Last week Montgomery County Council unanimously adopted the Thrive Montgomery 2050, setting out a vision for development into the mid-21st century.
Last week marked the culmination of a long and, at times, controversial process developing Montgomery’s latest general plan. On October 25th, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to adopt the Thrive Montgomery 2050 General Plan (Thrive). While the document itself does not change any law or policy, it is meant to guide development through the middle of the century. Not everyone within the county was supportive of Thrive; County Executive Marc Elrich was not in favor of the plan and urged the council to delay.
What is a General (or Comprehensive) Plan?
The general plan, also known as a comprehensive plan, is a document designed to guide the future actions of a county. Maryland law places the development of general plans in the hands of a local planning commission. Once developed, planning commissions present the plans to their county’s legislative body to amend and/or approve. Once adopted, “The comprehensive (general) plan must serve as a guide to public and private actions and decisions to ensure the development of public and private property in appropriate relationships.” (MD Planning). Counties must review and, if necessary, amend general plans at least every ten years.
What’s in Thrive?
Thrive Montgomery 2050 has generated a ton of conversation. Most of this is due to the fact that Montgomery County is one of the largest jurisdictions within the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia), and the county has developed most of the land within its borders.
The demographic characteristics of Montgomery County residents have changed. With 85 percent of our land already developed or otherwise constrained, accommodating growth will be a challenge. This plan outlines strategies to accommodate growth in ways that not only make room for new residents but also improve the quality of life for the people who are already here.
- Focus on growth in downtowns, activity centers, and along key corridors—with amenities serving existing and new residents while preserving our open spaces
- Prioritize racial equity and economic competitiveness—throughout the county and especially in East County
- Emphasize walking, biking, and transit—to reduce car traffic, minimize emissions, and keep everyone safer in their travels
- Embed social connections and public health into our land use planning—because thriving depends on more than just new development
- Enhance public and private spaces alike with arts and culture—because quality of place is integral to quality of life, as well as shared economic health
- Target place-based environmental sustainability and resilience—so growth happens in already-dense places and the Agricultural Reserve and parkland remain protected for future generations
…and three major outcomes:
- Racial equity and social justice: Advancing racial equity through just planning policies and public investments in underserved communities, promoting the racial and economic integration of neighborhoods, and focusing on the potential for the design of communities to help build social trust and inclusion while encouraging civic participation are among the most significant elements of Thrive Montgomery 2050. Thrive Montgomery 2050 strives to create racially integrated and just communities.
- Environmental resilience: Thrive Montgomery’s focus on a compact form of development with a mix of uses supported by transportation systems that make alternatives to driving practical and attractive are essential pieces of any comprehensive strategy to fight climate change. A stronger focus on walking, biking, and transit infrastructure will be crucial, but the significance of mixed uses and compact development in reducing driving is equally important. The environmental benefits of dense, walkable neighborhoods dovetail with the increasing preference across age groups to live in walkable places served by a mix of uses and amenities.
- Economic competitiveness: We want to strengthen our economic competitiveness by creating the kind of places where people with diverse choices want to live and work. Its recommendations for land use, transportation, parks, and other public and private infrastructure lay the groundwork for economic development initiatives undertaken by other entities. Different skill and education levels and linguistic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds infuse the local economy with the varied pool of skills, experiences, and perspectives necessary to solve problems and innovate. The Plan’s compact land use pattern and walkable communities supported by an efficient transit network will connect the county’s diverse population to economic opportunities.
How will Thrive be implemented?
Check out this video from Montgomery Planning outlining how the plan will be implemented.
Thrive will largely be implemented the way that planning and zoning policy is developed today, through the county’s planning board and through the Council.