2021 | Government

What to know about Thrive Montgomery 2050

County Council is finalizing plan, will soon vote on update

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During the upcoming weeks, the Montgomery County Council will finalize changes to Thrive Montgomery 2050, a proposed update to the county’s general master plan.

The proposed plan has caused considerable debate in online neighborhood forums and through op-eds in local media. Here are some basic facts about what Thrive Montgomery 2050 is, and where things stand with the proposal.

What is Thrive Montgomery 2050?

Thrive Montgomery 2050 is a proposed update to the county’s general master plan. The last time there was an update to a general master plan was in 1993, which was an update to the county’s Wedges and Corridors plan.

Wedges and Corridors is a bicounty general master plan between Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, finalized in 1964. According to the 1960 U.S. Census, Montgomery County’s population was 340,928, and Prince George’s County had 357,395 people.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Montgomery County’s population was 1,062,061 people.

Thrive Montgomery 2050 focuses just on Montgomery County and determines how the county  should grow between now and 2050.

It focuses on topics such as where growth should occur, what type of housing is needed, what new communities should look like, how to grow arts and culture countywide, transportation networks, and the future of county parks.

What is a general master plan?

County planners have stated that a general master plan like Thrive is a “visionary” planning document, meant to serve as a guide to smaller master plans in various communities countywide and smaller site projects.

Put another way, a general master plan is a high-level conceptual plan that states broad goals for how the county should grow, use land, connect communities and build new ones. 

Does Thrive Montgomery 2050 change zoning in any neighborhoods?

No, the document itself does not change any zoning in any neighborhoods throughout the county.

It does, however, list recommendations throughout the plan about where rezoning could potentially occur, including in densely populated areas and along corridors with transit options. It discussed mixed-use development as a possibility in those corridors, for instance.

Thrive Montgomery 2050 “provides direction for decisions about land use, transportation, and related issues under local government influence, but it does not change zoning or other detailed land use regulations,” according to the plan’s introduction.

What does the plan say about housing?

The plan states that rising housing costs countywide are due to a “barbell effect” due to growth in households at both high- and low-income levels. According to forecasts and local data, in order to serve current needs and anticipated population growth, about 63,031 new household units need to be built between now and 2040.

Those units could be a plethora of different options, according to the plan: “personal living quarters and/or micro units; ‘missing middle’ housing types such as tiny houses, cottages, duplexes, multiplexes, and small apartment buildings; shared housing, cooperative housing, co- housing, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs)” are some options.

It also says the majority of new households should be multifamily units, based on data and forecasts of who might move here. More specifically, the breakdown of units are:

  • 54.8%: Multifamily renter
  • 27.4%: Multifamily owner
  • 13.5%: Single-family owner
  • 4.4%: Single-family renter

(The numbers do not add up to exactly 100% because of rounding errors)

The plan describes what is known as the “15-minute living” concept. What is that?

The 15-minute living concept is an idea that residents should be able to live in communities that offer access to all the services and amenities they need in everyday life, like grocery stores, medical facilities, parks, retail, and other services and businesses.

It also states that this concept will look different for different parts of the county, like in downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda versus more rural areas upcounty like Boyds or Damascus.

Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson told the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee earlier this year it would be difficult for the concept to be implemented countywide.

“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.

What does the plan say about transportation?

The plan is critical of how automobiles have affected development and led to challenges regarding transportation and related issues in past years. 

Thrive Montgomery 2050 acknowledges that cars will still be a part of everyday life, as more than two-thirds of residents drive alone to and from work on a daily basis. But it also states that future planning and development should not be centered around them.

“Thrive Montgomery’s 2050’s focus on compact growth and infill — along with the limited availability of land for expanding rights-of-way — makes it essential that we decisively reject the impulse to ensure that driving remains as easy and convenient as possible in favor of making walking, rolling, bicycling, and transit the most practical, safe and attractive ways of getting from one place to another,” the plan states.

If Thrive Montgomery 2050 is approved, what are examples of smaller area master plans that would be guided by it?

There are dozens of master plans that have been approved in prior decades, per the county’s Planning Department website.

Just a few recent ones include the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan, the Veirs Mill Corridor Master Plan, the White Flint 2 Sector Plan, and the White Oak Science Gateway Plan.

It would also help guide future master plans. An example of one currently in progress is the Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan

When was the plan introduced? What has happened since then?

The process started in July 2018, when the Planning Department staff briefed the Planning Board on the general master plan update process.

The planning staff and Planning Board members have held hundreds of community meetings since then, soliciting input throughout the county. The Planning Board finalized a draft of Thrive Montgomery 2050 in April and sent it to the County Council. 

After that, the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee held 10 work sessions to amend the plan. There also have been multiple public hearings on it. 

County Council members are currently deliberating on the plan, and were briefed about it by Anderson and the Planning Board staff in November

When might the County Council vote on the plan?

No date has been set. Supporters of the plan want the County Council to vote on it before its holiday break. 

But County Council President Tom Hucker said in a recent interview that he wanted his colleagues to have time to digest and potentially make amendments to the plan.

He added that other County Council members, including the new County Council leadership — who will be elected later in December — will have input on when a final vote will happen.

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