Friday, October 21, 2022

Montgomery County Council to defy Maryland law in Planning appointments, as Elrich warns Thrive 2050 is tainted by scandal

Thursday was another explosive day in the Montgomery County Planning Board scandal, as the County Council is poised to defy Maryland state law by illegally appointing 5 temporary board commissioners, without waiting the required three weeks after disclosing the list of candidates. The law is very clear, and is the only codified framework for appointing any individual to the Planning Board, resident Janis Sartucci told ABC 7 News. The list of candidates was made public on Wednesday, October 19, meaning that the appointments cannot legally be made until the next Council takes office after the November 8 election.

Sartucci said she would contact the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh if the Council were to appoint any commissioners before November 9. "We do have an attorney general's opinion that says when there's a vacancy in a public office, the law that's on the books is what controls the replacement process," Sartucci told ABC 7's Kevin Lewis. Several of the applicants for the interim positions are former Planning Board commissioners, meaning they could be under scrutiny themselves if a full investigation into planning scandals were carried out.

Meanwhile, County Executive Marc Elrich warned the Council about another rush job it is undertaking, to pass the controversial Thrive 2050 plan before the Council's term ends in the coming weeks. In a memo, Elrich said the Council cannot separate the Thrive plan from the scandals surrounding the commissioners and employees who drafted, edited and approved it. In addition to the question of who might have participated in ex parte discussions of Thrive over cocktails in Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson's government office as the plan was being drafted, Elrich noted that during the same period, "the Board broke significant rules with respect to the Open Meetings Law, the registration of lobbyists, and the use of the consent calendar. These violations impugn the Board's work product, and raise concerns that the Board, in search of a certain result, might have been willing to bend the rules on other occasions."

In fact, the Board has repeatedly engaged in such rule-breaking over the last decade. And only a handful of lobbyists - primarily development attorneys - have actually registered as lobbyists so far. Many who currently, actively lobby on behalf of the development industry before the Board and Council have yet to register as lobbyists. 

Elrich also advised the Council to halt its current course of "sweeping everything under the rug." He called on the Council to halt the Thrive approval process until an investigation of the planning scandals is completed, so that residents can have confidence the plan wasn't tainted by unethical and illegal actions by those drafting it.

The County Executive listed four major errors the Council has made in its last-minute push to ram through Thrive 2050. 

Error number one, Elrich wrote, was the Council adding three hastily-written chapters to the plan that have never been the subject of a public hearing. While ignoring his own and the public's comments on the plan this fall, Elrich added, the Council only addressed the comments of two representatives of developer-funded organizations that are lobbying for Thrive 2050. Elrich said that, at a minimum, the Council must hold a public hearing on the new last-minute chapters it added. He argued it would be best if the plan were sent back to a new Planning Board after the election.

Error number two, Elrich wrote, was to use an old map in the plan that pretends the County never added the Suburban Communities and Residential Wedge designations to its growth policy. Elrich brought this error to the Planning Board's attention in 2020, but they ignored his communication. He said there needs to be a new public hearing on how those two recognized land uses added in 1993 will be impacted by Thrive 2050. Elrich suggested the public "has a right to know what effect, if any, this change will have on their individual properties and on future growth in their neighborhood."

Of course, Thrive 2050 as currently written, will have massive, tectonic effects on both. Noise, overcrowding, lack of street parking, reduced school capacity, forced eviction of many residents through gentrification, loss of green space and tree canopy, and a complete change in neigborhood character are all built in to the Thrive plan.

The Council's third major error, Elrich wrote, is repeatedly misleading the public by claiming that passing the Thrive 2050 plan will not make zoning changes to their neighborhood. But the text of Thrive 2050 itself clearly states that such zoning changes may be required in order to implement the plan, and this admission was only added this month. He accused the Planning Board and Council of "withholding the information that a massive rezoning to urbanize most of the County could only take place after Thrive was enacted." The public has a right to know this, as well, Elrich said.

Error number 4, Elrich wrote, was removing quotes from the consultant hired by the Council that chastised the Council for not allowing enough time for substantive outreach to the BIPOC community, and for conducting what little outreach there was during the summer vacation season when it was harder to contact people. Elrich wrote that there must be further outreach to residents of color before Thrive 2050 is passed.

The Elrich memo makes the larger argument that the Council cannot simply state it has lost confidence in the Board and appoint a new one; it must disclose to the public the specifics of why it lost confidence, and conduct a full investigation of the many charges, claims and allegations that were made by whistleblowers inside the Planning Department. A complete dismissal of the Board has not cleared the way for passage of Thrive as the Council seems to think, Elrich concluded, but has "cast a shadow over the entirety of the Planning Board's actions."

Elrich's memo is well-written and on-point in every respect. There is no time factor or urgent need to pass Thrive 2050 this month. It is not even a unique or innovative plan. It's a carbon copy of the same "missing middle" plan that developers are attempting to ram through nationwide, including in Arlington County, using the same sham arguments. 

Thrive 2050 is nothing more than a wild, developer profit grab through a policy that would allow high-density, luxury multifamily growth on every acre of land in Montgomery County outside of the agricultural reserve - and that's on the menu next. We've learned since 2002 that all residential growth generates more cost in services than it generates in tax revenue for the County. Imagine what an even-more-unhinged growth policy like Thrive will do to a County budget already in a structural deficit, and carrying a debt so large that, if it were a department, it would be the third-largest department in the County government.


  1. Thrive 2050 is a promising and necessary path to developmental reform patterns! Many of your points are erroneous or misinformed. First demand for more people living in Moco exists. Your arguments might hinge on wanting to prevent this but people want to live in Moco. If people can't afford to live in thier desired location in Moco or there isn't available housing people will likely live in Frederick or other parts of the region that is further from transit and walkable communities. So people are coming - are we going to be smart enough to welcome them or are we going to make the climate, affordability, and segregation crisis worse by actively trying to block reforms that allow more people to live in Moco.

    'Dense' residential growth has time and time again demonstrated across the world to provide more in revenues than costs. Currently low density housing (often wealthy) is highly subsidized by taxpaying residents in apartment buildings and denser neighborhoods (Urban 3). Basic logic also supports this point, per capita costs of police patrols, bussing students to school, collecting trash, and repaving streets are all more expensive is everyone lives further away from each other. It is cheaper to pick up trash from a dumpster in the back of an apartment building than driving from house to house 100 times.

    Increased density will prevent green spaces by being torn down by reducing the demand to build more housing at the end of our region (Loudoun or Prince Williams County).

    Car use and demand for parking will decrease with more density because people will finally be allowed to live closer to Metro, frequent bus lines, and walkable communities with accessible grocery store, schools, and recreation.

    59 percent of Black or African American and 70% of renters who are likely democratic voters support -- ' the construction of new homes, including duplexes, townhomes, and/or apartments, in your own neighborhood?'

    MLK III calls for similar reforms, Biden called on local municipalities to implement denser less exclusionary neighborhoods, and Obama criticized local democratic leaders who have pulled up the ladder to economic inclusion by preventing anyone else access to vibrant neighborhoods. The NAACP of Arlington County supports their version of the plan and climate scientists have shown infill housing is by far the #1 way to decrease carbon emissions through local government policies.

    Our affordability crisis cannot sustain the status quo. Urban economists agree by limited the availability of new housing in the most desirable neighborhoods we are raising housing costs regionwide and make owning a disproportionately expensive plot of land a requirement to live in most neighborhoods with economic, health, and affordable benefits.

    Lastly the status quo is intentionally causing economic segregation through the above by adding the requirement to live in certain neighborhoods of owning a property to where the land itself costs 500k +. We have made it illegal to build duplexes on these plots thereby preventing less wealthy households from splitting the high land costs and thereby being more likely to afford to live in the neighborhood. Every serious social and housing scholar on the left and the right admits many of our current zoning and developmental practices are intended to divide races and economic classes. Lastly our status quo land use encourages economic pain on the most excluded groups. Through pushing lower income households away from desirable neighborhoods we push car payments and gas costs onto them.

    To summarize - but I think you already know this -- Thrive is the baseline for a green planet, affordable economy, desegregated society, and financially health county government.

  2. Having a planning board decide (rather than the council members) is by design corrupt. It allows the council to accept contributions from and family members to be employed by the developers or their attorneys because they are personally not deciding on board matters. But it ignores that the highly paid board members were selected by the council (who can remove them), who also fund their salaries.
    But it does not matter. One party County with and 99% of the residents probably don't know what the Planning Board does, and even if they did and they knew of corruption they would not care.

  3. This is ajna chakra baktijustice, it all comes back to Montgomery County schools. Montgomery County does not want to become urbanized, because in the big picture all that's doing is expanding Washington DC in size, as direct neighbor of DC、this region has a special chief priority, diplomats in the area may feel more comfortable with the closer green space and suburban horizons, not to mention making it easier to focus for members of Congress in the DC area, believe it or not this new change specifically is already doomed to fail. There will be change, without doubt friends but a major reclassification of MoCo from suburban to urban is nothing more than a downgrade for all the real special uses of our county NAMELY as DCs suburban neighbor and as one of the finest educational programs internationally. I've followed and commented on the council for some time through email (my parents are involved more as well, I am actually under 18) but I see no realistic signs that this is going to take effect, I do see more reasonable changes likely to occur but something as discouraging as coding it so everyone can live in apartments when that's not what we want and calling it urban when that's only sad for us all and for the nation as a whole is just insulting. We are lucky but no we aren't selling out like THIS. THIS IS SOLARPLEXUS