Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the strategic planning effort currently underway at the Montgomery County Council. The TM 2050 draft plan sets out a vision for growth and development in Montgomery County; it makes broad, county-wide policy recommendations addressing land use, zoning, housing, the economy, equity, transportation, parks and open space, and the environment.
In March 2021, the Council directed the MoCo Planning Board to commission an outreach effort to identify ways that the TM 2050 planning effort could promote racial equity and social justice to better serve the needs of lower income communities and residents, as well as to address past discrimination and the economic challenges facing communities of color. The consultants who conducted this outreach effort presented their report to the Council on 13 September.
The Council has scheduled additional work sessions in September and October to consider further changes to the draft TM 2050 plan. The Council’s goal is to adopt a resolution finalizing the TM 2050 plan by 25 October 2022.
There is considerable pushback to the Council’s fast track for final consideration of the TM 2050 plan. Notably, County Executive Marc Elrich sent a letter to the Council on 12 September stating that, “Based on the findings of the consultant team and the significant changes they recommend, I urge the Council to disapprove Thrive 2050 to allow more outreach to BIPOC and low-income residents.” (See letter here.)
Organizations opposing quick adoption of TM 2050 believe there have been insufficient opportunities for the public to weigh in on the plan’s potentially significant impacts. The Montgomery County Civic Federation, Inc. (MCCF), whose membership is made up of the county’s civic associations, adopted a resolution asking the Council to disapprove the TM 2050 plan and continue deliberations after the new County Council is seated in December. MCCF noted that, “…there has been grossly inadequate public outreach and community engagement,” adding that the draft plan has “serious shortcomings, …specifically related to the issues of affordable housing, gentrification, environmental sustainability, economic development and racial justice and social equity.” (See MCCF resolutions.)
Proponents — such as the coalition Montgomery for All, representing housing, economic development, and environmental advocacy groups — argue that TM 2050 “…unabashedly embraces urbanism and smart growth as the most sustainable and equitable way for Montgomery County to grow and provide opportunities for everyone.” This coalition urges the Council to review and officially approve TM 2050 before the end of the term. (Further information about this organization is at Montgomery for All.)
TM 2050 does not directly implement planning or zoning changes. It is clear, however, that this planning document will serve as the conceptual framework for evaluating and deciding upon consideration of the plan’s recommendations for future zoning text amendments as well as county initiatives or investments. To get more information about the draft TM 2050 plan, go to the Thrive Montgomery 2050 website (montgomeryplanning.org/planning/master-plan-list/general-plans/thrive-montgomery-2050).
The MoCo Planning Board projects the need to increase housing supply to meet the demand of an estimated additional 200,000 county residents by 2045 (there’s no explanation as to where they got this figure). The recommendation calling for zoning text changes to allow greater housing density in single-family residential zones countywide has sparked perhaps the most opposition to the TM 2050 plan. If adopted, these zoning text amendments would encourage compact infill development and redevelopment with a particular emphasis on higher density along growth corridors served by public transit.
More specifically, TM 2050 proposes making amendments to the zoning code to allow “by right” redevelopment of properties as duplexes or triplexes in single-family residential zones. This means investors and developers would no longer need to seek approval from the Planning Board to redevelop formerly single-family properties at this higher density, although they would still need to get a building permit. The draft plan also envisions zoning changes allowing even greater density — such as quadplexes and small 20-unit multifamily housing — near major transit corridors.
Proponents argue that there is an insufficient supply of reasonably priced mid-range “Missing Middle” housing to meet the county’s current and future needs for more moderately priced rental and for-purchase housing. Opponents are concerned that zoning changes allowing higher density in single-family residential areas could dramatically change close-in, older neighborhoods, increase gentrification, and add pressure to over-burdened municipal services; it is also unlikely new construction would be moderately priced.
If you are concerned about these issues, the following section provides some of the pro and con arguments.
TM 2050 will inform planning decisions for the next 30 years. If you are interested in expressing your views, there is an easy link to email all Montgomery County Council members (www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/CCL_ContactForms/ContactCouncil.aspx).
Contact information for all of our government representatives (county, state, and national) can be found on this NFCCA website at nfcca.org/NSLreps.html. ■
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