County passes Thrive 2050 plan


Evelyn Shue

Thrive 2050’s environmental aspect includes recommendations for “incorporating green infrastructure into… urban areas,” according to the official public document of the plan.

Samantha Cutler, News Writer

The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed the Thrive Montgomery 2050 (Thrive) plan, a plan that aims to update and modernize how the county faces housing, zoning and sustainability, on Oct. 25. Until recently, Montgomery County has been following the General Plan, which was created in 1964. 

Many county residents considered the old General Plan outdated. Khalid Afzal, a co-project manager of Thrive, said, “Two of the three core objectives of Thrive – racial equity and social justice, and environmental health and resilience, were not a major planning consideration 60 years ago.” The new Thrive plan accounts for those desired issues and aims to put these ideas into motion as soon as possible.

The main attributes of Thrive include enabling more walking and biking to reduce vehicle emissions, funding more public and private spaces for culture and art, prioritizing racial justice, and creating accessible housing. “These strategies aim to accommodate growth in ways that make room for new residents and also improve the quality of life for the people who already live here,” Afzal said.

The process of creating, proposing and amending Thrive caused many problems for the Montgomery County Council. An update to the 1964 General Plan was proposed in early 2018, which has undergone hearings, or Community Listening Sessions, conducted by the Montgomery County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO). Although it is traditional for a major plan to undergo one public hearing, Thrive went through two in June 2021. “Thrive was one of the most complex and challenging projects of my entire planning career,” Afzal said. 

Those involved in creating and passing the proposal also faced various challenges. All five members of the Montgomery County Planning Board resigned on Oct. 12, just two weeks before the plan eventually passed, due to a unanimous low confidence vote by the Montgomery County Council. 

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich criticized Thrive 2050. In a memo released to the public, he mentioned that the “ongoing housing affordability crisis” was “not addressed by Thrive 2050.” As County Executive, Elrich has no veto or amendment power, but is in constant correspondence with the county council. 

On the other hand, Albornoz responded with criticism to Elrich, saying that Elrich “had numerous opportunities to engage in a productive dialogue with [his] Council colleagues” but instead chose to obstruct the Montgomery County Council’s efforts. “I am disappointed in the Council’s vote to approve the Thrive 2050 General Plan,” Elrich said in a public statement immediately after the council  approved the plan.

Housing affordability is one of Thrive’s main goals. “Housing affordability at all income levels has emerged as a complex and daunting challenge,” Afzal said. “It could have serious impacts on our efforts to improve the county’s economic health, address climate change and achieve racial diversity and equitable access to jobs, housing and other resources for all county residents.” 

The project conducted much of its work in hearings with community members, in order to compromise on a way to carry out this initiative. Afzal advises students interested in project management to maintain a receptive attitude. “The key to good planning is to keep an open mind and listen to all sides of an argument as you will encounter both supporters and detractors of every planning issue,” he said.