2021 | Development

During protest, Thrive Montgomery 2050 opponents say plan won’t solve housing goals

Debate over proposals focuses on how to foster growth, who can afford homes

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Dozens of protesters gathered outside the county's Planning Board building in Wheaton Thursday to protest Thrive Montgomery 2050.

Photo by Steve Bohnel

Dozens of residents who oppose Montgomery County’s proposed long-term general master plan gathered Thursday outside the county’s Planning Department in Wheaton, arguing that the plan would not help the county meet its affordable housing goals.

Kim Persaud, a member of Empowering People in Communities of MoCo, was leading the protest, starting chants like “We need affordable housing” and “Protect our single-family homes.” People held signs reading “We Won’t Thrive With Thrive” and “Stop Rezoning Our Single-Family Homes,” as they called on Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson to listen to their concerns. 

The plan protesters were opposing is Thrive Montgomery 2050, the county’s proposed update to the Wedges and Corridors Plan, which originated in the 1960s and was last updated in 1993. 

The Wedges and Corridors plan included how growth should occur along major road corridors in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Now, with how much the region has grown, Thrive Montgomery focuses on just Montgomery County.

Supporters say the plan would help the county accommodate future growth by adding more housing stock to serve the entire socioeconomic spectrum, something greatly needed as more people continue to move to Montgomery County.

Opponents, including those who showed up Thursday, said it would displace communities of color, not create enough affordable housing for lower-income people, further gentrify areas countywide and hurt the environment.

Persaud said the process of drafting the plan has not been publicized enough since its inception. She added that the plan focuses too much on market-rate housing versus affordable housing — including protecting the county’s current affordable housing supply. 

“How are they planning on implementing it? Are they waiting for subsidies to drop from the sky?” said Persaud, a Wheaton resident. “The fact that you’re talking and putting things on paper without a plan, without discussions … there’s no protection in place for any of this.”

The Montgomery County Planning Board spent time on a draft on the plan late last year, and worked through several work sessions to tweak it before approving it and sending it to the County Council and County Executive Marc Elrich in April. 

The County Council has had at least two public hearings on the plan, in which dozens of supporters and opponents have testified on the plan. County Council committees have been examining pieces of the plan in recent months.

Jane Lyons, the Maryland advocacy manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth — a group that has advocated for Thrive Montgomery 2050 — said in an interview on Thursday that the plan focuses both on market-rate housing and affordable housing. The county needs to increase its offerings for all types of housing units to combat rising housing costs, she said. 

Cary Lamari, a member of Responsible Growth for Montgomery County, attended Thursday’s protest. Lamari, an Aspen Hill resident, said the plan doesn’t do enough to preserve and protect affordable housing.

Lamari said county officials should consider “overlay zoning” in spots to create different uses, versus “euclidean zoning,” in which different areas within a community are already zoned to allow different uses. Community land trusts, in which a nonprofit or outside organization owns the land and homeowners only own the property, are also a solution, he said. 

“As an overlay zone recommended through master plans, we can target this kind of thing and we can do it to create affordable housing,” Lamari said. “I’m a big fan of community land trusts. I think that’s the way to go. You’re creating housing for first-time homebuyers. You’re creating housing for municipal employees, affordable housing. You’re creating opportunity.”

The Planning Board draft of Thrive Montgomery 2050 notes: “None of the plan’s zoning-related recommendations can be implemented without a sectional map amendment, district map amendment, or a zoning text amendment approved by the County Council.” 

It does, however, recommend that county planners and other officials look at rezoning areas where greater density makes logistical sense, by updating “zoning allocations and standards to encourage the integration of varied uses, building types and lot sizes.”

Brenda Freeman, who lives in Woodside Park in Silver Spring, fears that Thrive Montgomery 2050 would displace minority populations and make it more difficult for lower-income residents to buy homes.

“If your goal is equity, come up with something that people can buy,” Freeman said. 

Lyons, however, said the county already has that issue. There are “wealthy enclaves” where lower-income people cannot currently afford homes, and Thrive Montgomery 2050 would serve as a guide for future zoning decisions and area plans to help correct that problem.

“As we have our communities not evolve their zoning to keep up with demand and the times, those structures just continue to go up and up and up [in price] and continue to push people out,” Lyons said. “We’re seeing gentrification already.”

Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, who was leading a Planning Board meeting Thursday, could not immediately be reached for comment. 

The plan currently is before the County Council. Some council members had wanted to vote on the plan by year’s end, but it’s unclear if that will still occur. County Council President Tom Hucker, who sets the agenda, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

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