The County Council plans to hire an outside consultant to help reach minority communities and people of color about Thrive Montgomery 2050, the county’s proposed general master plan. 

The council expects to have a report from that consultant by July 1, according to council staff documents.

In an interview, Council President Gabe Albornoz said that, based on similar contracts, he believes it will cost somewhere in the tens of thousands of dollars to hire a consultant.

Council members say the work is needed because of a racial equity and social justice review completed by the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight.

The office determined that groups representing communities of color and low-income residents need to be consulted more on the plan, and that there should be a new chapter including the “historical and current drivers of racial and social inequities in land use, housing and transportation.”

Because of that work, it appears that a final vote on Thrive Montgomery 2050 is still months away. The council extended its deadline to vote on the plan from March 20 to May 19, and can continue to extend it in 60-day increments. 

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County Council President Gabe Albornoz said during Tuesday’s meeting that council members want to vote on the plan before the end of October, before the November general election.

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.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Council Member Will Jawando said it’s important that the consultant be a group of people, not just one person. He said it’s also important to dive deep into the issues and goals described in Thrive — including affordable housing, for instance.

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“You kind of have to have a level-setting conversation … and talk about what it is and get past the, ‘OK, we all want these very high-level things,’ and then help them understand what’s really advantageous,” Jawando said. “It’s one thing to say, ‘I want affordable housing,’ but how you get there and what the recommendations are, can vary widely.”

Council Member Tom Hucker said the “request for proposal” process for the consultant for Thrive Montgomery 2050 is critical, since there are several talented consultants in the area.

He said there needs to be a focus on housing and land use, because many smart people can have differing opinions on those policy areas within the document.

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There also is a need to be clear on the timeline for the plan and final vote, council members said.

Council Member Andrew Friedson said the dates might change, but the consultant and public need to know roughly how many more work sessions exist for Thrive Montgomery 2050, before the council votes on the plan.

Chris Cihlar, director of the Office of Legislative Oversight, said in an interview that the council’s central staff will take the lead in drafting the request for proposal for the consultant, and that his office will help with research and similar tasks.

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The council might favor a minority or woman-owned consultant —many are in the Washington, D.C., region — but the council’s central staff will set parameters for the choice, Cihlar said. 

Albornoz said he is confident the county can find a local consultant to do the work.

Council Member Hans Riemer — who chairs the Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee, which voted to support Thrive before it went to the full council — said Tuesday that he supports hiring a consultant to complete a report, and supports adding a chapter about the racial and social inequities in land use, housing and transportation. 

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He added, however, that there might need to be a chapter to describe how Thrive might be implemented in smaller area and corridor plans in the coming years. 

“I think, one of the real problems that we have encountered is that [in] the document that we have, moved all of the specifics, implementation ideas into an appendix, and we decided we could take that up separately,” Riemer said. “But as a result of that, I think … there’s lacking clarity about what it is that Thrive actually contemplates doing.”

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

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