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/.

Why Run?

Bounce house safety check before the neighborhood kids arrive at the last East Rockville Neighborhood cookout.

On a late night walk home from the Pump House where we, the East Rockville Civic Association, had to work through some complicated issues regarding our neighborhood plan, I was really feeling the weight of it all, and questioning everything.

Bounce house safety check before the neighborhood kids arrive for the last East Rockville neighborhood cookout.

Were we doing the right thing? Was the process right and inclusive? Were we forgetting anything? Were we ensuring that the neighborhood maintained and even grew a more diverse housing stock? Were our (very few) historic and public places adequately protected? Was one of our neighborhood babies teething or did he have a cold? Did my neighbors around the corner order enough tile for their new bathroom? Did our “junior member” of ERCA get that scholarship to UPenn? I had all the worries.

Then I got to the corner about a half a block from my house and heard one of the most unmistakable sounds on the planet–one of my favorite neighbors laughing. I had to stop and smile at this deep, heart-felt sound that is so recognized and loved within our four-block radius and, as I stood there, I picked up the sound of children playing, and underlying that the low hum of adults deeply engaged with one another in conversation.

I remembered something in that moment–it’s not about the buildings, it’s about the people inside the buildings, and I don’t get up every morning looking forward to more meetings and firing off more e-mails to the City, I get up every morning because the community that the people of Rockville have built is worth working and fighting for.

By the time I walked the half a block to my house, I knew I was going to call the Mayor, who had been waiting patiently for an answer, and tell her yes, that I would run with her in the 2019 election. Everyone in Rockville deserves to have someone at City Hall who finds them inspiring, and I’m grateful for the reminder and the opportunity.

Here’s what we’ll do:

  • Commit to a community-based, people-centered approach to development.
  • Be better partners to our school community through creating and supporting an Education Commission that gives Rockville a stronger, unified presence within MCPS, and extends a hand to MCC.
  • Foster community through a sustained, focused effort to preserve and develop public and private “third places,” or places where all are encouraged to gather and interact.
  • Preserve and grow our green spaces and tree canopy for our connectedness and well-being.

What I’m Reading:

Butler, Stuart M, and Carmen Diaz. “‘Third Places’ as Community Builders.” Brookings, Brookings, 22 Aug. 2017, www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2016/09/14/third-places-as-community-builders/.

Jacobs, Tom, and Tom Jacobs. “Living Near Trees, Not Just Green Space, Improves Wellbeing.” CityLab, 31 July 2019, www.citylab.com/environment/2019/07/urban-tree-canopy-green-space-wellbeing-research/595060/.

Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place: cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Da Capo Press, 2005.

Recommendations for Building a New Model for Community-Centered Development, Partnership for Working Families, www.forworkingfamilies.org/resource-toolkit/recommendations-building-new-model-community-centered-development.

Gonzales, Ron. “The New York Times > College > College Specials > Mayors On Education | San José: 10 Ways A Mayor Can Help Improve Public Education”. Archive.Nytimes.Com, 2019, https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/ref/college/collegespecial3/coll_opinion_gonz.html?8bl.