Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 25, 2022, to include a statement from County Executive Marc Elrich.
As dozens of community members booed, the County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan, an update to the county’s general master plan that is expected to guide development for the next 30 years.
The plan 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 issues of growth and housing have generated opposition from some community members, and County Executive Marc Elrich has repeatedly stated his opposition to the plan, urging the council not to adopt the proposal, which is the result of years of work by the county Planning Department and the council.
Community members in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting in the council’s meeting room in Rockville held signs with messages opposing the plan or urging the council to pause the vote.
Some attendees vocally objected to council President Gabe Albornoz’s comments praising the plan, leading Albornoz to threaten to use his gavel if attendees were not respectful. Following that, most attendees allowed council members to speak without interruption and silently held their signs.
“This document has many critical goals: promoting environmental sustainability and resiliency solutions, promoting equity. This is promoting social equity and social justice, promoting economic competitiveness. I think that those are the right goals, and not everyone has to agree — that’s the nature of democracy,” Council Member Hans Riemer, chair of the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee, said before the vote.
Riemer’s comments were interrupted by community members, who yelled “Shame on you.”
“This document was never going to be perfect,” Albornoz said. “And I am not convinced that having stopped it and started all over again, we wouldn’t have ended up in the same place or maybe even to the detriment of those concerned about the document now. So I feel that we have done a lot of hard work to get us to this point and I really appreciate all those that worked hard on it.”
The council has been reviewing Thrive since the county’s Planning Board approved it in April 2021. The council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee as well as the full council have held multiple public sessions on the plan.
Broadly speaking, supporters of the plan say Thrive will help create more affordable communities and better living environments countywide through its focus on such areas as increasing housing and amenities and providing a better park system. Critics of the plan say it will lead to the displacement of middle- to low-income communities, and that it could lead to greater environmental impacts because of increased development.
Chapters related to racial equity and social justice, economic development, and the environment were added to the plan after the County Council hired a consultant to review and conduct more outreach on Thrive Montgomery 2050.
In a statement Tuesday, Elrich said he was “disappointed” by the council’s adoption of Thrive.
“There were many important questions that were never answered and reasons to postpone this vote, including multiple errors and insufficient attention to racial equity,” Elrich, who is running for a second term and faces Republican Reardon Sullivan in the Nov. 8 general election, said in the statement.
Elrich reiterated his belief that recent events involving the Planning Board “have highlighted the need for greater transparency as has been requested repeatedly by residents and many others with business” before the board.
Elrich said he looks “forward to working with the incoming Council and a new Planning Board that respects and understands the process and substance of land use” and “to collaborating with them as we develop solutions to our ongoing housing affordability crisis, which is not addressed by Thrive 2050.”
In a letter released Thursday, Elrich doubled down on his opposition to Thrive, listing his concerns and saying the council’s acceptance last week of the resignations of all five members of the Planning Board had further tainted the plan. The council accepted the resignations, saying it had lost confidence in the board after weeks of controversy involving its members.
In addition to voting on Thrive, the council on Tuesday afternoon interviewed 11 finalists to serve as temporary board members until a new council, to be elected in November, appoints permanent members.
In a letter to Elrich publicly released Friday afternoon, Albornoz responded to each of Elrich’s concerns, rebutting in detail that the plan addresses those concerns. He said Thrive is “the most reviewed general plan in Montgomery County’s history,” citing all of the staff and committees that worked on and reviewed the plan, the work sessions held to write and amend the plan, and the public hearings and other forums held to collect public input.
Albornoz also noted work on the plan was not purely led by the Planning Board.
Prior to the vote Tuesday, Albornoz and other council members thanked the staff who worked on the plan and Acting Planning Director Tanya Stern also thanked community members who provided input on the plan.
“I would like to thank the many community members who have been involved in the last few years. Your perspectives have really enriched the discussion and deliberation,” Stern said.
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