Montgomery Co. executive hopes new board is balanced about planning document

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich continues to push for a delay in the approval of a long-term planning document, even as the Maryland county’s council gets set to sift through over 100 applications to its Planning Board.

The tension over the Planning Board’s “Thrive 2050” blueprint comes in the weeks following turmoil that led to the firing of county planning director Gwen Wright and the resignation of all five Planning Board members.

The County Council, which has the authority to appoint and remove members of the Planning Board, will be interviewing candidates from the pool of 128 applicants, with an eye toward making temporary appointments by Oct. 27, according to Council President Gabe Albornoz.

Asked what he wants to see in board candidates, Elrich told reporters during his weekly briefing Wednesday: “You know, if I was looking for Planning Board members, I would look for people who are not known for being vociferously in favor of one side or the other side of this debate.”

Elrich was referring to the Thrive plan.

Albornoz has told reporters in briefings that he is eager to see Thrive 2050 adopted. During a work session last week, Albornoz said that despite the upheaval at the Planning Board, it is the council’s intent to continue moving forward with what has been a multiyear process.

“What has occurred within the Planning department, in our opinion at this time, does not impact our ability to wrap up this important document,” Albornoz said.

In addition to serving as the council’s principal advisers on land-use planning and community planning, Planning Board members also serve as commissioners of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Elrich, who is running for a second term, has faced criticism over the lack of housing in the county— including affordable housing. Elrich argues that one problem is Montgomery County’s struggle to add high-paying jobs.

“We’re successful in the area of life sciences,” he said. “We don’t do frankly as well outside of life sciences, and that’s part of the challenge.”

Regarding the lack of construction of affordable housing, Elrich said it’s a problem of price, not availability. He insists that developers aren’t building more affordable units because there’s a mismatch of what developers say they need to charge for units, and what buyers can afford in areas zoned for more housing.

The county, Elrich said, needs to pay more attention to how its neighbor across the Potomac River is tackling issues surrounding jobs and transit.

“Virginia went all-in in terms of providing transit. Not just the Silver Line,” he said, but providing bus-rapid transit, as well, something Elrich has pushed in Montgomery County.

While regional leaders like to talk about inter-jurisdictional cooperation, Elrich said when it comes to job creation, Virginia is beating Montgomery County, and added, “If someone’s eating your lunch, you’re supposed to look at how they got your lunch, and we’ve spent lots of time looking at what the competition does around here.”

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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