Thrive 2050: planning for our future

Dear residents,

In the coming months, the Council is expected to finalize a vision document to guide the future growth of our community.

It is called “Thrive Montgomery 2050” and you may have heard something about it.

It is not a rezoning nor does it allow anyone to do anything with their property that they cannot do already. Instead, it is a broad vision with objectives and strategies that can be implemented with future community-driven plans.

Some opponents, including the County Executive, are calling on the Council to stop working on this initiative, despite the fact that it has been underway for nearly two years and we have received public testimony and input from hundreds of residents.

While I don’t support delay, I certainly think we can improve on the draft that we received and I am reading through the feedback I am receiving.

The policies at the core of Thrive 2050 are urgent and include:

  • Promoting economic competitiveness
  • Reducing climate impact
  • Increasing housing supply and improving housing affordability
  • Advancing racial equity and social justice

So I would like to provide some context for this discussion.

What is Thrive?

Thrive Montgomery 2050 is a retooling of the “General Plan.” It is a policy framework for guiding future land use and growth for the next 30 years. Thrive Montgomery 2050 will help guide countywide policies and initiatives, infrastructure and community benefits.

The original version of the General Plan, On Wedges and Corridors, was finalized in 1964, fifty-seven years ago. It spelled out policy goals for how our community could change and grow in the coming decades.

For example, it called for preserving farmland by concentrating growth within the boundaries of new communities like Germantown and Clarksburg.

That general plan has been implemented with local plans over the years. Those local plans take broad concepts and establish development rights or limitations through actual zoning. In other words, while the General Plan didn’t create Germantown or Clarksburg, it provided a framework for subsequent plans to do that.

While the world has changed a lot since 1964, the general plan really has not. More importantly, a lot more will change in the next 50 years. We need to plan for that now.

That’s why our Planning Department has spent several years gathering community feedback and putting new ideas on paper. Their new draft plan is called “Thrive Montgomery 2050,” and it is now at the County Council for final changes.

What does Thrive do?

Thrive will help guide the County to have a stronger economic base and prompts the County to address some of our weaknesses that you may observe. For example, the lack of commercial dynamism in the East County, which these days feels farther and farther from job centers and urban amenities; the current plan intended that and needs to change!

Thrive also addresses the critical issue of climate change. We know that our climate cannot withstand 50 more years of gas-powered, auto-centric growth. While our suburbs are indelible to our character and are here to stay, we must also shift the paradigm so that we are more walkable and transit centered particularly in growth corridors.

Have you noticed that our major roads or highways are bordered by single family homes? That is because our General Plan does not support changing them. Roads like Veirs Mill, for example, were two lane country roads when the 1964 Plan was finalized. Today they are bustling highways carrying tens of thousands of commuters daily. But the housing hasn’t changed.

Thrive confronts these realities with a new policy vision that can be implemented through future plans.

What about housing?

Thrive does not change any zoning or allow people to do anything with land that they cannot already do.

Thrive does grapple with the need for more creative thinking, including ideas about the types of housing we could build and where we can locate enough housing to meet the needs of a growing population.

It calls broadly for changes “especially along major corridors.” Think Route 29, Georgia Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, Rockville Pike, Veirs Mill Road.

Thrive is about establishing a new vision for our County’s future and identifying the general paths we should follow to achieve it. But any decisions about exactly how to realize and implement that vision will be left to future plans, programs and policies.

Why we should act

Change isn’t easy but we did not become the great county that we are by turning our backs to the future.

As we all know, virtual meetings became a new norm during the pandemic. As a result, public participation in the Thrive process has been very high, because many people who might have been unable to testify in person have joined virtually.

In testimony to the Council, the League of Women Voters, to name one supporting group, says we should

“encourage consolidation and development of duplexes, cottage courts, townhouses and small multiplexes and apartments that are near transit, along our growth corridors and close to the county’s centers of activity. Corridors are a great location for some of this much-needed housing.”

One of the core objectives of the Plan is transforming our highway corridors into more appealing places with higher quality housing, better designed for the location, with code improvements that will promote health and safety. This is one example of how public input has shaped the plan.

As a result, I see Thrive as a pragmatic, forward-thinking vision. That is why I am eager to work on the draft at the Council, get this plan done and refresh our roadmap for the future.

While I know the Executive has asked us to pause, I believe that issues like climate change and economic vitality are too urgent to postpone indefinitely.

We must continue preparing for the future we want for this County. We can do this!