2021 | Government

Some council members hope for final vote on Thrive Montgomery by year’s end

Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee briefed on master plan on Wednesday

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Members of a County Council committee on Wednesday said they hope the full council votes on whether to approve Thrive Montgomery 2050 by the end of 2021.

Thrive Montgomery 2050 is 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.

The county’s Planning Board approved a draft of the plan in April and sent it to County Executive Marc Elrich and the County Council. 

Thrive Montgomery states that growth should be concentrated in major corridors, such as I-95/U.S. 29  and I-270/Md. 355, by amending zoning regulations to allow for compact growth, which includes infill development and redevelopment of existing properties to eliminate urban sprawl.

It also states that officials should look at creating communities that offer people a chance to access everything they need — work, groceries, services and amenities — within 15 minutes of where they live. Supporters of Thrive Montgomery 2050 say its dense development proposals and other components would make the county a more affordable, inclusive place to live.

Opponents say the plan would segregate and divide well-established communities, and not actually create enough affordable housing to serve middle and lower-income residents. 

On Wednesday, Council Member Hans Riemer, chair of the council’s Planning, House and Economic Development Committee, said Thrive Montgomery does a good job of proposing additional development corridors outside of the main one up I-270. He said a major one especially applies to the eastern side of the county. 

He added, however, that an environmental chapter from previous versions of the plan, before the Planning Board approved it, shouldn’t have been removed. 

Much of Wednesday’s discussion focused on the level of community engagement with Thrive Montgomery, and how much more was needed before a final vote. Council Member Will Jawando said council and planning staff did a good job of engaging with the public, but added he was disappointed that only two Blacks testified about the plan at a recent public hearing.

Part of that was due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jawando said. It’s difficult to engage all community members, but efforts could have been better, he said.

“When I see 50 [or] 60 people testify, and two are Black people that I know, and they’re against the plan, that’s not good enough,” Jawando said. 

Gwen Wright, the county’s planning director, said she and colleagues have had over 180 community meetings about the plan. One of the challenges, she said, is that many people have a difficult time separating the long-term, broad goals of a general master plan versus local master plans and corridor plans, among others.

Thrive Montgomery 2050 will serve as a guide to those more concentrated plans, she added.

“It is really hard to get the average citizen to think about a vision for 20, 30, 40 years in the future … folks are really focused on what is happening in my neighborhood today, and what is going to happen in my neighborhood next week,” Wright said. 

Riemer, Jawando and Council Member Andrew Friedson said they hope to finalize the plan to send to the County Council at some point this fall, in order to have the full council vote to approve it before the end of the year. More public hearings are likely.

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