As County Council Member Nancy Navarro (left) watches, Cherri Branson, David Hill, Amy Presley and Jeffrey Zyontz are sworn in Thursday as temporary Planning Board members. Credit: Ginny Bixby

Jeffrey Zyontz, the temporary chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board, and Tanya Stern, the acting director of the county Planning Department, said Monday they are moving forward with the county’s planning work.

During a media briefing Monday, County Council President Gabe Albornoz introduced the two officials and said Zyontz’s former experience as a zoning attorney for the council has prepared him for the job.

“Jeff Zyontz, who was nominated as chair, is no stranger to the council, having worked here … advising previous councils and this current one on a number of land use issues and of course, he used to work for the planning department and brings with him a wealth of experience and background and context to do exactly as we had hoped to be able to hit the ground running and help us through this transition,” Albornoz said.

On Thursday, the council appointed Zyontz and four others as temporary board members after accepting the resignations of former Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and board members Gerald Cichy, Tina Patterson, Carol Rubin and Partap Verma on Oct. 12. The council accepted the resignations, saying it had lost confidence in the board after weeks of controversy involving its members, including the firing of former Planning Director Gwen Wright, who was set to retire in three months.

The other temporary board members are Cherri Branson, David Hill, Amy Presley and Roberto Piñero. The council appoints the board members, known as commissioners, who serve four-year terms. Board members also serve as commissioners of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

After Wright was fired Oct. 7, Stern was appointed acting planning director. She had been deputy director under Wright since August 2018.

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Zyontz said he was humbled and honored to take on his new post and that his past experience is helping him to get a good sense of the Planning Department’s organizational structure and personnel.

“I was immediately handed briefing books to get everybody ready. Commissioners have to be trained. There’s all of the routines to become park and planning employees itself,” he said. “So, we’re going through that and I’m looking forward to getting started and getting the work done.”

Albornoz noted the board appointments are temporary and that three members will serve only until March, when the new council, to be elected in the Nov. 8 general election, will appoint permanent members to take their places. The remaining two, including Zyontz, will be replaced in June. Zyontz has agreed to serve as chair through June to ensure continuity of service, Albornoz said.

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Stern said she was excited to work with the new board members and move forward with the work that needs to be done. She also expressed her appreciation to the council for unanimously adopting Thrive Montgomery 2050, calling it a “a major accomplishment for our county.” On Oct. 25, the council voted to adopt the controversial update to the county’s general master plan, which will guide development for 30 years.

She said that as acting planning director, she has two major responsibilities.

“The first is to support the staff for the Planning Department. We have almost 150 amazing employees, expert planners and others, whose work really undergirds the land use planning division and the policies to help support our communities in this county. The second part of my major task is to make sure that we continue with our work,” she said.

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Stern said the board has multiple masterplans and studies underway, including the Fairland and Briggs Chaney masterplan in East County, a University Boulevard corridor study, and a study of the Downtown Wheaton area.

She said that each of the plans and studies have their own timelines and will be focusing on different parts of the county, with their specific issues, challenges, and opportunities.

“We’re also … even during this pause for the Planning Board, continuing our work to review regulatory projects [and] development projects that will be going before the board so that we can continue to move those forward,” Stern said.

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Apps Bichu reports on growth and justice. She can be reached at apps.bichu@bethesdamagazine.com