The Montgomery County Council is expected to select a new Planning Board chair as early as Tuesday, and several observers say current Planning Board Commissioner Casey Anderson is likely to be the choice.
Anderson, Planning Board Commissioner Norman Dreyfuss, former Councilmember Mike Knapp, Planning Department Deputy Director Rose Krasnow and Chevy Chase activist Meredith Wellington all interviewed before the Council in four hours-worth of hearings on Tuesday.
Wellington, a Planning Board commissioner from 1999-2007, heads up Neighborhood Montgomery, a listserv documenting changes in the recent zoning code rewrite. She’s also a favorite of many civic and neighborhood groups in Chevy Chase.
The Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, a collection of 20 local neighborhood associations, endorsed Wellington, pointing to her work on behalf of the organizations during the Friendship Heights Sector Plan and her help in explaining the zoning rewrite.
She’s expected to get the support of Councilmember Marc Elrich and perhaps Phil Andrews, according to a civic leader who’s been involved in the process.
But it seems Anderson — who brings his own wealth of endorsements — will get the majority of Council votes, including from District 1 Councilmember Roger Berliner.
In his application, Anderson said he would be committed to the goal of completing all sketch plan reviews for proposed development in 90 days and preliminary and site plan reviews of projects in 120 days.
Anderson also wrote that traffic tests used in master planning and project review processes “are too often in tension with the county’s job creation and community building goals,” and don’t adequately take into account pass-through traffic in Montgomery County that comes from neighboring jurisdictions.
Wellington’s application also includes a reference to streamlining the development review process, but much of her appeal is focused on creating a more open and inclusive Planning Board:
In order to achieve these priorities, as Chair, I will have an open door policy and meet regularly with all stakeholders. And, on Thursdays, when the Board is in open session, I will make certain that all the Board’s deliberations can be seen and heard in both its meeting room as well as online, that the Board’s decision-making process does not begin until all witnesses have testified and the record is closed, and that all participants are treated with courtesy and respect.
The next Planning Board chair will have a big influence in the Bethesda Downtown Plan, the sector plan rewrite for downtown Bethesda that is set to go before the Board later this year and early next year.
The chair will likely also have a significant part in the future of Westbard, which unlike downtown Bethesda does not have the transit facilities that typically serve as justification for large-scale redevelopment. A new property manager in the area hopes to create a “main street” and include housing in what’s now a strip shopping center anchored by a grocery store.
If the Council picks Anderson or Dreyfuss for the chair position, the Council will then have to do a second round of interviews for the open Planning Board commissioner spot using the remaining applicants on the list.
Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier announced in January she wouldn’t seek a second term.
During Council interviews, Councilmember Cherri Branson asked each applicant why they thought the last three chairs served only one term.
Dreyfuss, who served on the Board during Chair Royce Hanson’s 2006-2010 term, said he got the impression Hanson didn’t want to “go through another four years of trying to convince you of how wrong you were,” referring to the County Council.
He said while he didn’t know why Carrier chose to step down, he thinks an exhaustive zoning rewrite process may have played a role.
“Maybe she got tired of trying to make everybody happy,” Dreyfuss said.