County Council President Gabe Albornoz accused County Executive Marc Elrich of “political posturing” Friday after Elrich released a letter asking the council not to adopt the Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan.
The council is set to vote Tuesday on the controversial plan, an update to the county’s general master plan that will guide development for 30 years. Elrich, meanwhile, has continued his campaign of opposition to the proposal, speaking against it in several recent press briefings and at a downtown Silver Spring forum held by WAMU talk show host Kojo Nnamdi earlier this month.
Thrive Montgomery 2050 focuses on topics such as where growth should occur in the county, what type of housing is needed, what new communities should look like, how to grow arts and culture countywide, transportation networks, and the future of county parks. The issues of growth and housing have generated opposition from some community members.
The council has been reviewing Thrive since the county’s Planning Board approved it in April 2021. The council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee as well as the full council have held multiple public sessions on the plan.
In a letter released Thursday, Elrich doubled down on his opposition, saying the council’s acceptance last week of the resignations of all five members of the Planning Board has further tainted the plan. The council accepted the resignations, saying it had lost confidence in the board after weeks of controversy involving its members. In addition to voting on Thrive on Tuesday, the council is expected to interview finalists to serve as temporary board members until a new council, to be elected in the Nov. 8 general election, appoints permanent members.
Councilmembers have indicated that they intend to approve the plan on the same day they will appoint five new temporary members to the Planning Board. They seem to believe that Thrive was not affected by the pattern of misconduct that led to the wholesale termination of previous Board members. I respectfully disagree,” wrote Elrich, who is running for a second term and faces Republican Reardon Sullivan in the general election.
“I am urging the County Council to disapprove Thrive and send it back to the Planning Board to allow additional time for the necessary review, outreach, and public hearings that should have been done from the start,” his letter said. “This plan is too important to be rushed for approval when there is no urgency to do so, and when multiple problems in the plan have been identified but not yet fully discussed or addressed. And it is important to note that many members of the public are either unaware of this revision to the General Plan or have been misled by the Planning Board and others about what the plan will or won’t do.”
In the post, Elrich argues he has four main issues with Thrive: insufficient attention given to equity issues, Thrive’s platform for a countywide rezoning to allow for a diversity of housing types, a focus on building more housing without addressing the need to improve housing affordability, and that the community was not engaged in the process.
In a letter to Elrich publicly released Friday afternoon, Albornoz responded to each of Elrich’s concerns, rebutting in detail that the plan addresses the concerns. He said Thrive is “the most reviewed general plan in Montgomery County’s history,” citing all of the staff and committees that worked on and reviewed the plan, the work sessions held to write and amend the plan, and the public hearings and other forums held to collect public input.
He also noted work on the plan was not purely led by the Planning Board.
Elrich’s letter “mistakenly suggests that because the Council lost confidence in the Montgomery County Planning Board members and swiftly took action to address the issue, that all the work of the planning staff, Council staff, the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee and the Council is meaningless. This is pure political posturing,” Albornoz wrote. “As you will remember from your time as a Councilmember, when you opposed multiple master and sector plans, the Council receives independent guidance from land use and legal staff. The Montgomery County Charter provides all powers related to zoning, planning and subdivision to the Council.”
The council is scheduled to vote whether to adopt the Thrive 2050 plan at 9:35 a.m. during its Tuesday session.