By Kate Ryan
Signs sprouted up in the audience, heckling turned to boos, and then the Montgomery County 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 (D) 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.”
The plan anticipates the county of more than 1.1 million residents growing by an additional 200,000 people over the next three decades.
Councilmember Hans Riemer (D) 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 (D), 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 (D), who had repeatedly voiced his concerns over equity issues — even before the unprecedented resignations of all five members of the Planning Board, who had worked to develop the plan the council voted to approve.
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.
Elrich does not have a formal say over the proposal.
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 did not participate in the vote.
Then, days later, the Montgomery County Council accepted the resignations of all five board members. Albornoz said at the time that the council had “lost faith” in the board.
Looking ahead, a new five-member Planning Board will implement the updated blueprint for Montgomery County’s development.
The council on Tuesday interviewed 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. The council went into executive session on late Tuesday afternoon, presumably to discuss the possible appointments. An announcement on the members’ picks is expected in a matter of days.
As part of Maryland Matters’ content sharing agreement with WTOP, we feature this article from Kate Ryan. Click here for the WTOP News website. Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters contributed to this report.