the county’s Board of Health — must continue to fund outreach and education efforts, especially in our lower-income and minority communities; fight for clean air and water; and encourage exercise, healthful diets and less smoking.

Check out Dr. Gayles’ presentation: https://bit.ly/2LU6jSJ.

Fighting climate change a top priority

Climate change is among the most urgent issues of our generation.

And as the Council’s Lead for Environment, I’m happy to help present on Aug. 14 the “Local Climate Action Mini Summit: Leading the Way — Montgomery County Confronts Climate Change,” in partnership with One Montgomery Green, Poolesville Green and Integrative Strategies Forum. The meeting runs 8:30-noon at the Silver Spring Civic Building.

The meeting’s purpose is to survey the many organizations in our county that are committed to fighting climate change and mitigating its impacts.

These groups, along with county leaders, will share their progress and discuss policies, benchmarks for measuring progress, common and unique challenges, and priority issues to be addressed at the county level. 

The meeting is one of hundreds of affiliate events of the Global Action Climate Summit, which will be held in September in San Francisco. And a public briefing on local climate change action will be held the evening of Sept. 12 at the County Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville.

Our County Council has set an ambitious goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035 and I’m committed to helping meet that goal.

This year I spearheaded a successful proposal to change our zoning law to allow community solar projects, each capable of generating up to 2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 200 homes. And next month there will be hearing on another proposal of mine that’s designed to cut the red tape and expense for businesses that want to install their own solar projects.

More information about the Mini Summit is here: https://bit.ly/2LOBW38.

Bring your blankets and lawn chairs: It’s showtime!

So far, we’ve had some great crowds for Silver Screens, AFI Silver’s annual Friday evening series of free outdoor family movies that I help present. The films, at Sonny’s Green at The Blairs, start at dusk, shortly after 8 p.m. Click on each movie below to check for any weather-related cancellations.

Four more films are on tap in the series, starting Aug. 10 with "CatVideoFest2017" a collection of videos featuring adorable cats, presented with Alley Cat Allies.

Aug. 17: "Game Night", the Jason Bateman-Rachel McAdams comedy

Aug. 24: "Clue". The whodunit board game comes to life.

Aug. 31: "Ghostbusters" — who else ya gonna call?

Restaurant week is back for a fourth year

Once again, I’m proud to present Silver Spring-Takoma Park Restaurant Week, which this year runs Tuesday, Sept. 4, through Sunday, Sept. 9.

Now in its fourth year, Restaurant Week is a great way for foodies to sample a wide range of our community’s finest fare, from bean curd to burgers.

It’s also a great way for our local restaurateurs to reach more patrons, as we provide a lot of free marketing and promotions. If you want to participate this year, please call our office at 240-777-7960 or email us at ssrestaurantweek@gmail.com.

And stay tuned to our website, www.silverspringrestaurantweek.com and Facebook page @SSTPRestaurantWeek.

Koiner farm will continue growing

Last year, I was proud to lead the way on establishing a property-tax credit for urban farms, such as the 1-acre fruit-and-vegetable farm that 97-year-old Charlie Koiner has had near downtown Silver Spring for more than 30 years.

As The Washington Postreported last week, the nonprofit Charles Koiner Center for urban farming was recently set up to ensure this agronomic oasis continues for years to come.

Thanks to Kate Medina and Hannah Sholder and everyone at the center for launching this terrific initiative!

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Thank you for your continued trust and confidence! It is an honor to represent and serve you on the County Council. I can’t succeed without your continued guidance and support!

Please don’t hesitate to share your views, invite me to your community meetings in your neighborhood, your PTA, your social club or your church, synagogue or mosque. And of course, let me know if I can be helpful with any constituent services. You can reach me at my office at 240-777-7960 or at tom.hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov, or, for urgent matters, at my cell, 240-481-4825.

Sincerely,

Tom Hucker

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