The night before Montgomery County Council accepted the resignations of the five county planning board members, County Executive Marc Elrich reiterated his opposition to Thrive Montgomery 2050 while council member Will Jawando defended the proposed county master plan update at a crowded forum in downtown Silver Spring.
“Thrive needs to be postponed,” Elrich told the crowd attending Tuesday’s forum hosted by WAMU radio host Kojo Nnamdi in the Silver Spring Civic Building.
During the forum, “Unpacking the Montgomery County Housing Debate,” Nnamdi questioned officials on how to address affordable housing issues in the county and gave community members in attendance the opportunity to ask their own questions.
Years in the making, Thrive Montgomery 2050 focuses on topics like where growth should happen in the county, what kind of housing is needed, what new communities should look like, how to develop arts and culture across the county. county, transportation networks and the future of county parks.
The council is expected to vote on approving the proposed plan later this month and has been considering it since its approval by the Planning Board in April 2021. The council along with its planning, housing and economic development committee have held several sessions to discuss the plan.
The council said it still plans to go ahead with the vote despite Wednesday’s resignations of planning board members following a series of recent controversies involving council chairman Casey Anderson and the last week’s abrupt dismissal without cause of longtime planning director Gwen Wright after she defended Anderson. Council Vice Chairman Evan Glass told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that the county will pursue major planning, including the Thrive 2050 plan, through the work of planning department employees.
At Tuesday night’s forum, Elrich said the council had not had enough time to consider a racial equity analysis of the plan and what can be done to ensure inclusion in communities. He said he would like to see council pass a rent stabilization bill as an alternative measure to ensure affordable housing.
“It’s very simple. I present a bill,” Elrich said.
Alternatively, Jawando responded to a petition signed by more than 200 people who oppose Thrive’s passage and presented to the forum by a community member, saying he believes the county has the tools in the proposed plan to improve the availability of affordable housing.
“I understand that change is difficult. This is a vision document, and we have all the tools in Thrive’s toolbox to make sure we’re doing the right thing and ensuring affordable housing for everyone in the county,” said he declared. “The devil is in the details. I understand why you’re skeptical. But we’ll be at the table every step of the way and we’ll get through it.”
Anderson, who was in his second term as Planning Council chairman when he stepped down, was scheduled to be on the panel but did not attend. Although not on the panel, Acting Director of Planning Tanya Stern was present and answered a few questions about Thrive Montgomery 2050.
Nnamdi alluded to Anderson while addressing the audience before the forum started.
“You can imagine figuring out who to talk to for this conversation was an interesting process, given recent news,” Nnamdi said.
During the forum, Jawando frequently expressed his desire to ensure the availability of different types of housing at different price points to include all income levels.
“We need to ask more of our development community from the start, but we also need to build
different and more types of housing,” he said. “You’re going to have a lot of people moving here, so you have to accommodate everyone along the income spectrum.”
Elrich expressed skepticism about zoning, changing the zoning code to allow taller and/or denser buildings, saying he believed previous zoning in the county had failed to address inequities in affordable housing. He says the problem is with developers not building more affordable housing.
“Let me be clear – we’ve passed 22 master plans, we have pretty much the entire county at this point,” Elrich said. “If the developers wanted to build it, you would have what you want, but most of the things you want [such as upzoned housing] we zoned for.
A full recording of the forum will air on WAMU 88.5 FM at 1 p.m. Friday.