2021 | Government

Council committee examines, critiques opening chapters of Thrive Montgomery 2050

Parts focusing on “compact growth” and “complete communities” dissected

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A Montgomery County Council committee on Monday continued reviewing the long-range plan called Thrive Montgomery 2050, focusing on chapters involving growth and how certain regions could expand.

Thrive Montgomery 2050 is a proposed update to the county’s Wedges and Corridors Plan, which dates to the 1960s and was last updated in 1993. That plan recommended how growth should occur in both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, along major road corridors.

Since the county has grown considerably since the 1960s, Thrive Montgomery focuses on just Montgomery County.

The County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee previously reviewed aspects of the plan, but Monday’s work was a deeper dive into its first chapters.

Council Member Andrew Friedson asked several questions Monday, aiming to alleviate some misconceptions residents countywide might have about the plan. One of them was about the “15-minute living concept.” 

The 15-minute living concept is the idea that people should be able to walk 15 minutes to get to most, if not all, of the amenities and resources they need for a healthy life, such as food, health care and entertainment.

One recommendation in the “complete communities” chapter of the draft plan is that county officials should “Identify and integrate elements needed to complete centers of housing, retail, and office development and plan to make 15-minute living a [reality] for as many people as possible.”

On Monday, Friedson asked about the difference between the concept of “complete communities” versus the “15-minute living” concept.

Casey Anderson, chair of the county’s Planning Board, said that the “complete communities” concept refers not only to amenities and services, but also different housing types to serve varying income levels. 

Anderson added that the accompanying “15-minute living” concept won’t work all over the county, including in rural areas, like the agricultural reserve. But it forces planners and others to think about giving residents amenities and services for a healthy life, he added.

“A literal or rigid application of that isn’t going to work, because there are people in Montgomery County [who] would take more than 15 minutes to walk to the end of their driveway. … But when we’re thinking about planning centers of activity, we want to plan them to the greatest extent possible, with that idea in mind,” Anderson said. 

Council Member Hans Riemer, the chair of the committee, added that he believes some residents are interpreting the 15-minute living concept too literally.

He noted that even though he lives close to downtown Silver Spring, it still takes him roughly 20 minutes to walk there.

“I think we understand there’s some realism here, and some different modes of travel,” Riemer said. “But philosophically, we want people to be able to take shorter trips to get what they want.”

Committee members on Monday also examined specific corridors and growth areas throughout the plan.

Friedson asked about why River Road, a road that runs along the western side of the county through Potomac and the Capital Beltway, was included as a corridor in the plan, especially north of the Beltway.

Friedson said that corridor, also known as Md. 190, does not have a plan for immediate transit projects and does not connect “activity centers.”

“Thrive Montgomery 2050 proposes a recommitment to concentrating growth in downtowns, town centers, rural villages, and intensively developed centers of activity, or nodes, along major transportation corridors to maximize the efficient use of land and create Complete Communities,” the draft plan reads. 

According to a growth map in council documents, there are multiple types of such centers, ranging from “large centers” in Rockville, Silver Spring and Bethesda to “Villages and Neighborhood Centers” like Potomac Village, where the identified River Road corridor terminates.

Friedson asked why this road was included as a corridor while Old Georgetown Road, which connects the Pike District in North Bethesda to downtown Bethesda, was not selected. 

Glenn Orlin, a senior analyst for the County Council, and Gwen Wright, the director of the county’s Planning Department, said the possibility for mass transit was why it was included.

Wright added that transit along River Road is a “long, long-range idea,” as connecting residents from that area down south and across the American Legion Bridge to northern Virginia could be important.

“I don’t want us to start scaring the residents of that area,” Wright said. “It is a long, long-term idea. But as part of a network, it is an important connection to get to the Beltway, and to the American Legion Bridge. It connects to a lot of important parts of the downcounty.”

The committee is scheduled to further discuss Thrive Montgomery 2050 next week, said Pamela Dunn, a senior legislative analyst for the County Council.

Committee members previously stated they wanted to reach a final County Council vote on Thrive Montgomery by the end of 2021.

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