Councilmember Hans Riemer on the challenge of creating attractive urban areas in Montgomery County, MD

Rockville Town Square
Rockville Town Square, in Councilmember Riemer’s district of Montgomery County, MD. Photo by Dan Reed via Flickr.

Councilmember Hans Riemer has a problem. Residents of the greater Washington, DC metro area increasingly want to live in attractive, high quality, urban neighborhoods—but there aren’t enough of those neighborhoods in his home district of Montgomery County, MD, to meet the demand.

“Cities are reviving and becoming incredibly attractive places to live,” says Riemer, a charter member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. “We’re seeing the impacts of that in Montgomery County. Where people used to prefer the suburbs, they now want to live in cities.”

Montgomery County is a leader on smart growth issues in the state of Maryland. In 1980 the county created an Agricultural Reserve to protect vital farmland and has concentrated dense development towards the core of the region. The county has also created an abundance of single-family suburban neighborhoods.

Councilmember Hans Riemer.

“People generally have a long distance to go between home and work,” says Riemer. “This not only creates congestion problems, but also makes it tough to create those urban places.” Striking a balance between residents who prefer driving and those who would prefer to take public transit, walk, or bike is an issue that Councilmember Riemer is working to address.

“The challenge now,” says Riemer, “is to create those highly desirable great urban places that can compete with neighboring Washington, DC and Northern Virginia; the type of places that attract young people who might want to stay when they start families; the type of places that attract business and strengthen our economy.”

Toward that end, Riemer and his colleagues on the county council are working to create more neighborhoods with a range of housing and transportation choices. The council is already working to improve the county’s zoning codes, which would allow for the construction of residential units in commercial districts and provide for more mixed use. They are also encouraging the development of Master Plans that prioritize new development around public transportation.

To complement that work, Riemer is advocating for more transportation choices in the county. Plans for a countywide bus rapid transit network are advancing; the latest version including 79 miles. A bike share program, similar to those that have risen in popularity across the country, will soon find its way into Montgomery County as the Washington, DC region’s Capital Bikeshare expands its reach. And as alternative modes of transportation increase in popularity, Riemer and his colleagues continue to work to make roads safer for biking and walking.

Riemer has also been a champion of the Purple Line, a proposed 16-mile expansion of the Washington Metro light rail system into Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Funding for the line, announced this year, will include the state’s first transit public-private partnership, state funding, and federal grants. “The challenge,” says Riemer, “becomes designing walkable, sustainable communities around the line that support affordable housing options and existing communities.”

“To compete in today’s economy our county needs to provide a great quality of life in rural, suburban, and urban areas,” says Riemer. “We have two of the three, but we don’t really have the third, at least not yet. That’s what smart growth is all about for Montgomery County—choices for a high quality life.”

Local Leaders Council