Montgomery Co. Council passes 30-year development plan

Signs sprouted up in the audience, heckling turned to boos, and then the Montgomery County, Maryland, Council voted unanimously to pass Thrive2050, the 30-year planning document that’s intended to guide future development.

Before the vote, County Council President Gabe Albornoz picked up his gavel and told the residents in the audience, some of whom commented loudly during the meeting, “I’ve never actually had to use this before, and I hope I don’t have to use it today.”

Albornoz, a proponent of the plan, said delaying the decision — which had been in the works for 18 months — would be a mistake. He explained that he was born in Gaithersburg in 1976, and that the county’s master plan had not been updated in a generation.

Albornoz said he believes it is time “to connect the dots among the various master plans and to provide a roadmap for the county moving forward.”

Council member Hans Riemer was booed when he argued that the plan would address questions of climate change, equity and economic development. At one point, he responded to the audience commentary by saying, “This is not the civil dialogue you were saying you wanted.”

Before he concluded his comments, one audience member called out, “Shame on you!”

Another council member, Sidney Katz, had been leaning toward voting against the plan, but said before the vote that he’d taken a look at what he called the “clean copy,” the latest update, and decided he could vote for it.

“This is not a perfect plan, nor will any plan ever be perfect, especially a 30-year plan,” he said.

One opponent to the plan is Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, who had repeatedly voiced his concerns over equity issues — even before the unprecedented resignations of all five members of the Planning Board.

In a statement Thursday, Elrich argued that Thrive2050 was being rushed through, insisting that there had not been enough community participation, particularly around issues involving equity.

“I am disappointed in the Council’s vote,” Elrich said. “There were many important questions that were never answered, and reasons to postpone this vote.”

Last week, Albornoz issued a rebuttal in the form of a letter to Elrich, accusing the county executive of “political posturing” and rejecting the idea that Thrive2050 had been rushed.

“Thrive2050 is the most reviewed general plan in Montgomery County’s history,” Albornoz wrote.

Planning Board controversy

The county’s Planning Board was roiled by controversy for weeks prior to Tuesday’s vote.

First, after news reports that Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson had kept a bar in his office, he was given an official reprimand. Two Planning Board members, Vice Chair Partap Verma and Commissioner Carol Rubin, were also disciplined for “violation of Commission policy.”

On Oct. 10, Planning Director Gwen Wright was removed by a majority of the members of the Board. Anderson recused himself from that vote.

Then, days later, the Montgomery County Council accepted the resignations of all five board members. Council President Albornoz said at the time that the council had “lost faith” in the board.

Next steps

Looking ahead, a new five-member Planning Board will implement the updated blueprint for Montgomery County’s development.

The council is interviewing 11 candidates to fill the vacant Planning Board slots on a temporary basis, before permanent members are eventually appointed by the next council after the Nov. 8 election.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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