The Montgomery County Planning Department is in the process of updating the County’s General Plan – titled “Thrive Montgomery 2050.”  The General Plan serves as a foundation for all planning, land use policies, and development in the County.  The General Plan was initially drafted in 1964 (with updates in 1969 and 1993).  Given the substantial evolution in the County’s demographics, employment base, and development characteristics in the last 50 years, an update is certainly in order.   While the Plan seeks to preserve and build on some of the framework of the 1964 General Plan (e.g. development along corridors), the Plan also recognizes that the way the County thinks about growth needs to change.  The Plan aptly recognizes that “[w]e need to reconsider sites where growth was previously not deemed possible.”

The Planning Department has released its initial draft of the Plan in advance of the public hearing on November 19, 2020. The Public Hearing Draft can be found here.

Setting the Stage for the General Plan Update

The original General Plan was organized around a framework of “wedges and corridors”, which sought to channelize more intense growth among certain corridors and to preserve green “wedges” (open space, farmland and lower-density residential uses).  At the time the 1964 General Plan was drafted, Montgomery County was largely undeveloped.  Now, Montgomery County has a very small percentage of “unconstrained land” available for future growth.  The Plan estimates that today, only 15% of the land in the County is available for future growth – the other 85% of which is estimated to be constrained by a variety of environmental and human-made factors (e.g. 36% used by single-family detached, townhouses and the roads to serve those residential communities; 23.9% devoted to agriculture; 13.9% devoted to parks etc.).  While the Plan seeks to build upon the 1964 Plan’s concept of focusing growth along corridors, given today’s land constraints and housing shortage, the Plan recognizes that changes to the land use and densities along these corridors may be required.

The Plan recognizes that housing production is critical (in combination with the preservation of existing market rate affordable housing) to address the affordability crisis facing the County. Yet, the County is currently not producing enough housing, in accessible locations, to meet the County’s projected needs.

“Annual building permits issued since 2015 continue to drop below 4,200 permitted units (the average needed to maintain an adequate housing supply), approaching the 2009 recession levels.” 

Addressing the housing supply issue goes hand in hand with the County’s economic development goals – adequate housing supply and affordability is key to attracting and retaining talent and employers to the region. This is important, as policies and initiatives are needed to promote economic competitiveness and to curb the County’s sluggish economic growth. 

“The total number of jobs (including federal, state, and local government; and the private sector) in the county grew by 5% between 2004 to 2019. However, 20 similarly sized counties across the country (defined as those ranking closest to Montgomery County in total number of jobs in 2004) grew their employment base by an average of 21% during the same period.”

These are just a few of the “challenges” that Thrive Montgomery 2050 seeks to address. 

Plan Framework

The Plan identifies several “major themes” that form the basis for the current recommendations in the draft Plan. These themes include:

  • Complete Communities through compact form of development and urbanism;
  • Corridors are the place for new growth;
  • Start planning for people instead of planning for cars;
  • Eradicate greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Attainable housing for all income levels;
  • Evolution of single-family neighborhoods near transit;
  • Racial justice and equity;
  • Great design and the importance of place; and
  • Regional solutions and strategies.

The Plan’s recommendations surrounding these themese are organized into eight chapters:

  1. Complete Communities
  2. Connectedness
  3. Resilient Economy
  4. Safe and Efficient Travel
  5. Affordability and Attainability
  6. Healthy and Sustainable Environment
  7. Diverse and Adaptable Growth
  8. Design, Arts, and Culture

Each of these chapters include a series of visions, goals, policies, and actions that are recommended to address the specific issues and challenges facing the County.

Importance of the General Plan Update

The General Plan will inform and influence the development patterns and policies for the County, for the coming decades. As such, Thrive Montgomery 2050 presents an important opportunity to update the County’s land use policies, to better align with the County’s goals and objectives (including housing affordability/attainability and economic development). Thrive Montgomery 2050 contains over 200 proposed “actions” to implement its proposed goals and policies. Although the General Plan will not change the zoning or permitted land uses on any individual properties, it will form the basis for future Master Plans and Functional Master Plans or County policies that will have a direct impact on future development. For these reasons, we encourage property owners and stakeholders to monitor the General Plan Update and to participate, as necessary.

Next Steps

The Montgomery County Planning Board will hold a virtual public hearing on Thursday, November 19 to receive comments from the community and stakeholders on the initial draft. Comments can be submitted into the public record for the hearing until December 10, 2020.

Following the Public Hearing there will be numerous opportunities for land owners and stakeholder to get involved. The Lerch, Early & Brewer Land Use Practice group is actively monitoring the General Plan. Our attorneys are experienced in helping clients obtain successful outcomes and favorable property recommendations through the master planning process. Should you have questions about the General Plan Update or the opportunities that it might present for your property, please do not hesitate to contact us.