2021 | Government

County Council majority expresses support for Montgomery Thrive 2050

Proposed update to county’s general master plan would be first since 1993

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A majority of Montgomery County Council members on Tuesday expressed their support for the county’s proposed general master plan update, but wants more discussion before a final vote.

It’s unclear when that final vote will happen.

The County Council is scheduled to host a listening session on the current draft on Nov. 30. Residents can sign up to speak.

Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, Planning Director Gwen Wright and Council Member Hans Riemer briefed the entire County Council on Tuesday about the latest version of the proposed plan. The council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee made changes to the Planning Board’s draft, which was sent to the council in April.

Riemer, the chair of the committee, said it held 10 work sessions on Thrive Montgomery 2050 to review and make changes before it reached the full council. 

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.

According to council staff documents, here is an overview of some changes the Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee made before finalizing its draft

  • In each chapter of Thrive Montgomery 2050, a section was added to address each of the plan’s “overarching objectives” to show how policies and practices support those objectives. Those objectives include economic health, racial equity and social justice, and environmental resilience
  • Expanded the plan’s introduction, including longer sections on the three overarching objectives
  • Added definitions and descriptions of terms used to illustrate the 2050 Growth map, which highlights growth corridors and centers of activity countywide. It also removed the River Road corridor from the Capital Beltway to Potomac Village
  • Changed the language of the “15-minute living” concept — the idea that residents should be able to access life necessities and amenities within 15 minutes — to reflect that the concept will mean different things to different areas of the county
  • Added a statement that the county “must view access to safe, affordable and accessible housing as a basic human right” for every county resident
  • Clarified a statement that incentives to boost production of market rate and affordable housing should not be limited to financial incentives

Riemer said these changes and others were to “smooth out” some of the differences between the Planning Department staff and council members. He called the final product a “consensus document.”

County Council President Tom Hucker debunked what he said are some myths he heard about the plan. One of them was that under the plan, the government could take someone’s home and turn it into an apartment building or other type of structure.

“I guarantee you that nothing in Thrive authorizes the government to take anyone’s property in any way,” Anderson said.

Thrive Montgomery 2050 does mention zoning and rezoning throughout the document. But it does not instruct any specific zoning changes countywide, instead recommending that council members, the planning staff and other officials look at potential rezoning in certain areas where it makes sense, to accommodate future growth. 

“Implementation of Thrive Montgomery 2050 will occur over several decades and will require changes in master plans, zoning and building codes, subdivision regulations, the adequate public facilities ordinance and many other county rules and processes — they are not made in the adoption of this General Plan,” the plan’s conclusion states. 

County Council Member Sidney Katz said he appreciated the work of the planning staff and the Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee, but there is still some concern in the community about it.

Even though the plan does not bring about any zoning changes, Katz said, rezoning would have to happen to achieve goals in the plan. Anderson confirmed this.

Some community advocates have called on the County Council to vote on the plan by the end of 2021, but Katz did not agree.

“We’re talking about a program, something that’s going to happen over a 30-year time frame. … Saying we should do it by the end of December, to me, does not make sense,” Katz said. 

But other council members and planning staff members said they have held hundreds of meetings with individuals and community groups about Thrive Montgomery 2050.

Council Member Andrew Friedson, who sits on the Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee, said the committee took longer than initially anticipated to review and amend the plan.

He said Thrive Montgomery 2050 is meant as a guide and “visionary document” to other area master plans and zoning text amendments that council members would deliberate over.

It’s important to get Thrive Montgomery 2050 right, but also valuable to remember its overall purpose versus those other policy decisions, Friedson said. 

“It is very hard to choose a destination and pick the directions at the same time. … That is not a winning strategy,” Friedson said. 

Council members acknowledged that the plan is not perfect, but they need a consensus, as the last update to the county’s general master plan was roughly 30 years ago. Anderson said the county has looked at policy issues differently since then.

“If you don’t adopt Thrive, we will be operating under a general plan that does not mention the word ‘race’ or ‘racial equity’ once,” Anderson said. 

County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said more work remains, but the current draft is a good start for the council.

“I think there’s folks that have reached out that would like for us to vote on this today, and folks that have reached out that would like for us to throw this in the wastebasket and start all over again. And neither is true,” Albornoz said.

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