A Montgomery County legislative analysis entity says the county’s proposed general master plan update needs to address racial equity and social justice more directly.

The Office of Legislative Oversight reviewed a version of Thrive Montgomery 2050 that the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) committee finalized in late October.

Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the county’s proposed general master plan update. The last update to a county general master plan was in 1993, revising the county’s Wedges and Corridors plan, which focused on Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. That plan dates to the 1960s.

Thrive, the latest proposed update, focuses on how Montgomery County should grow through 2050. The entire County Council is now reviewing the proposal.

The Office of Legislative Oversight’s report recommends steps for the county to strengthen the proposal to make it more inclusive:

  • Convene a group of organizations representing communities of color and low-income residents across the county to offer their perspectives on the latest draft
  • Improve the readability and specificity of the document
  • Add a chapter that includes the “historical and current drivers of racial and social inequities in land use, housing and transportation” 
  • Include more data and analysis describing the inequities
  • Prioritize equitable economic development
  • Use an Office of Legislative Oversight review tool to examine the anticipated impact of policies and practices

The County Council asked the office on Jan. 13 to do a review.

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The office’s report, which was released on Wednesday, offers recommendations on the current draft, but says it can do a more thorough review when the proposal has been updated “to reflect best practices to advance racial equity and social justice.”

The Seventh State, a blog covering local politics, first wrote about the Office of Legislative Oversight report.

County Council Member Will Jawando, who sits on the PHED committee, has expressed in previous meetings the need for more outreach to communities of color. He could not be immediately reached for comment via two phone calls and a text message on Saturday.

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County Council Member Hans Riemer, who chairs the PHED committee, said in an interview Saturday that the draft of Thrive focuses on racial equity and social justice throughout.

He said there have been many public hearings, community meetings with the regional service centers and discussions with communities of color since the Thrive process started in 2018.

Ultimately, though, he said, the council needs to reach a final vote on the plan soon. He hopes that can occur by the end of March.

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“Achieving [and] strengthening the county’s commitment to social justice is a primary goal of this plan,” Riemer said. “It has been an intentional part of all policy decisions and community outreach. … I certainly stand by what we have done, and am open to how we can improve it, and I think we need to move forward.”

The current draft of the plan includes how Thrive would broadly address issues involving racial equity and social justice in its introduction.

“Advancing racial equity through just planning policies and public investments in underserved communities, promoting the racial and economic integration of neighborhoods, and focusing on the potential for the design of communities to help build social trust and inclusion while encouraging civic participation are among the most significant elements of Thrive Montgomery 2050,” the plan states. “Thrive Montgomery 2050 strives to create racially integrated and just communities. Like economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability, policies designed to advance racial and social equity are integrated into every part of this Plan.”

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County Council President Gabe Albornoz said in an interview Saturday that he did not have a deadline on when the council would vote on the plan. He added, however, that the Office of Legislative Oversight’s report raises questions that need to be addressed.

Albornoz said there is “competing information” coming from community members — some feel the current draft will help create more opportunities for housing for people of color, while others believe it will only further gentrification and displace those people from their homes and communities. 

There also are concerns that the plan doesn’t address climate issues enough, Albornoz said. He said recent flooding around the county has shown that future development and growth must be done responsibly, with the proper infrastructure in place.

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“I don’t want to set up a date arbitrarily. I think we need to continue to follow the legislative process … and it will take as long as it needs to take, for all of us to ask questions and get some more information about this document,” Albornoz said.

A work session on the report and the Thrive plan are scheduled for Tuesday afternoon during a County Council meeting.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

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