The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday voiced support for several changes in a proposed redistricting map, including keeping most of the Kemp Mill community whole.
But council members said they can’t address concerns of North Bethesda residents who are unhappy about the proposed new political lines.
The next County Council map will have two new council districts, increasing from five to seven, and redrawn boundaries of existing council districts.
One newly drawn district, which detractors call a gerrymandered “bowtie,” has provoked the greatest criticism. The district runs south from North Bethesda, through Kensington, to Takoma Park and Silver Spring.
North Bethesda residents have flooded the council with objections to the inclusion of their neighborhood with Takoma Park and Silver Spring, preferring instead to be grouped with Bethesda or Rockville.
But County Council members on Tuesday agreed with a staff report that said shifting about 40,000 North Bethesda residents into another district would require a redrawing of the entire proposed new map.
“It is impossible for us to do that … without having to start all over again,” Council Vice Chairman Gabe Albornoz said.
Noting that he and three other at-large members of the council live in the proposed “bowtie” district, Albornoz said the addition of two new districts would result in fewer residents in each district and better representation for all Montgomery County residents, including those in North Bethesda.
“This gives us a better opportunity to provide even better constituent services,” he said.
Council Member Hans Riemer said: “It is unfortunately not tenable for us to redraw the map.”
He said White Flint and Silver Spring are both “destination” neighborhoods “that are on the rise” and draw people from throughout the county to their establishments.
Riemer said the goal of the redistricting panel who drew the new political lines was to avoid dividing communities, not avoid placing different communities in one district.
That’s why Riemer and the other council members backed a change to the proposed map that would place most of the Kemp Mill neighborhood, a long-established Orthodox Jewish community, together.
The proposed map would have split that community between a new eastern county district that would have a plurality of Black residents and a Wheaton-based district that would have a plurality of Latino residents.
The Kemp Mill community wanted to be included as a whole in the new Wheaton-based District 6.
“I think this would be a simple fix,” Council Member Nancy Navarro said.
Albornoz said keeping the Kemp Mill community intact in the new District 6 “really resonates with me.”
“It seems like the Kemp Mill fix is the easiest,” Council Member Evan Glass said.
The redistricting process is necessary because of the expansion of the Montgomery County Council and the results of the 2020 U.S. census, which determined there have been substantial demographic changes in the county over the past decade.
The census found that the county’s population grew by more than 91,000 — from 971,284 to 1,062,710 — and became more diverse over the preceding decade, with nearly 60 percent of the county’s residents identifying as Latino, Black or Asian.
The panel of volunteers who created the map — a group that included Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliated members and a Libertarian — were required by the federal Voting Rights Act to avoid violating the law’s “substantially equal population clause.” That clause does not allow a deviation in population greater than 10 percent between districts.
The council’s staff report said “moving North Bethesda into (Bethesda-based) District 1 or (Rockville-based) District 3, or even splitting the community between these two districts results in a total deviation greater than 10 percent — violating the substantially equal population Voting Rights Act rule.”
The redistricting panel also considered a guideline that further restricts major changes in the proposed map, but does not carry legal weight: prohibiting a district from deviating in population more than 5 percent from the others.
Council Member Andrew Friedson, who represents the North Bethesda and White Flint area, said he was disappointed that those neighborhoods could not remain in a district jointly with Bethesda.
Yet, even Friedson conceded, “we are now in the refinement stage” of the redistricting process.
The County Council also discussed making several other small changes that would shift some voting precincts from one district to another.
“We may be able to do some of the other tweaks,” Riemer said.
But council members reiterated that larger alterations of the proposed map were impossible.
“We don’t have the luxury of time,” Navarro said.
The council hopes to vote on a final map on Dec. 7.