A Unique Opportunity to Shape Your Future.
VIDEO What is Thrive Montgomery 2050?
Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the update to Montgomery County’s General Plan, its long-range policy framework for guiding future land use and growth for the next 30 years. Thrive Montgomery 2050 will help guide future land use planning; countywide policies and future initiatives affecting community quality of life; the provision of infrastructure and community amenities; and private development. Montgomery County’s vibrant parks, quality schools, desirable urban, suburban and rural communities and the Agricultural Reserve were shaped by planners and community members decades ago through the 1964 General Plan. For Montgomery County to continue to thrive—and become an even better place and community for all—we must make those big decisions again and take bold steps for the future. Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the long-term vision of where we want to go and it drives every decision we make, including what types of investments the county government makes.
Why do we need to plan for the future?
Montgomery County is a great place to live, work, and play. But it didn’t happen by accident. We planned for that! The great communities, places, and spaces that keep us calling Montgomery County home — like vibrant parks; quality schools; desirable urban, suburban and rural communities; and the Agricultural Reserve — were all shaped by planners and community members decades ago. They had to make big decisions and plan thoughtfully for the future that is now. The kind of forward thinking, imagination and dedication demonstrated in previous decades has allowed our community to thrive today.
For Montgomery County to continue to thrive — and become an even better place and community for all — we must make those big decisions again and take bold steps for our future and that of generations to come. Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the umbrella under which we can plan and move forward together. It will be our shared vision – a guide to help us secure investment, take action and develop policies to preserve what we love while improving what can be better.
It’s time to update our roadmap for the future. In order to face the challenges ahead, we must have goals and ways to reach those goals with the support of the community. That’s what Thrive Montgomery 2050 is all about.
What does it mean to Thrive?
Montgomery County offers something for everyone – vibrant communities–cities, suburbs, and countryside–that residents of all types call home, great parks and community facilities, and so much more.
We’re ideally located in the mid-Atlantic between Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD…but we’re a destination in our own right.
One of the most diverse counties in the nation, Montgomery County is home to over 1 million people and with nearly 600K people working in Montgomery County’s 32,527 businesses. (Source: MCEDC)
80% of our residents rate the county as a great place to live (Source: National Citizen Survey)
We enjoy 421 parks and open spaces, top-rated schools and safe communities.
Thrive Montgomery 2050 isn’t about reinvention – it’s about making sure what is great about Montgomery County continues into the future and about creating solutions to improve what needs to work better.
Keeping what is good about our county and making the changes needed to achieve economic health, community equity and environmental resilience for the decades to come.
Ensuring that future generations enjoy excellent quality of life and have everything they need to be successful, safe and healthy.
Proactively managing change. Not reacting to it. Steering future change to achieve our goals.
Being able to overcome the unexpected.
Enhancing the lives of residents, workers and business owners so that they can be successful in the future.
What is a general plan?
A General Plan is a policy document that guides, over multiple decades, how a jurisdiction will develop and change over time; maintain its important assets; and respond to future opportunities and challenges. Unlike a sector plan, master plan or functional plan, a General Plan does not provide specific land use guidance to address short-term issues in targeted geographic areas; it does not change zoning; and it addresses multiple topic areas, rather than just one. A General Plan is a long-term vision with broad policies that will guide future, more detailed land use planning, public investments in infrastructure and communities amenities, and private development.
Thrive Montgomery 2050 will ultimately result in an update to this General Plan, which informs the shape and character of every neighborhood in Montgomery County, the types of community facilities and amenities that serve residents and businesses, and the ways we travel throughout the county. The General Plan guides policy and decisions for the county in the coming decades. It is continually revised with amendments and through local master plans, sector plans and county-wide functional plans.
Thrive Montgomery 2050 is about the policies and ideas needed to carry our community forward to 2050. It’s the long-term vision of where we want to go and it drives every decision we make, including what types of investments the county government makes.
Responses to community comments
While Thrive Montgomery 2050 is now under County Council review, Montgomery Planning continues to receive questions and comments from community members regarding Thrive Montgomery 2050. The following are recently received community comments and Planning staff's responses.
Thrive Montgomery 2050 seems almost wholly focused on population growth and the need for housing close to transit. Under the draft plan, the County will be reshaped to address projected population growth--and housing needs-- by eliminating all single-family zoning for more dense development.
Thrive Montgomery 2050 does not recommend eliminating any single-family zoning
. Thrive Montgomery suggests that the county – in addition to many housing policies dealing with affordable housing and other types of housing – does need to promote a diversity of housing types and housing choice. This policy, if embraced, will eventually lead to some zoning changes in different parts of the county, but these changes would only happen through master plans or through changes to the zoning code that would be carefully reviewed by and voted on by the County Council with public input.
Councilmember Will Jawando introduced a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA 20-07) in December 2020 that suggested changes to single-family zoned properties near transit. The Council held a public hearing but has not taken action to date on this ZTA. In March 2021, the Montgomery County Council asked the Planning Board to “consider zoning reforms that would allow greater opportunities for Missing Middle housing in Montgomery County”. In response, the Planning Department launched the Attainable Housing Strategies (AHS) initiative and has – with community outreach and input – been developing recommendations to make it possible to provide more diverse types of housing in the county. See more details on the
Attainable Housing Strategies initiative.
Considering the large amount of increased density Thrive Montgomery 2050 is proposing, Thrive must include a requirement to build an additional waste treatment plant in Montgomery County along the Potomac River since the additional density will cause capacity issues at the Blue Plains plant in Washington DC that the county currently sends its sewage to.
Thrive Montgomery 2050 (Thrive) is not proposing any additional growth to be added to Montgomery County. Based on a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments population forecast developed before Thrive Montgomery 2050 was launched, Montgomery County was expected to house approximately 200,000 more people by 2050. Thrive takes a long-term look at our current planning framework and, based on emerging trends and challenges, proposes fine tuning our current approach by directing the expected growth to areas with adequate infrastructure already in place to support new growth.
Thrive does not make specific zoning or density recommendations about how much and what kind of development should be located where and when. Its broad policy guidance will be implemented incrementally through numerous other master plans and public and private initiatives. These future master plans will provide specific density and growth allocations by master plan areas, which will then be used to update the county’s Ten-Year Comprehensive Water Supply and Sewerage Systems Plan (Water and Sewer Plan). The Water and Sewer Plan provides an important link between the County’s land use and development planning and the actual construction of the water supply and sewerage systems needed to implement that planning effort. Whether there is adequate infrastructure capacity available to support new growth is further regulated at the time of development approval by the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, which has been refined over the years since its adoption in 1974.
Planning and providing for adequate water and sewer service in Montgomery County is a complex process involving the Montgomery County Planning Department, the Planning Board, the County’s Department of Environmental Protection, the County Council, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), the Maryland Department of the Environment, and the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments. As WSSC provides the majority of public water and sewer service in Montgomery County, Thrive was developed in consultation with WSSC. While it is theoretically possible that sewer capacity issues could emerge in the future for any number of reasons (e.g. climate change and associated extreme flooding), we believe that today’s planning, regulatory, and oversight mechanisms provide sufficient safeguards against sewer capacity uses related to projected growth.
The draft eliminates compatibility requirements, and substitutes form-based development and rules, without specifying the community involvement that has made these kinds of developments successful. The concept of compatibility runs throughout the zoning code and is in the DNA of county planning. Removing compatibility requirements jeopardizes fundamental planning concepts, like consideration of whether new buildings will cast shadows that deprive existing buildings and their occupants of needed sunlight.
The term compatibility is most often raised to question the relationship of certain uses (commercial, multifamily residential, institutional) and buildings of different types when located next to single-family residential uses. Some of the examples include townhouses, private schools, a public school expansion with a multi-purpose room located close to the boundary with the adjoining detached single-family neighbors, and single-family detached houses on lots smaller than the slightly larger existing lots across the street from the proposed development.
Compatibility is not defined in the Zoning Ordinance or other regulations, but the term is part of necessary findings either the Planning Board or the Hearing Examiner must make in certain regulatory cases. For example, Zoning Ordinance Section 126.96.36.199, Compatibility Requirements, includes a series of considerations and calculations to determine if height and setbacks are compatible between uses in either the Commercial-Residential (CR) or Employment zones when adjacent to residential zones. In addition to height and setback, massing, and scale of the buildings in question, compatibility assessment can also include the nature, intensity, noise, pollution and health impacts of certain uses when located near residential uses.
Subjective concepts like “compatibility” make the development review process unpredictable for both applicants and neighboring residents while failing to elevate the quality of design. Thrive does not propose to eliminate the idea of compatibility. It advocates the use of more objective standards – such as form-based codes – to ensure that new development is in harmony with its surroundings and to facilitate high-quality infill and redevelopment. For example, in the Design, Arts & Culture chapter, on page 65 of the Planning Board Draft, the Plan recommends: “Replace vague concepts such as “compatibility” with clear standards for form, site layout, setbacks, architecture, and the location of parking…” On page 69, it states: “Design codes based on physical form will serve as predictable guides for change, address community concerns over accommodating growth, and illustrate hard-to-define concepts such as “character” and “compatibility.” A shift away from these kinds of vague standards will help make regulatory decisions more equitable by applying more objective criteria in evaluating development proposals and their relationship to their surroundings. Clear standards governing acceptable form will discourage amorphous claims about the “incompatibility” of different housing types and neighborhood-serving retail, facilitating the creation of mixed income neighborhoods where essential services are within walking distance of most residences.”
Where will the money to implement Thrive Montgomery come from? How will the county pay for all the elements of this Plan and in particular the Complete Communities when estimates of lost revenue for the county have grown increasingly larger as this year has progressed? How will the implementation of this Plan adjust to economic and fiscal realities over the next 30 years?
Thrive Montgomery 2050 relies on both the private and public sectors for its implementation over the coming decades. In the Conclusion chapter, the Plan discusses the roles of public agencies, the private sector and the community in implementing the Plan’s ideas. It provides high level guidance on funding sources that will be tapped to support capital investments as well as the need to identify new funding sources and financing strategies. It also describes the policy and regulatory tools available for implementation.
Public sector funding tools such as the Capital Improvements Program will fund new public facilities and infrastructure to support Thrive Montgomery 2050’s recommendations. The private sector contributions are made per the
Growth and Infrastructure Policy requirement to provide some improvements (open spaces, transportation infrastructure and, in some cases, school sites) or pay impact taxes and fees at the time of development. New developments then generate new tax revenues for the public sector to fund infrastructure improvements and services.
The implementation of Thrive Montgomery 2050, including the creation of Complete Communities, will be incremental over the next 30 years. In the Complete Communities chapter, on page 49 of the Planning Board Draft, the Plan states: “Implementation will be organic and incremental, through infill and redevelopment within centers of activity along corridors as well as within existing downtowns, town centers and rural villages. This implementation will be primarily market driven, using the development review process to funnel contributions from private developers to streetscape improvements, dedication and construction of parks and public spaces, and the addition of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”
The implementation of this 30-year Plan over multiple decades will need to adjust to economic and fiscal realities of the current and future disruptions and growth cycles. While the County—like all state and local governments—is currently facing a tight budget due to the pandemic, its fiscal situation will fluctuate through good and bad times over the next thirty years.
The draft’s recommendations require costly investments in infrastructure - costs that are not identified in the Plan and may not be achievable. The cost burden seems to fall squarely on the shoulders of residents, not on developers.
Future infrastructure investments that will help implement Thrive Montgomery’s policies will be funded by both the public sector and through private development. Growth is the currency that pays for the infrastructure and public and private services and amenities that support Montgomery County’s quality of life. Pursuant to the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, the
Growth and Infrastructure Policy (GIP) requires private developers to share the responsibility of investing in public schools and transportation infrastructure by paying impact taxes for both. Impact taxes are paid by the vast majority of development. The GIP is updated every four years and impact tax calculations adjusted as needed to make sure the new growth pays its appropriate share. For example, in the 2020 update to the Growth and Infrastructure Policy, developers are now required to make Utilization Premium Payments — on top of impact taxes — if they are building in an area served by overcrowded schools. Likewise, developers are responsible for mitigating their transportation impacts whenever a project fails the county’s multimodal local area transportation review tests. The developer must make the necessary transportation infrastructure improvements or pay a commensurate mitigation fee.
In addition to impact taxes paid at the time of new development, new projects generate property taxes over future years, which provide additional revenue to support public services and infrastructure improvements.
To assess the full cost of implementing this Plan over the next 30 years will require more detailed studies to define the scope of improvements (how many bridges will need to be raised to address increased flooding, for example). Additionally, it is hard to say that this Plan will be more costly than continuing on the current path that does not adequately prepare us for the future. The real question is the additional cost of following this Plan’s recommendations vs. continuing with the current pattern of development. Even if we don’t adopt this Plan, Montgomery County will still need to accommodate another 200,000 people expected by 2050 and address the impacts of future disruptions such as climate change , not to mention the costs related to public health, housing affordability, and social and environmental justice issues. Whatever the cost of this Plan, not doing anything will be far costlier.
The draft depends too much on one planning tool--the zoning text amendment. There are many other planning tools that will encourage better planning by respecting area differences and encouraging on-site creativity and compatibility.
Thrive Montgomery 2050 relies on multiple planning, regulatory, funding and other tools for its implementation. The Conclusion chapter of the Plan talks about some of the tools and other mechanisms that will be needed to implement the Plan. These include local area master plans; countywide functional plans; changes to parts of the County Code including the Zoning Ordinance, the Subdivision regulations, the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance and the Growth and Infrastructure Policy; the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP); facility plans; and various local, state and federal funding sources.
The list of tools in the Plan is not intended to be exhaustive because Thrive Montgomery 2050 anticipates modifications of existing codes and regulations and development of new tools such as funding and taxing mechanisms to generate new revenue to support public investment in the future.
Many of the Plan’s recommendations will be implemented through future master plans tailored to the contexts and needs of different parts of the county as well as through countywide functional masterplans such as for transportation. Additionally, Thrive Montgomery 2050 recommends using form-based code, design guidelines, pattern books, and other regulatory tools that focus on the physical forms of buildings, streets, and spaces to achieve the desired physical integration of the new and existing development. It also recommends amending “land-use, design and zoning regulations, including the Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Regulations, to remove regulatory barriers and facilitate development of these housing types.” And it recommends adopting “context-sensitive design guidance for all master planning efforts.” (Page 65, Design, Arts & Culture chapter, Planning Board Draft).
Some of Thrive Montgomery’s other recommendations rely on a diversity of tools and mechanisms to accomplish them. For example, , on page 99, the Attainable & Affordable Housing chapter of the Planning Board Draft, the Plan recommends reforming “building codes to reduce costs by accommodating innovative construction methods and materials including modular prefabricated housing and mass timber.”; and developing “targeted strategies to minimize gentrification and displacement while promoting integration and avoiding the concentration of poverty.” Other tools include improving collection of data on neighborhood change to monitor and address involuntary displacement, disinvestment, and related phenomena (page 101, Affordable & Attainable Housing chapter, Planning Board Draft), and developing guidelines and reference manuals on specific policies and implementation tools such as the Fire Department Access Performance-Based Design Guide (page 133, Conclusion chapter, Planning Board Draft).
In the absence of any concrete, quantifiable targets, how will we know that the Plan’s recommendations are achieving its goals? What steps or metrics will be used to check if we are on the right track?
Thrive Montgomery 2050 emphasizes the importance of indicators to track progress on its implementation and evaluate how new ideas and proposals will help achieve the Plan’s objectives. Each of the six core chapters of the Plan explains how its recommendations serve the three overarching objectives of Thrive Montgomery 2050—economic health, community equity and environmental resilience—and describes metrics to measure progress in implementing the chapter’s ideas. The Conclusion chapter also includes some broad metrics. These metrics, along with the more detailed metrics listed in each chapter, will be used to assess new actions to implement Thrive Montgomery 2050 as well as measuring the effectiveness of the Plan’s recommendations over time and allow for periodic assessments of progress to inform priorities and set shorter-term goals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the “Wedges and Corridors” General Plan being updated?
Rapid social, environmental, technological, demographic and economic shifts that have occurred and that will continue over the next few decades necessitate revisions to Montgomery County’s guiding framework for growth, called the General Plan. The General Plan update, Thrive Montgomery 2050, builds upon the foundation set by the 1964 General Plan and all subsequent plans and policies. It will modernize the original plan’s Wedges and Corridors concept (self-contained corridor cities connected by a transportation network) and refine it for the next 30 years to ensure its relevance for tomorrow’s challenges. It will need to accommodate new growth in a highly developed county and harness technological innovations for the county to thrive in the future.
What are the overarching priorities that Thrive Montgomery 2050 seeks to achieve?
The Thrive Montgomery 2050 update we plan with the community will guide policy and investment decisions in the decades to come. The guidance contained in Thrive Montgomery 2050, across multiple topics, is intended to accomplish three broad outcomes for the county’s future:
Economic Health: We want to ensure a vibrant, strong and competitive economy by attracting and maintaining major employers, continuing to enhance our Federal campuses, supporting small businesses and innovation, and attracting and retaining a high-quality, diverse workforce.
Equity: We want to create a place where all residents have equal access to affordable housing, healthy foods, employment, transportation, education and more.
Environmental Resilience: We want to preserve our natural and built resources and use the best strategies to fight climate change and mitigate the impact of both planned changes and unexpected events.
What is the long-term vision for Montgomery County?
In 2050, Montgomery County is a web of complete communities connected by vibrant corridors.
Complete communities: Individual and unique centers of neighborhood activity and urban nodes optimize land use with a variety of housing types and price points are located close to transit, workplaces, needed goods and services, public amenities and active park spaces.
Vibrant corridors: comfortable, safe corridors of multimodal transportation and services; and corridors of green parks, stream valleys and trails.
How are the Thrive Montgomery 2050 recommendations organized?
The Thrive Montgomery 2050 recommendations are organized into six cross-cutting themes, or chapters:
Compact Growth: Corridor-Focused Development
Complete Communities: Mix of Uses and Forms
Design, Arts & Culture: Investing and Building Community
Transportation and Communication Networks: Connecting People, Places and Ideas
Affordable & Attainable Housing: More of Everything
Parks and Recreation: For an Increasingly Urban and Diverse Community: Active and Social
How will Thrive Montgomery 2050 advance racial and social equity for Montgomery County?
Equity, one of the three foundational principles for developing policy guidance, is interwoven throughout Thrive Montgomery 2050. This equity framework improves planning, decision-making, and resource allocation leading to more racially equitable policies and programs. Efforts to achieve racial and social equity include creating more housing attainable for residents at all income levels; ensuring existing and new communities of color receive an equitable share of services and investments; promoting the equitable distribution of prosperity throughout the county; addressing current health disparities and improving health and well-being for everyone; and ensuring all residents have a voice and influence in planning and policy processes. Thrive Montgomery 2050 creates a place where all residents have equitable access to affordable housing, healthy foods, employment, transportation, education and more.
How is Montgomery Planning engaging community members, including people of color, immigrant residents and other traditionally marginalized communities, in the development of Thrive Montgomery 2050?
With equity among the three outcomes of Thrive Montgomery 2050, as well as a priority for Montgomery Planning and the county, our communications approach has and will continue to consider equity in all outreach and engagement so that all members of our community have opportunities to shape the future of our county. This has and continues to include: meeting community members where they are by attending festivals and local events throughout the county; providing a variety of ways to provide feedback; offering virtual events that vary in time and date to meet the diverse needs of our community; and providing translated materials and interpretation for events. Highlights have included the plan’s kickoff, Thrive Week, in June 2019; youth engagement and visioning workshops; and the Ask me Anything series, hosted by Planning Director Gwen Wright, in English and Spanish. For more information, please review the Communications Plan for the project (Appendix II), the Engagement Update presented to the Planning Board in February 2020, and the virtual events Montgomery Planning is hosting in June during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed planning for the future?
The global coronavirus pandemic has caused a radical shift in the life and work of communities nationwide. While the full impact of this crisis is not yet known, it is certain that it will be a factor in how Montgomery County evolves in the future. COVID-19 will have lasting impacts on how we interact with one another, how we do business and much more. This crisis underscores the importance of an updated General Plan as it highlights how unpredictable the future is. It has forced us to adapt, even if temporarily, to new realities unthinkable a short time ago. We need to be flexible and nimble and be prepared to work with multiple possibilities and try to influence the outcomes in our favor. The COVID-19 crisis, still unfolding as we write this plan, places new emphasis on two concepts that we have included from the beginning: equity and resilience. Related to equity, the pandemic exacerbates social and economic disparities that existed prior to the crisis. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on low-income families and residents of color. The neighborhoods at a higher risk for the virus were already vulnerable to economic disruption—with lower incomes, higher rent burdens and higher levels of segregation by race. The concept of resilience, while frequently used in the environmental context as a response to climate change, is also about developing policies that help communities withstand economic and social challenges. Thrive Montgomery 2050 highlights opportunities to reevaluate and rethink the way Montgomery County builds, designs and maintains places in the wake of the pandemic. Policies that create more integrated, connected, mixed-income neighborhoods also can positively impact our residents’ health and quality of life, as well as influence our economic health, environment and transportation infrastructure.
How will Thrive Montgomery 2050 be implemented?
Thrive Montgomery 2050’s the county’s updated General Plan, is a high-level policy document that is not self-implementing. The General Plan does not automatically change any zoning or other regulations. Implementation of its policies and actions will rely on several tools over the coming decades. Thrive Montgomery will influence Montgomery Planning work program for new master, sector and functional plans and detailed studies over the coming years; shape the design and regulatory review of private development; and guide the Planning Board’s decision-making. However, Thrive Montgomery’s reach and impact extends beyond land use planning. Thrive Montgomery’s guidance also is intended to influence infrastructure, facility, real estate and other planning by multiple county and regional agencies such as the Montgomery County Parks Department, Montgomery County Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Montgomery County Public Schools, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and others. Thrive Montgomery 2050 also will be implemented through zoning changes identified by future plans and studies and other changes to county regulations and ordinances. Another important tool for implementation is the Capital Improvements Process that funds new county facilities and infrastructure.
How much will Thrive Montgomery 2050 cost to implement it?
The main purpose of the General Plan is to guide future land use, facility and infrastructure planning and public investments as well as private development. Subsequent, more detailed plans and studies and the capital budgeting process will identify specific public infrastructure improvements and cost estimates of those projects. For example, the General Plan will not specify how many bridges will need to be rebuilt to address higher flooding due to climate change. Or how many properties will need to be acquired to provide new schools, libraries, parks and other facilities. All that will be determined by future schools, transportation, parks, library and other infrastructure plans.
How will you monitor the effectiveness of Thrive Montgomery over the next 30 years?
Over summer 2020, Montgomery Planning will draft an Implementation chapter for Thrive Montgomery 2050 that will discuss the various tools noted above for implementing the Plan as well as identify strategies to monitor implementation. This will include identifying agencies responsible for implementing actions; prioritizing implementation in terms of short-term, medium-term and long-term actions; and developing metrics for tracking the effectiveness of the Plan’s implementation.