The night before the Montgomery County Council accepted resignations from the five members of the county Planning Board, County Executive Marc Elrich reiterated his opposition to Thrive Montgomery 2050 while Council Member Will Jawando defended the proposed update of the county’s general master plan during a packed forum in downtown Silver Spring.
“Thrive needs to be postponed,” Elrich told the crowd who attended the forum hosted Tuesday by WAMU radio host Kojo Nnamdi in the Silver Spring Civic Building.
During the forum, “Unpacking Montgomery County’s Housing Debate,” Nnamdi quizzed the officials about how to fix affordable housing problems in the county and gave community members in attendance an opportunity to ask their own questions.
Years in the making, Thrive Montgomery 2050 focuses on topics such as where growth should occur in the county, what type of housing is needed, what new communities should look like, how to grow arts and culture countywide, transportation networks, and the future of county parks.
The council is expected to vote whether to approve the proposed plan later this month and has been reviewing it since its approval by the Planning Board in April 2021. The council as well as its Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee have held multiple sessions to discuss the plan.
The council said it still plans to move ahead with the vote despite Wednesday’s resignations of the Planning Board members in the wake of a string of recent controversies involving board Chair Casey Anderson and last week’s abrupt ouster without cause of longtime Planning Director Gwen Wright after she defended Anderson. Council Vice President Evan Glass told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday the county will move forward with major planning, including the Thrive 2050 plan, through the work of Planning Department employees.
During the Tuesday night forum, Elrich said the council has not had enough time to review a racial equity analysis of the plan and what can be done to ensure integration in communities. He said he would like to see the council pass a rent stabilization bill as an alternative measure to ensure affordable housing.
“This is real straightforward. I’m putting forward a bill,” Elrich said.
Alternatively, Jawando responded to a petition signed by more than 200 people who oppose the passage of Thrive and presented at the forum by a community member, saying he believes the county has the tools within the proposed plan to improve affordable housing availability.
“I understand change is difficult. This is a vision document, and we have all the tools in the toolbox in Thrive to make sure that we do the right thing and ensure affordable housing for everyone in the county,” he said. “The devil is in the details. I understand why you’re skeptical. But we will be at the table every step of the way and we will get it done.”
Anderson, who was serving his second term as Planning Board chair when he resigned, had been expected to appear on the panel but did not attend. While not on the panel, acting Planning Director Tanya Stern was in attendance and answered some questions about Thrive Montgomery 2050.
Nnamdi alluded to Anderson when speaking to the audience before the start of the forum.
“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 be inclusive of all income levels.
“We need to ask more of our development community upfront, but we also need to build
different and more types of housing,” he said. “You’re gonna have a large number of people moving here, so you have to accommodate everyone along the income spectrum.”
Elrich expressed his skepticism at upzoning, changing the zoning code to allow taller and/or denser buildings, saying he believes previous upzoning in the county hasn’t fixed affordable housing inequity. He says the problem is with developers who will not build more affordable housing units.
“Let me be clear — we’ve passed 22 master plans, we’ve upzoned 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 stuff you want [such as upzoned housing] we’ve zoned for.”
A full recording of the forum will air on WAMU 88.5 FM at 1 p.m. on Friday.