County Executive ‘Not A Fan’ of Planning Board Chairman

County Executive ‘Not A Fan’ of Planning Board Chairman

With appointment of leader approaching, Elrich says incumbent hasn’t been sensitive enough to minority communities

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Elrich-Anderson

Marc Elrich, left, and Casey Anderson

File photos

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has little input in who gets to be the leader of the county Planning Board, but admits he is not happy with the current one.

Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson is seeking a third term and Brandy Brooks, a community activist with the group Progressive Maryland and a candidate in last year’s County Council at-large Democratic primary, has indicated that she plans to run for the position.

Brooks and five other county residents are also vying for an open seat on the five-member advisory group and the County Council is preparing to screen the applicants later this month.

The Planning Board is responsible for overseeing development plans, working with the County Council on master plans and zoning changes and reviewing park plans, and the chair has considerable sway in making recommendations on land-use decisions.

Elrich, speaking after a groundbreaking for a $350 million office and hotel tower in Bethesda last week, indicated that he wanted to stay out of the Planning Board selection process.

But when asked whether he would support another term for Anderson, Elrich said he was “not a fan.”

“I disagree with him about lots of what he’s done. I don’t know who the competition is and I’m not involved in it,” he said.

Planning Board members serve for staggered four-year terms. Regular members may serve a maximum of two terms, and the chair may serve three terms. Although the council selects members of the board, and hearings on the candidates start this month, the county executive must approve them.

Asked if he would veto Anderson, the county executive answered that he was “not going to veto anybody.”

Elrich, who was elected county executive last November, made affordable housing one of his major campaign priorities. He has also acquired an anti-development reputation stemming from his time as a County Council member, but has disputed the notion, saying he is for responsible growth.

But the county executive’s skepticism of dense, high rise development re-emerged last Thursday in criticizing Anderson.

“If people are complaining about no development and nothing happening, the approach of just zoning stuff for higher density obviously doesn’t work,” said Elrich,

Asked what different qualities he wanted to see in a Planning Board chair, Elrich said he wanted someone who “had more sensitivity to the displacement of minority communities.”

In a phone message in response to questions, Anderson disputed Elrich’s claims about displacing minority residents in low-income communities.

“I am proud of the work I have done as Planning Board chair, and that during my tenure, we have made a lot of progress on opportunities to build more affordable housing throughout county, and I think that is a direction that is consistent with what the county executive has said is important. And we’ve done that with strong support of the rest of the planning board and the County Council,” he said.

Anderson, 50, was appointed to the Planning Board in 2011 and has served as chairman since 2014. He was previously a reporter and a congressional staffer before later founding a jury consulting firm.

Elrich has developed a reputation for his off-the-cuff, sometimes unfiltered, comments about other elected officials and county policies he disagrees with, particularly on housing and development.

In 2017, he criticized the Planning Board for displacing low-income residents in a Silver Spring neighborhood during construction of the Purple Line, which he referred to as “ethnic cleansing.”

The Purple Line, a 16-mile light rail line linking Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, has received support from transit advocates who believe it will serve as a critical transportation link by connecting with other forms of mass transit. But the project has faced opposition from environmental groups who believe the placement of the track will harm streams and wetlands.

Elrich also remarked earlier this year during a public forum that he wasn’t willing to replace affordable housing with housing for millennials. In both cases, Elrich partially walked back the comments.

Several council members were unaware of Brooks’ entrance into the race, including council member Hans Riemer.

Riemer, also on hand at the Bethesda groundbreaking, said he believes Anderson “has been terrific” and added that there is no competition for the chair position.

Council member Tom Hucker said Monday that any other applicants for the chair position beside Anderson was “news to him.”

In addition to Brooks, five other candidates are running for a seat held by Norman Dreyfuss, whose second term is expiring.  They are:

-Julian Haffner, a Gaithersburg attorney and candidate in the District 17 (Rockville/Gaithersburg) Democratic delegate race in 2018. He is married to Gaithersburg City Council member Laurie-Anne Sayles.

-Charles Kauffman, a Bethesda attorney and board member of the tourism agency Visit Montgomery.

-William Kirwan, an architect and former chair of the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission.

-Jennifer Russel, a planning consultant and former director of planning and code administration for Gaithersburg.

-Partap Verma, an attorney in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and community activist within Silver Spring’s Forest Glen neighborhood.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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