Fall is in the air

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by David Humpton, EVP

Fall Festival Recap
Ever seen a pumpkin race? Well if you haven’t, plan on attending next year’s MVF Fall Festival to enjoy the races, music, food, vendor tables and fellowship with neighbors and friends. It was a beautiful day for this year’s festivities last Saturday, and I heard over and over from attendees that this is MVF’s best event of the year.

The VIP race was won by MVF Board member Jim Marsh, who had decorated his own pumpkin with Ohio State’s colors and regalia! Congratulations to Jim and to all those who participated in the many races. Special thanks to Holy Cross Germantown Hospital for the major sponsorship and to the MVF staff who worked the event.

M-83 Studies
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (DOT) is reviewing and finalizing the two studies that are part of the overall Midcounty Corridor Study (MCS), M-83. The county council approved funds earlier this year to study a two-lane parkway. The county had already funded a study of the option involving the master planned MD355 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alignment (Shady Grove Road to Redgrave Place) and Alternatives 2 and 5. Both studies were scheduled to be released in October, but we have been informed that the studies will not be released until November and that no scheduled meetings have been planned as yet to discuss the results.

Since the BRT Master Plan was not approved until 2013, it was not included as an alternative in the original MCS. The new MCS/BRT Alternative will examine whether the combined improvements will satisfy the transportation demands of the study area and meet the purpose and need of MCS without constructing the extension of Midcounty Highway. In addition, DOT is reviewing a commissioned study of an option called the M-83 Mid-ground Option, otherwise known as the two-lane parkway option.

According to DOT, the study methodology will be specified in the study report. It is expected that the county council will seek input from Park & Planning prior to taking up this issue.

Meeting with DHCA Director Clarence Snuggs
I recently toured Montgomery Village with Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) Director Clarence Snuggs, to orient him especially to numerous housing and property maintenance code issues throughout the Village. We truly want to further strengthen our partnership and communications with DHCA, especially with regard to improved enforcement of housing and property code violations.

As I described to Mr. Snuggs, our HOA covenants have limited fining authority, which is crucial to helping gain compliance from homeowners who are not maintaining their properties. In addition, MVF has architectural control, and in more extreme cases, uses the legal process to effectuate change.

We know that in a number of cases, county enforcement has been initiated, including “clean and lien” orders. However, the question is whether potentially more can be done to address problem properties in our community. Mr. Snuggs also shared his concerns and plans for aging housing in the county, especially with regard to condominiums.

Proposed County Council Bills
County Councilmember Tom Hucker has introduced two bills, the first of which (38-16) levies a $1,000 fine for those owners of foreclosed sale properties who have not registered with the MD Department of Labor. As way of background, the MD Foreclosure Task Force identified a limbo period of nine to 18 months between the property’s foreclosure sale and the deed recordation in the public land records. During this limbo period, it is difficult for jurisdictions to identify the party responsible for foreclosed property, and without this identification, it is difficult to notify owners of maintenance and housing code violations on their property.

The second bill (39-16) requires owners of vacant properties to register them with DHCA. After the property has been registered, DHCA will inspect the property for any code violations, and the property owner will have up to 60 days to address the code violations. Any subsequent inspections performed by DHCA will be charged to the homeowner using a graduated fee similar to the False Alarm fee schedule.

Currently, DHCA can impose fines up to $500 for violations that are not addressed within 60 to 90 days. However, these fines are often contested in court, where judges often extend the deadline for repairs and reduce or eliminate the fines altogether. Fees address these issues because they are charged directly to the property owner for the inspection services provided without the need for judicial intervention. According to Tom Hucker’s office, other jurisdictions that have Vacant Property Registries resulted in a significant decrease in vacant properties.

Corridor City Transitway funding
Governor Hogan shocked many county officials, smart growth advocates and others by eliminating all current and future funding of the Corridor Cities Transitway through 2023. The Maryland Draft 2017-2022 Consolidated Transportation Program looks considerably different this year from prior years. The real issue is that no funding continues for planning and engineering phases, which will cause difficulty to pick the project up at a later date without going back to the drawing board.

This project could be impactful to Montgomery Village development projects, depending on the requirements that Park & Planning places on transportation modeling for individual projects. This is very disappointing, and I know that our elected officials will be strongly advocating to get this project back on track.