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If You Build It, Use It

By Matthew Yglesias on December 17, 2008 at 12:34 pm

"If You Build It, Use It"

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This is really stupid:

The self-referential Holladay at Edgemoor will deliver 48 condominiums to the intersection of Montgomery Lane and West Lane – dead center between Bethesda’s two main retail areas and just a block from the Bethesda Metro.

Located on a flatiron-shaped, half-acre parcel next to the Chase at Bethesda, the six-story building project will occupy three lots that currently host three office space-converted colonial homes. Comprised mainly of conventional flats, Holladay will also build 4 two-story townhouses on the building’s east side, fronting along Montgomery Lane. Of the units contained in the 71,343 square foot development, 6 units have been earmarked for affordable housing. The residences will all sit atop a 77-space underground parking garage – a measure designed, no doubt, to relieve overcrowding in one of Montgomery County’s most parking-challenged areas. Holladay has taken on Bethesda-based architects, SK&I, to design the project.

The project comes in with especially low density for a Metro site, with 30% open space, and an approved maximum density of 2.5 FAR, the multiplier of buildable space relative to lot size.

Heavy rail lines like the Metro Red Line on which Bethesda Station is located are hugely expensive to build. Hugely expensive and, I think, worth building. But realistically — they’re expensive. That means that of all the space in a good-sized metro area, most of it won’t be right by a station. And that means that when a station is built, we need to use the land that’s right by the station efficiently. Which is to say densely. Which is to say not 2.5 FAR and a big parking garage. There are lots of places far from transit where low density and big garages may be appropriate. But having built the station, we should be cramming tons of stuff onto this parcel.

Things like the six unit affordable housing set-aside in this project may make people feel nice. But ultimately things like a 2.5 FAR limit are drastically curtailing the supply of housing — especially transit-accessible housing. And you can’t address the affordable housing issue through a series of six unit set-asides. You need a systemic effort to allow housing supply to rise when and where housing demand rises. That means allowing density in the most desirable areas, not low-density developments plus set-asides.

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