Development and Affordability

Me with my childhood best friend in her backyard around the time the term “NIMBY” was coined in 1980.

“NIMBY” means “Not in my backyard” and “YIMBY” stands for “Yes in my backyard.” “NIMBY V. YIMBY” is as old as that center part and cuffed high-waist jeans.

Apologies in advance for the long post! I hope you’ll stick with me and read the whole thing.

Those of us who live within walking distance of a Metro station know first-hand how problematic affordable housing can be. Recent research indicates that supply is only one factor when it comes to affordable and attainable housing–income inequality and overall affordability of a location are partners in the problem. Transit-oriented, amenity-rich development is expensive and attracts those who can afford it, doing little to serve community members who are struggling. The stale, 40-year old argument about “NIMBYs v. YIMBYs” is divisive while failing to make real progress for the people of Rockville.

Traditional affordable housing as defined by the City of Rockville is available to a family of four making between $38,900 and $70,300. The median income in Rockville is around $100,000. Simplistically, that’s a $30,000 a year gap in who gets help with housing and who does not. While the moderately priced dwelling unit program helps some, it does not do enough to address affordability for the “missing middle,” seniors, or those who are looking at home attainability as they grow into their careers. Not everyone wants to live in an apartment, and Rockville’s reputation as a welcoming, caring community does not lend itself well to warehousing commuters rather than welcoming new neighbors.

As someone who raised a child within walking distance of a Metro station, I’m appalled at recent suggestions that school capacity allowances around Metro stations be raised to 150% while the rest of the City remains at 120% of planned capacity. It’s easy for those who live in traditional single family home-only neighborhoods buffered from Metro to make these kinds of statements, as their children will never be affected by this kind of inequity. Now more than ever, we need representation on the Council that is reasonable, inclusive, and with a proven track record of leading collaborative work that drives real progress for real people. If you have not yet voted, please consider a vote for me as someone dedicated to being a champion for the people of Rockville.

Below is a letter I sent this morning to Greater Greater Washington President and Executive Director, David Alpert. I’ve enjoyed reading their articles, and was disturbed not that they made an endorsement for Rockville’s Mayor and Council election, but that they allowed a donor of the endorsed candidates to write the article announcing the endorsement. They also missed the mark on my record when it comes to development.


Dear Mr. Alpert,

Although I was not surprised that Greater Greater Washington endorsed Team Rockville for the upcoming Mayor and Council election, I was surprised that the article was written by one of Team Rockville’s donors. As one of your readers, I was disappointed that my record as a community leader was allowed to be misrepresented by your elections committee and editorial staff, causing me to wonder what else on GGW isn’t true.

When I look back on the last four years and what was accomplished under my leadership in East Rockville—more for revitalization and development than in the previous couple of decades—I am genuinely proud of what a neighborhood of under a thousand households was able to do. We are driving the conversation regarding ADUs city-wide, and the proposed ADU guidelines in the 2040 Master Plan draft came from the work I helped lead in East Rockville. We’ll also be the first in the City to have an inclusionary housing zone, allowing for duplexes and flats to replace single family homes that are torn down.

Breaking ground this fall is the first new construction on North Stonestreet in a generation (adjacent to the Rockville Metro Station). While others who now support Team Rockville argued for a moratorium on this project, I pushed for it on behalf of my neighborhood and because it was the right thing to do for the City. When the Mayor and all three current Council members, including Councilmembers Onley and Pierzchala, voted unanimously to slow-roll the Stonestreet Corridor Plan and put off some of the necessary zoning changes that were needed to spur redevelopment, including housing, it was again East Rockville under my leadership that stepped up, successfully pushing the Mayor and Council to move forward. When the Twinbrook Quarter project was in jeopardy, I gathered my community together to build a consensus statement that encouraged the Mayor and Council to think outside the box for a solution to move forward with the project while also being better leaders for our kids and schools.

I decided to run with Mayor Newton not because we agree on everything, but because when I needed an assist from City Hall she always responded. She listens to understand, is willing to change her mind, and has an unmatched work ethic. She’s been much maligned for being anti-development, but she’s been our champion when we needed it the most.

This has never been an election about whether or not Rockville is going to grow—it is. It’s about how we’re going to get there. To quote Edward Abbey, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.” I want my new neighbors to have the same advantages I have—an affordable home, a tree canopy, parks, a great school for their kids, and an inclusive community that welcomes all. All of these things are part of development that enhances our quality of life.

The limited thinking of “growth or nothing” does more to hold us back than the desire that our growth be well-managed and beneficial to those of us who are already here as well as those new neighbors and businesses who would like to call Rockville home. This is a time for creative thinking and “big tent” inclusion, not sentiments that pit neighbors against one another with a nearly 40-year old argument about our backyards.

Thank you for your time and attention, and I hope you’ll consider adding to your acknowledgement of Mr. Dutka at the bottom of his article that he is also a donor to Team Rockville. It’s minimal level of transparency that your readers should be able to expect.

Best regards,

Suzan Pitman

Candidate for Rockville City Council

Immediate Past President of the East Rockville Civic Association


Not shared with GGW, but a few things I’ve been reading:

Daniel Cox, Ryan Streeter. “Having a Library or Café Down the Block Could Change Your Life.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 May 2019, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/05/america-needs-more-community-spaces/589729/.

Florida, Richard, et al. “’Build More Housing’ Is No Match for Inequality.” CityLab, 9 May 2019, www.citylab.com/equity/2019/05/housing-supply-home-prices-economic-inequality-cities/588997/.

Florida, Richard, et al. “How Housing Supply Became the Most Controversial Issue in Urbanism.” CityLab, 23 May 2019, www.citylab.com/design/2019/05/residential-zoning-code-density-storper-rodriguez-pose-data/590050/.

Roberts, David. “Making Cities More Dense Always Sparks Resistance. Here’s How to Overcome It.” Vox, Vox, 30 Jan. 2019, www.vox.com/2017/6/20/15815490/toderian-nimbys.

“In a world where I’m forced to choose between the reactionary NIMBY and the radical YIMBY, I choose neither.” Marohn, Charles. “Is Strong Towns NIMBY, YIMBY, or What?” Strong Towns, Strong Towns, 10 June 2019, www.strongtowns.org/journal/2019/6/10/is-strong-towns-nimby-yimby-or-what.

“At the end of the day, YIMBY/NIMBY is a false choice. We need to ask: what is being built in my backyard? Who benefits from that development? And who loses? “ , Karen. “What’s In My Backyard?” Jacobin, 2017, www.jacobinmag.com/2017/08/yimbys-housing-affordability-crisis-density.

Because cities should be beautiful and make us happy. Bogost, Ian. “The Infrastructure of Joy.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 27 June 2019, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/06/why-joy-better-happiness/592735/.

We Can Do Better

When I ask residents what their biggest concern is about our City, the answers almost always involve keeping the great things we have in Rockville going. One recent answer to my question, though, struck me immediately. A neighbor in Woodley Gardens stated that her number one concern was “the lack of civility when we talk about national, county, and local issues.” Frankly, I don’t think asking for “civility” from our local elected officials is setting the bar high enough. Civility should be a basic expectation from your fellow human being. Our elected officials should be held to a higher standard.

As a veteran community leader and a newcomer to election campaigns, I look to those who have come before me as an example of what I should, and should not, be doing. When sitting Council members attack their elected colleagues with half truths, inconsistencies, cherry-picked claims, and edited videos, and allow their surrogates to do the same, it reduces the democratic process to a slimy reality show that has no place in the public realm. Run on your record and your vision, or don’t run.

I’ve stepped up to the podium during Community Forum or at public hearings dozens of times over the last five years, and I can’t help but think what it will be like, especially for those who are doing so for the first time, to come before a Mayor and Council who have won through maligning their opponents. What will they say about me, or you, if we come before them with a request or a concern with which they disagree?

When the election is over, five individuals chosen by the people of Rockville will not only have to work together, but we’ll still be each other’s neighbors. Why don’t we begin as we should continue, and behave as such?


What I’m reading with my coffee this morning:

https://beyondcivility.org/a-minute-of-civility/

Miss Petra

When I was a classroom teacher for at-risk students, many of whom were immigrants, I had a truly wonderful teacher’s aide who was herself an immigrant from Germany. Miss Petra had married and raised two children, and still had a green card because the immigration system is so convoluted, expensive, and difficult that she had started and stopped the process many times over. We spoke often of our students, and if she was struggling with the immigration system what must they and their families be going through?

Before the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act ended the immigration quota system, immigrants from Europe had a much easier time entering our country and obtaining citizenship than any group has had since. After Federal changes to immigration law in 1996, it has generally become even harder to obtain lawful entry into the United States.

Rockville has taken steps to create a safe, welcoming environment for immigrants, regardless of status, while balancing our relationships with County and Federal law enforcement. In addition to creating a safe and welcoming community, we need to take steps to help our immigrant neighbors without residency documents come forward and let us help them gain proper status. They shouldn’t have to rely on the whims of government for their personal security.

The divisiveness we’ve experienced over this issue makes it clear that we need to pay more attention to supporting our immigrant neighbors. Appointing a city-wide task force to evaluate the need for a Commission on immigration and inclusion of immigrants, and to decide if a staff position is needed, is a first step in meeting the level of commitment we’ve made towards a peaceful, diverse community.

My family moved to Rockville because we wanted more—more diversity, more languages, more friends from different backgrounds, more experiences, and more opportunities. We have not been disappointed. Our immigrant neighbors are an essential part of the diversity we celebrate.


Miss Petra finally obtained citizenship four years ago, with her grandchildren in attendance. It took decades and thousands of dollars.


What I’m reading:

Greenstone, Michael, and Adam Looney. “Ten Economic Facts About Immigration.” Hamilton Project, Brookings Institute, 2010, www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/legacy/files/downloads_and_links/09_immigration.pdf.

Kerr, Juliana, et al. “This Is What Immigration Reform Looks Like.” CityLab, Atlantic Monthly Group, 23 Jan. 2018, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/01/want-immigration-reform-look-to-cities/551261/.