With two spots open on the Montgomery County Planning Board, the Montgomery County Council spoke to several applicants who hope to have a say in the area’s future development.
Last week, the council interviewed candidates for the planning board, a five-member panel that oversees the county’s parks and overall growth in the county. While it does not have the power to finalize master plans or approve developments, the planning board’s advisory role to the county council and county executive is influential.
For the applicants, the issues were largely the same: the county’s changing demographics, the environmental impact of development and the decline of brick-and-mortar retail with the rise of online shopping. The council appoints members to the planning board for staggered four-year terms, where they assist in long-term development plans for the county.
Much of the county’s recent master plans have been centered around transit centers and have called for more density. While those ideas may be controversial among residents, they are not among members of the council, nor the final applicants for the planning board.
Incumbent Casey Anderson, who currently chairs the planning board, spoke to the council during the June 11 meeting, touting his experience as one of his key selling points.
“The challenges and opportunities we face require sustained focus and a consistent approach,” Anderson wrote in a statement. “If reappointed, I will work to continue to strengthen the collaborative relationships I have developed with the county council, the executive branch, the general assembly and agencies such as the State Highway Administration, to make sure the Planning and Parks Departments are an integrated part of the county’s work on economic development, equity, environmental protection and related efforts to strengthen our communities for the future.”
The council first appointed Anderson to the planning board in 2014. While the councilmembers said they appreciated his work helping to guide the county’s development plans to be more equitable in their June 11 meeting, Anderson does not have the backing of Marc Elrich. In the past, the county executive stated that he would rather have someone more sensitive to the needs of minority communities.
While Elrich can veto Anderson’s appointment, he said he would not do so if the council were to give him another term.
Attorney Julian Haffner said that his background can help advise the county on key demographic changes. Like the other applicants, Haffner has called for more racial equity on the planning board but touted his experience. His background in politics as president the Association of Black Democrats of Montgomery County gives him the knowledge about racial equity that he needs for the position, Haffner said.
“I think that it’s not (a) surprise; it’s no shock to anyone sitting here that this county is undergoing tremendous demographic shifts right,” said Haffner, who unsuccessfully ran for House of Delegates District-17 in 2018. “We’re getting younger, we’re getting browner, we’re getting less affluent. And with that brings a set of challenges that I think that any governmental body needs to address.”
Architect William Kirwan, like the other candidates, said racial equity in planning was key. He advising that the county should drift away from suburban car-centered development to more dense-transit-oriented development.
“The one thing I would change would be the dependence on the automobile that was so prevalent in our planning in the 20th century,” Kirwan said. “I think that the sprawl it fostered in collusion with racial unjust zoning and neighborhood covenants has really created all the problems we’re trying to undo today.”
The council will decide next week about who will fill the two open spots on the planning board.