Over the next few months, the Montgomery County Council will be tasked with selecting permanent members of the Planning Board after the en masse resignations of October 12.

These decisions could not come at a more pivotal time for our community, which is currently locked in a fierce debate over our future growth. Notwithstanding the County Council’s Oct. 25 decision to approve Thrive Montgomery 2050, it will be the new members of the Planning Board that will actually effectuate any adopted general or “comprehensive” plan, which merely provides broad guidance for future land use decisions. The devil, in fact, is in the details.

Given the immense influence that the board will continue to have on the direction of our county, here are some thoughts for its new members to consider as they assume that authority:              

  • Taking a (literal) page from Adam Grant’s Think Again, be committed to values, not opinions. Whether it’s equity and inclusivity, fiscal sustainability, environmental resiliency or all of the above, focus on reassessing and realigning the values that we as a community are striving to attain with the tools (e.g., codes, regulations) to be used to get us there.  
  • Talk less about affordable housing, which has become practically synonymous with subsidization, vouchers and rent control, making it a limiting principle. Talk more about housing affordability, which emphasizes more holistic approaches to creating opportunities that meet all different lifestyles, needs, household sizes and income.
  • Embrace incrementalism. Prioritize small, iterative improvements that are driven by the community to cultivate fiscal health and local wealth through “gentle-fication,” not gentrification.  
  • Pick whatever idiom or cliché you like. There is no magic or silver bullet. You can’t make up a six-run deficit with one swing of the bat. No single, policy-based salve will cure the harmful effects from decades of large-scale development. No, not even more large-scale development. 
  • How long do you expect our community to be in existence? Make decisions based on your answer.
  • Promote the development of neighborhoods. Not subdivisions.
  • There is, in fact, a positive correlation between density and services. A community that offers low density and high services throughout is just not a sustainable concept. If you want to build one that provides a high quality of life at different price points, then revenue per acre is your friend.
  • Above all else, be humble. Your job is not to proclaim grand solutions to the community’s problems. Your job — and that of the county government — is to catalyze the formation of an ecosystem that empowers residents to invest their time, skills, and resources in new and exciting ventures, precipitating the Flywheel Effect that will transform our community. 

As Robert Greene writes in Mastery, “Our evolution as a species has depended on the creation of a tremendous diversity of skills and ways of thinking. We thrive by the collective activity of people supplying their individual talents.” It’s no different for our community. So lay down the groundwork and let us, the residents, take care of the rest.  

Jason Wilcox of Gaithersburg is a member of the City of Gaithersburg’s Educational Enrichment Committee.



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