Tag Archives: Casey Anderson

Planning Loses Yet Another Open Meetings Act Case

They do work at it.

Louis Wilen filed a complaint on January 31 that the Olney Town Center Advisory Committee (OTCAC), “a public body chartered by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission” is not adhering to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

Notwithstanding Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson’s claim that “Whenever anyone points out gaps in our procedures, we never hesitate to make improvements”, it remains business as usual over at Planning and they fought the claim. In its response to the Open Meetings Compliance Board, it stated that:

[T]he OTCAC is not a public body as defined by the Maryland Open Meetings Act as defined by the Maryland Open Meetings Act, Title 3, General Provisions Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland (2002) (the “Open Meetings Act”), and therefore not subject to its requirements and restrictions. (emphasis in original)

The Open Meetings Compliance Board did not agree, stating “we conclude that the Committee here is a public body subject to the Act” in its opinion explaining how its previous decisions along with the history of OTCAC make this clear. I’ve posted the full opinion below and you can also read it by clicking on this link.

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More on “If They Zone It, They Will Come”

On March 7, I wrote a post pointing out that Montgomery County has roughly 36,500 approved but unbuilt residential units, which attracted some interesting responses.

WAMU’s Ally Schweitzer tweeted “Residential development pipelines are best understood as a glimpse into the hopes and dreams of developers. They reflect housing applications that have been approved. Much of this housing will never get built, for all kinds of reasons.” She further added: “It’s also important to understand that regional housing targets set by [the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments] emphasize *where* new housing should be built. The targets stress affordably priced homes near jobs and transit.”

Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson liked both tweets, so presumably they reflect his point of view well.

More broadly, thoughtful critics like these argue that (1) these units may not get built, (2) they may not be where housing should be built, and (3) they’re not enough new housing.

I’m surprised that people argue that approved projects may not be where housing should be built. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson liked both tweets, but virtually all these new projects were approved by the Planning Board under his leadership. The Thrive document he authored isn’t terribly constraining on where building should occur. If it’s denser, Anderson seems to like it.

As Schweitzer indicates, projects may not get built for a variety of reasons. At the same time developers will move ahead of there is demand and they perceive a profit. They’ll slow down when there’s a glut or demand isn’t growing fast enough. If these projects don’t get built, there is little reason to expect that either approving tons more projects or changing zoning will magically cause builders to see a gap in the market where one didn’t previously exist.

Some took my statement that we have many unbuilt units as an argument that additional projects should not be approved. That’s not what I meant. My point was merely that there is already quite a bit of housing in the pipeline notwithstanding claims to the contrary even without the heavy upzoning proposed in Thrive.

We have quite a bit more existing capacity for residential development beyond what is already approved. According to the Residential Development Capacity Analysis from January 2021, Montgomery has “capacity for 65,000 housing units on 3,733 parcels” and “most of the capacity is concentrated near transit.” It further explains “The greatest volume of capacity is on sites zoned for high density housing in the Commercial Residential (CR) family of zones.” So existing capacity exceeds even highly ambitious new residential construction targets for the next decade and is overwhelmingly located in high density areas near transit.

Even these numbers don’t consider that each Master Plan review under our existing general plan has inevitably resulted in substantial increases in residential capacity. Though much of the existing capacity remains unused, the current Silver Spring Master Plan review is projected to add much new capacity.

The barrier to new housing construction is not the lack of approved projects, or capacity to approve more projects, but market demand to build them. And if the market demand arrives and more construction occurs, prices are unlikely to decline unless there is a recession leading to a glut—as occurred in the building spate prior to 2007 economic crisis.

Other critiques of my post were doxing or attacking me based on some perceived flaw, such as where I live or the color of my skin. I can’t take these complaints seriously, as they confuse personal attacks with making an argument. One person asserted that I want to keep new development away from my home, which seems odd since I praised a major high-density development planned adjoining my neighborhood as part of post on the good points in Thrive.

Despite the critics, thoughtful and otherwise, I was heartened not to see people arguing against my point that we should protect existing naturally occurring affordable housing. I also didn’t see a hue and cry in favor of bribing developers to build new housing with either tax abatements or other subsidies. No one seemed to suggest, as does Thrive, that housing produces jobs, rather than the reverse. I hope the Council takes these points on board as they review Thrive.

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Why Thrive Dropped the Ball on Equity

Thrive 2050 has many words about equity. So why didn’t the Office of Legislative Oversight’s (OLO) racial equity and social justice (RESJ) review end up giving it a gold star?

Thrive’s staunchest advocates still can’t believe it. Yesterday’s post outlined how they utterly reject the claims made in the RESJ review. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and Planning Department Director Gwen Wright doubled down on their assertations that Thrive addressed RESJ extremely well in their lengthy response.

But it turns out that these problems with Thrive were not a February surprise but were flagged last August in a memo to Councilmember Hans Riemer by the Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice (ORESJ), an executive agency. Riemer chairs the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee which was in the midst of work sessions on Thrive. So what happened? Where did Thrive go awry?

Both the Council and the Executive have offices to do RESJ analyses. How does the Planning Department do the same? Planning staff in June 2020 outlined an action plan to incorporate RESJ into Master and Functional Plans that was approved by the Planning Board.

But, as far as I can tell, Planning did not follow either the Council or the Executive’s model and identify a staffer or establish an office with the requisite skills. Planning’s website highlights their equity plans going forward, including for Thrive 2050 (emphasis added):

Montgomery Planning is developing an Equity Agenda for Planning to systemically dismantle the institutional racism that exists in our work and prevent it in the future. Developing an Equity Agenda for Planning is ongoing and will require constant attention to the influence of institutional racism on all planning and zoning processes. We’ve begun working on this through some recent master plans and studies and through Thrive Montgomery 2050, the update to the county’s General Plan. . . .

It will take some time to fully develop a new methodology and approach for equity in the planning process, but we cannot delay applying an equity lens to our work.

But nearly two years after approving the action plan, there is no formalized framework, mechanism or staff to ensure that both outreach and Thrive were done in line with intentional RESJ practices. Nor is there evidence that Planning reached out to OLO or ORESJ for their expertise despite the warning back in August.

Instead, the Planning Board has relied on its own interpretation of what constituted an “equity lens”. There was no separate in-house or independent analysis along the lines of what either the Council or the Executive requires.

Many words about equity does not mean that the process was inclusive or that the substance meaningfully addresses the issue. While Anderson and Wright vehemently defend their work product, they would be in a better position to do so if they had such an analysis. Instead of deciding that they know what constitutes equity, they would have an informed and impartial analysis to buttress their claims that they had done this the right way and addressed all RESJ issues.

In short, this appears to have been handled sloppily, much like the Planning Board’s repeated ethics problems. As I explained yesterday, I think that at least part of this stems from a firm urbanist belief that their ideas will assure racial and economic equity. This makes it all too easy for the Planning Board to misguidedly define their own preferences as “equity”.

But hewing to a particular school of thought and relying on one’s own judgment of what constitutes equity is not the same as genuine outreach to people in the community, let alone communities of color and low-income residents, or incorporation of their ideas and desires into the plan.

That Thrive reflects the nexus of suppositions by Anderson, Wright, Riemer—all very successful Whites—and outside support groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth—whatever their intentions—so perfectly indicates that the process and the result were more performative than inclusive.

Many may question the entire enterprise of RESJ reports and such an intense focus on issues related to it. But the centrality of claims regarding equity to arguments made by Thrive’s advocates only make Planning’s failure more stunning and acute.

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Thrive Proponents Push Back on Racial Equity & Social Justice Review

Thrive 2050, the proposed general plan for Montgomery County, has been touted by advocates as vital to promote economic and racial equity. So it’s interesting to see their reaction to the racial equity and social justice (RESJ) review prepared for the County Council by Dr. Elaine Bonner-Tompkins. Many of the same people who rush to label others who have concerns about Thrive as racists or classist aren’t coping well.

Former Action Committee for Transit (ACT) President Ben Ross attacked the review as handing “a few unelected bureaucrats a veto over the actions of our elected representatives.” The irony that Thrive 2050 was authored by a few unelected bureaucrats over at the Planning Board seems to have escaped him.

Councilmember Hans Riemer also dismissed the review’s concerns, stating “Thrive focuses on racial equity and social justice throughout.” He wants to see Thrive approved by the County Council by the end of next month.

The Planning Board’s response to the RESJ, posted on Facebook by its Chair Casey Anderson, denied there is a problem and claimed that Thrive 2050 is “based on best practices for advancing racial and socioeconomic equity.” Anderson’s response argued the RESJ review is wrong, rather than figure out how to do better.

Like Riemer, Anderson wants the Council to speed through its review. During the recent Thrive 2050 worksession, Senior Legislative Analyst Pam Dunn pushed back against legal information put out by Anderson designed to force the Council to move more quickly.

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The reaction by the forces behind Thrive 2050 isn’t surprising. Thrive is the product of a nexus between the Planning Board led by Anderson, the PHED Committee led by Riemer, and advocacy groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and ACT that draw from the same small overlapping circles. This closely aligned group is determined to fight any changes to a document that reflects their very particular set of views.

Equally important, this group is extremely invested in urbanism as a worldview. They genuinely believe that urbanism provides the right answers to whole set of problems, including racial and economic equity. The leads to a misguided belief Thrive is inherently equitable. But others may have different opinions on what promotes greater equity, and it’s not at all clear that urbanism delivers the goods.

Consequently, it’s important that the Council examine ideas thoughtfully and not accept the framing from a single lens. Even if Thrive is on the right track in many areas, it would benefit from incorporation of meaningful community input. An inclusive document would not mirror a single perspective so exactly.

There is a real difference between conducting outreach and gaining meaningful input. This is why the RESJ review emphasized the need to “elicit the meaningful input of residents of color from communities of color and low-income residents to co-create and update Thrive.” It’s also why Councilmember Nancy Navarro cautioned that ticking off a list of groups was no longer good enough.

Many of the outreach sessions consisted of Planning explaining the positives of Thrive 2050, rather than soliciting and incorporating feedback. Instead of building consensus, Planning and Thrive 2050 advocates took an approach that excluded different viewpoints.

In a similar vein, using lots of equity verbiage is not the same as having a proper and thoughtful analysis of these issues. As it indicated during the work session, the Council is going to have to take the lead in addressing these concerns. The inability of Planning and others to read the room in their vehement reactions to the RESJ review and the Council worksession shows its necessity.

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Planning Board Proposes to Redefine “Public Hearings” Instead of Holding Them

Yesterday, Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz sent a letter to the Planning Board demanding more transparency, including that they cease abusing their Consent Agenda for discussions of “major amendments” to plans that require public hearings.

They don’t seem to have received the message.

Instead of offering a mea culpa for their past flagrant violations of the zoning code, they excuse themselves, claiming: “Items are placed on the Consent Agenda for votes when they have not generated controversy.” Except that how do you know there is no controversy without holding a public hearing? And if there is no controversy, why not just put it on the regular agenda and just move along if no one wants to testify instead of signalling and pre-judging the question?

Beyond offering no apology, the Planning Board’s proposed “solution” is to redefine “public hearing” to include Consent Agenda items:

“Public Hearing” or “hearing” means a duly-noticed Summary Hearing (emphasis added) or Full Hearing held before the Planning Board, open to the public, and providing an opportunity for any Person, including the general public or Applicant, to appear and present written or oral evidence, cross examination, or rebuttal, all subject to the provisions in these Rules.

Buried in the Rules of Procedure are also new explanations that items can easily be moved from the Consent to Regular Agenda. However, unless a member of the public goes spelunking in the Rules, they are unlikely to know. Meanwhile, the item remains on the Consent Agenda even though the clear intent of the Code is to require genuine public hearings on major amendments.

Poof! Problem solved!

If Planning Board members were really interested in transparency, they could start by providing a tracked changes version of the document, instead of forcing the public to suss out the changes. These legalistic changes might not even solve their problem as they may still violate common law–not to mention common sense–definitions of a “public hearing.”

It is clear that Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and possibly the rest of the Board have missed Council President Albornoz’s message. After all, Albornoz could have proposed an amendment to the zoning code instead of pushing for transparency. Nevertheless, the Board has chosen the route of less transparency by redefining “public hearing.”

The Planning Board’s statement begins “We take transparency very seriously.” They then proceed to provide excuses for all of their violations of lobbying registration and open meeting requirements along with this “fix” of their Consent Agenda problem. Their response further undercuts confidence in the ability of the Planning Board to conduct the public’s business in a genuinely fair and transparent manner.

If you wish to testify regarding the proposed changes on February 10 at 9am, you can sign up here. Perhaps the Planning Board might consider holding the hearing on this issue before it goes through its lengthy Consent Agenda.

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Council Investigating Planning Complaints

Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz sent a letter to Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson looking for answers on a series of complaints regarding transparency at the Board, including M-NCPPC’s failure to register lobbyists as required under law, and violation of the Open Meetings Act, and inappropriate use of the Board’s Consent Agenda for matters requiring a public hearing.

He concludes by writing:

In isolation, any of these procedural concerns would be troubling. Taken together, it creates an impression that the Planning Board’s procedures are lacking in transparency and public participation. Please outline the specific steps that the Planning Board has undertaken to respond to each of these complaints and create an environment that will encourage transparency and facilitate public participation.

The full letter is posted below (pdf first, images follow):

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Thriving Together

The Tweeters have been active since the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) condemned me. I’ve been threatened with physical violence and another prominent smart growth blogger says I “must be stopped.” Twitter suspended the account of the person who threatened me.

While not pleasant, a friend with good sense reminded me to “ignore the trolls” and that the “Twitter echo chamber is not representative of the real world.” The bile seemed to go far beyond anger at my criticizing a lobbyist for not filing required reports.

What I rapidly learned is that my series of posts about problematic ethics at the Planning Board and lobbying raised the ire of advocates for Thrive 2050 —the county’s general plan that the County Council is set to consider. Apparently, similar treatment has been meted out to others deemed to be critics, though I have literally not written a word on Thrive prior to today.

Well, they got me much more interested. I have not followed the Thrive debate closely. Like many, I’ve been focused on my job and getting through the pandemic, so I stopped blogging completely. Over the weekend, I’ve started to gain a quick education.

The key takeaway so far is that new County Council President Gabe Albornoz and Vice President Evan Glass have their work cut out for them. The intense divisions and acrimony around Thrive mirror the ugly mood and tenor of debate in the country. Confidence isn’t increased by the Planning Board’s failure to register lobbyists, violations of the open meetings law and abuse of the consent calendar to constrain public input on other matters.

The good news is that I cannot think of two people more suited to address it. While I sometimes disagree with them strongly, you won’t find two more fundamentally even-keeled public officials than Councilmembers Albornoz and Glass. As a result, I remain optimistic that they can lead the county to a document that brings people together. Put another way, I hope they can move the process forward to a conclusion but in a way that makes residents feel included and heard.

That doesn’t mean “paralysis by analysis”—the county’s unfortunate moniker for its tendency to study matters into eternity—but it does mean heading towards the end in the right way. How can that be accomplished?

It’s an unfortunate truth of public policy that many people only start to pay greater attention once matters come to a head. (Consider me Exhibit A in this case.) This is especially true because the key parts of the process took place during the pandemic and the 2020 election. So many people still have a lot of questions they would like answered, and many would like to know how the comments they have already provided will be incorporated.

Thrive proponents may be technically correct that the document itself changes nothing with respect to zoning, but it is strongly linked to potential major zoning changes (zoning text amendments) that have also been proposed and are already under discussion. So saying it has no impact on zoning comes across, intentionally or not, as too clever and insincere.

It’s especially important because the Planning Board, led by Casey Anderson, removed certain references to the importance of the Master Planning process. The document is now written to pre-determine outcomes, while simultaneously claiming not to have decided anything. Put another way, we are now being told that it is too early to know its impact on zoning but, once Thrive is passed, it will be too late because “Thrive says . . .”

People want to know what Thrive means for them—how will it affect their home and their neighborhood? What about nearby areas? People care a lot about how changes impact their family and their largest investment or their rent. Using plain language and including specific metrics would go a long way to help residents better understand outcomes Thrive expects to realistically achieve,

In my time as mayor and other leadership positions, I’ve found that listening is far more important than talking. I’m not saying it’s easy or my natural strength, but I work on it. People like to be heard. They also justifiably loathe performative “consultations” where leaders claim to want input, but the outcome has been pre-determined. Councilmembers must incorporate comments from the very broad range of opinion thoughtfully with an open mind.

Which brings me to why this effort is needed to get the process back on track. Many in the community believe that the process has been highly structured to produce a particular outcome supported by a nexus between the Planning Board Chair, activist/business groups like CSG, and certain councilmembers.

The Planning Board staff presented a draft that was amended “in a very surgical way” at the behest of Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson according to insiders. While avowedly done in response to community comment, for example, it’s hard to imagine that this very pro-environment county demanded the excision of Thrive’s specific environmental chapter. Did anyone actually request this? The changes reflect exactly what one would imagine Casey Anderson preferred.

The Thrive appendix outlining planned outreach states:

Blog and vlog: To get involvement from and perspectives of different people in the community — residents, community leaders, business leaders, county officials — we’ll ask different people to be involved in writing or being interviewed for Thrive Montgomery stories to share on the blog.

But the blog is uniformly supportive of Thrive and the concepts behind it. If you do a search for “Thrive” in the blog, almost all of the posts are written by Casey Anderson or other people at the Planning Board. This is what an orchestrated campaign looks like–not an effort to involve diverse voices and different perspectives.

The three-member Council Committee which then reviewed Thrive for the Council is chaired by Hans Riemer, a very good friend and close ally of Casey Anderson. People happier with the original staff document, such as the Civic Federation, understandably see the consultation process as set up to emphasize supporters and limit input from people who might have a contrasting vision.

Former Council President and powerful PHED Committee Chair Riemer’s statement that CSG, a regional organization fiscally sponsored by an out-of-state group with substantial contributions by developers, has been “chairing the conversation” confirms their fears.

Anderson, Riemer and CSG are understandably happy with a document which utterly mirrors their views. That doesn’t make it a bad document in terms of public policy per se, or any of their policy preferences “wrong,” and it certainly doesn’t make any of them remotely bad people. It’s a fine example of structuring a political process to achieve one’s preferred outcome. But it doesn’t provide for an open, transparent, and inclusive process that achieves buy-in from the community.

Finally, as the Council goes through the document, they should go through section by section with both the PHED version and the original Planning Staff version on hand. That will allow the Council to better discuss whether they agree with the changes. Again, they need to discuss how the feedback they’ve received that differs from recommendations is considered and incorporated. This sort of deliberative work session process, conducted in public, will allow for an open process that permits a variety of issues and concerns to be discussed and considered.

There shouldn’t be a complete restart. We need to answer questions, to consult meaningfully, and then the Council can make the decisions we elected them to do. Not everyone will be happy with their decisions, but they’ll likely feel much more included and respected if they are genuinely heard and the document reflects the diverse views in the county.

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Planning Board Abuses its Consent Agenda

Increased attention is being paid to how the U.S. Supreme Court uses its shadow docket to make decisions without public argument. One Montgomery County equivalent is how the Planning Board uses its consent agenda to evade public hearing requirements in apparent violation of the Code.

The Montgomery County Zoning Code requires public notice along with “the same hearing procedures” as for the original site plan when there is a major amendment to a site plan. The code defines a “major amendment” as “any request to increase density or height; change a use; decrease open space; deviate from a binding element or a condition of approval; or alter a basic element of the plan.” (See Section 7.3.4. “J. Amendments.”)

Under the leadership of Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, the Montgomery County Planning Board has been declaring changes that appear to fit the legal definition of “major amendment” as minor amendments and then approving them on its consent agenda, which excludes opportunities for public comment. Unless an especially perspicacious and tenacious resident requests its move to the regular agenda, the amendment will almost certainly sail through with the blessing of the Planning Staff as a “minor change.”

The resulting Planning Board resolutions approving the amendments nonetheless often falsely state that they did hold a public hearing despite having been dealt with on the consent agenda. These resolutions all had to go through the M-NCPPC Legal Department and were signed by Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson.

I imagine that these matters were placed on the consent agenda to keep the process moving or to ease the passage of potentially controversial items favored by the developer. But these goals don’t allow the Planning Board to evade the commands of the Zoning Code.

If these items are truly not controversial or on the border between minor and major amendments, why not just place them on the regular agenda? If no one shows up to testify, the Planning Board can move through just as speedily. And why lie about holding public hearings in the resolution if they aren’t legally required?

Where is this Happening?

Examples of affected site plans placed on the consent agenda despite involving changes that seemingly “deviate from a binding element or a condition of approval” or “conditions of use” or alter building footprints in a way that impact open spaces as well as density have occurred all over Montgomery.

Montgomery Village Center

Request to modify condition no. 4 to reflect the revised/approved stormwater management concept; reduce building footprint for the main retail building; minor modifications to the three retail pad sites; shared-use path will be revised to avoid existing streetlights; and slight modification of the property lines for the condos. (Plan Amendment #82018002A, April 25, 2019 Consent Agenda.)

Randolph Farms

Request to move MPDU designation from Lot 109 to Lot 46; revise Lot 109 from 16′ to 20′ wide; revise Lots 45-47 from 4/3-story units, to 3-story units and remove retaining walls/stairs in front of units; revisions to the central recreation area; and other minor alterations. (Plan Amendment #82017002A, October 3, 2019 Consent Agenda.)

Chevy Chase Lake Block B

Request to reduce required onsite parking, eliminate garage access on Chevy Chase Lake Terrace, revise the Manor Rd./Connecticut Ave. intersection improvements, make changes to the secondary driveway at the Manor Rd. intersection, modify bio-retention planters, relocate transformers, and make associated modification to the site design of sidewalks, landscaping and lighting. (Plan Amendment #82016019B, October 10, 2019 Consent Agenda.)

850 Sligo Avenue

Request to remove the age-restricted use from the multifamily portion of the project. (Plan Amendment #82019005A, October 10, 2019 Consent Agenda.)

Dowden Station

Amendment to delay the construction trigger from the 14th to the 31st building permit for the multi-age playground area located in the northern portion of the property. (Plan Amendment #82016006C, April 30, 2020 Consent Agenda.)

Fairchild Apartments

Request to modify the approved setbacks as well as the location of outdoor grills. (Plan Amendment #82018022B, December 17, 2020 Consent Agenda.)

Poplar Grove

Amend condition 15 to clarify that rough grading, stockpiling, sediment and erosion control, re-grading for stockpiling and interim uses are allowed without amending the Site Plan or entering into a Surety and Maintenance Agreement for the Site Plan. (Plan Amendment #82019006A, January 21, 2021 Consent Agenda.)

Mt. Prospect (Hanson Farm)

Request to modify conditions for development triggers and modifications conditions requested regarding stormwater, landscaping, recreation area, lighting, limits of disturbance, and forest conservation. (Plan Amendment #82017016B, January 27, 2022 Consent Agenda.)

Resolutions Incorrectly Stating Public Hearings were Held

These Planning Board resolutions giving approval appear for requested changes appear to state falsely that public hearings were held:

Chevy Chase Lake Block B

WHEREAS, on October 10, 2019, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the Application at which it heard testimony and received evidence submitted for the record on the Application.

850 Sligo Avenue

WHEREAS, on October 10, 2019, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the Application at which it heard testimony and received evidence submitted for the record on the Application.

Fairchild Apartments

WHEREAS, on December 17, 2020, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the Application at which it received evidence submitted for the record on the Application.

Poplar Grove

WHEREAS, on January 21, 2021, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the Application, and at the hearing at the Planning Board heard testimony and received evidence submitted for the record on the Application.

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Planning Board Violated Open Meetings Act

Like many institutions, the Montgomery County Planning Board has taken to holding meetings online during the pandemic. Incredibly, they chose not to give public notice about how members of the public could attend the meeting online.

Del. Al Carr (D-18) filed a complaint on November 1 alleging that the Development Review Committee (DRC) of the Montgomery County Planning Board repeatedly violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to provide the public this information.

Unbelievably, the Planning Board Counsel, overseen by Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, defended this decision as acceptable because there was no physical location for the meetings:

Since March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the DRC meetings have been held via Microsoft Teams. Someone wishing to join the Teams meeting would call the Information Counter (number provided on the website) and request to be added to the Teams meeting. There was no in-person option so no “location” was required.

The Open Meetings Compliance Board did not agree:

We believe the DRC construes the Act’s notice requirement too narrowly. The purpose of § 3-302(b)(2) is to ensure that members of the public who would like to attend a public body’s meeting have enough information to be able to do so.

An individual cannot attend a meeting without knowing where the meeting will take place. And while a virtual meeting may not happen in a physical location in the traditional sense, a person hoping to attend the meeting must still know where to go to observe the public body’s business. . .

The notices further indicated that “project applicants and their team” would receive information about “how to participate in the DRC meeting[s]” remotely. But the notices gave no indication of how an interested member of the public could obtain access information for the meeting. In its response, the DRC asserts that “[s]omeone wishing to join [a] Teams meeting would call the Information Counter” and “request to be added to the Teams meeting.” But the DRC fails to explain how an individual interested in attending such a meeting would even know to call “the Information Counter” or where to find that number, as such details are missing from the meeting notices.

Notice that the Board not only called out the Planning Board for failing to provide the information but also for their disingenuous claim that members of the public would somehow magically know to call the Information Center to be added to the meeting.

As with M-NCPPC’s complete ignoring of lobbying disclosure requirements and failure to address this ongoing violation despite their assurances, the Planning Board’s failure shows contempt for ethics laws and the public that they are supposed to serve.

In this case, the Planning Board finally altered its behavior in response to Del. Carr’s complaint But it should not take action by a member of the General Assembly for the Montgomery County Planning Board and M-NCPPC to comply with ethics laws.

And why didn’t the County Council, which has responsibility for appointing and overseeing the Planning Board, take action? Or do they condone this illegal nexus between the Board and the interests that they are supposed to regulate.

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Planning Board Chairman casey anderson calls county exec. Marc elrich’s idea “Dumb”

Though he doesn’t say his name, Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson disparaged County Executive Marc Elrich at the Board’s Thrive Montgomery meeting, saying it was a “dumb idea” for Elrich to suggest that the Purple Line be single tracked under Wisconsin Ave. to save money. Just to make it extra clear who he is thinking isn’t too bright, Anderson references an Elrich proposal from 2009.

Only the discussion doesn’t make clear that the idea now is simply to single track under Wisconsin Ave.–a distance of 900 feet–to save money rather than all the way from Bethesda to around Connecticut Ave. as in the idea from over a decade ago. [Note: The Purple Line was originally planned as entirely single track.]

No discussion of the merits of the idea occurs. Nor does the Planning Board Chairman suggest a means to fund this expensive project. Anderson’s comments would likely have been even worse if a planning board staffer had not cut him off in the midst of another negative comment.

When asked for comment, Chairman Anderson said:

Well, I said it, and if I had it to do over again I might say it’s a bad idea, or even a terrible idea, but whatever word is used to describe it the fact is that It was suggested in 2009 and rejected for reasons that were pretty obvious at the time and I don’t think it has improved with age.

Not exactly an apology. Even worse, it reiterates the false claim that this is the same as the 2009 proposal. It’s not. The 2009 proposal planned for single-tracking over a much longer distance, so I queried: “Except that Elrich’s proposal in 2009 had a single track to CT—not just under Wisconsin—so that’s not true, right?” Anderson texted back:

It’s pretty obvious that it creates the same problem – single tracking limits the ability to improve frequency of service because it limits the number of trains you can run. In places where it’s been tried the result has been to come back later and make expensive fixes to add back the second track.

Except that what’s more far obvious is that single-tracking over a very short distance at the end of the line could well have quite different effects than doing the same over a much longer distance. It’s a very strong, unsupported assumption in service to his preferences. More to the point, repeatedly stating that the two proposals are the same is not playing straight with the public.

Around the same time as I heard back from Anderson, I also received a comment from County Executive Elrich:

Not quite sure what Casey’s referring to but when it was first suggested, the single track went all the way to the country club. We’re talking about pulling into and out of the station on a single track. It’s nine hundred feet – a fraction of the distance to the country club. And the trains have to switch tracks over there any way because the train entering on the westbound track has to leave on the eastbound track.

At the headway’s the system uses, there’s no way that two trains would conflict and there would be no bottleneck or degradation in service. It would save $50 million that could be spent on other important things. And without a second track you get a nice wide path.

Of course, the state would have to study it, I can’t mandate it, so we’ll see if it works. And if it does, why would a sane person say no. In the meantime his policies of developer giveaways is wrecking our ability to build the capital projects we need. Which schools, libraries, or public facilities should we kill to spend $50 million on a 500 ft tunnel if you can solve the problem and get the project done faster for far less cost. I’m trying to get it done quickly, without damaging our budget.

I don’t think many would contest that the two-track tunnel would be better. The question that Elrich raises is whether it’s worth studying the alternative in light of other pressing needs demanding the county’s scarce capital dollars. He also points out, correctly, that we’d get a much better bike path and trail through the tunnel.

Bottom Line: The public contempt by the Planning Board Chairman for an idea proposed by the County Executive to deal with the decline in projected capital funds is irresponsible and inappropriate for an official chairing a public meeting. Indeed, it’s the sort of remark that the Council reacted to sharply when Elrich said something similarly tactless–and, unlike Elrich, Anderson knew he was being taped.

What’s even worse, however, is intentionally misleading the public into believing that Elrich’s current proposal for single tracking just under Wisconsin had been studied when he could have simply said that he didn’t think it is a good idea. The Planning Board Chair should not misrepresent facts. It undermines the public trust.

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