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Councilmember Berliner’s Statement on Naming of Casey Anderson as Planning Board Chair

The selection of the Chair of the Planning Board is an important responsibility of the County Council—and of mine. One I take very, very seriously. The Planning Board is one of the most important institutions in our County government. Its guidance on the future of our County and the manner in which it performs its responsibilities play a key role in shaping our quality of life. 

The next Chair arrives at a critical juncture for our County.  Our capacity to meet the challenges of the future—and we have them—is inextricably linked to our capacity to achieve sustainability in its fullest sense—environmentally, economically and socially. Our goal should be nothing less than being a true national model for being a green, prosperous and culturally and economically integrated community. 

And we can. We have terrific assets—among the finest residential neighborhoods anywhere; a nationally recognized school system and community college; a great park system; a vibrant cultural life; great urban "nodes"; an extraordinary agricultural reserve; a smart, educated workforce; home to NIH, FDA, NIST, DOE; and on the nation's doorstep. All assets of an extraordinarily diverse County—itself one of our great strengths.

To realize our full potential, we will need to build on these assets.  From a planning perspective, I am among those that believe that means prioritizing making our urban "nodes" all they can and should be. Enlivened, environmentally sustainable and technologically innovative spaces where walking, biking and a state of the art transit system make it less necessary to own or drive cars. Urban nodes that offer great and green public spaces. Nodes with a broad range of citizens from different economic, cultural and generational backgrounds living together among office workers and diverse retail establishments.  That is what seniors, millennials, empty nesters, businesses and many residents say they want. 

And that vision is consistent with the wise decisions made years ago to preserve so much of our county’s land—one-third of it for agricultural uses. We must turn aside from the temptation to promote sprawl that harms the environment, increases traffic and puts pressure on our agricultural reserve.  Instead, our future depends on bringing about high quality “infill development” that transforms the acres of asphalt that characterize the strip malls of the 50’s into a greener, more environmentally sustainable, enlivened communities. And we can do that while protecting the many established neighborhoods in our County.

But we do have work to do to bring this vision about. First and foremost, we must be “all in” on bringing about the next generation of transit. If we change the conversation about Montgomery County from one where traffic is always an issue to one where we are talking about having the finest transit system in the country, we will have done more to improve the quality of life and our future than any single action we could take. We have a “plan” on how to do it. And now we need to move into implementation. With urgency. Secondly, we must roll up our sleeves and figure out how we can do more to provide and retain more affordable housing throughout our county. If we properly attend to these issues as we focus on our infill opportunities, we will make our county an even better place to live, work, and play. And finally, we must ensure that we have sufficient school capacity in the down county as we focus on infill development, which means we must succeed next year in our effort with the state legislature to obtain the funds our growing school system needs.    

However, there are many in our community that appear to believe that creating great urban nodes, more transit, and mixed use development is in conflict with the wonderful quality of our existing neighborhoods. I utterly reject that premise. I have had the privilege of representing—and fighting for—some of the finest residential neighborhoods anywhere. And I will continue to be a vigilant defender of our neighborhoods in the years ahead. The fundamental fact is that dynamic, urban nodes and mixed-use developments are not in conflict with wonderful residential neighborhoods—indeed, they are complementary and synergistic.One can surely look to the Edgemoor community in Bethesda to see that is true.

When I assessed the candidates for Chair that our Council met with and interviewed, a uniformly strong and impressive group, I concluded that Commissioner Anderson came closest to holding the vision I have for our County's future. And I say that as a member of the Council that has not always agreed with Commissioner Anderson on some issues. But make no mistake about it, he is a strong proponent of smart and sustainable growth, served by world class transit. These are the key components of a strong future for our County. 

While each of us has our own experiences, my experience of Commissioner Anderson is that he has consistently demonstrated a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and respectful approach to issues guided by core principles.  In those conversations, he has always affirmed his commitment to preserving both the integrity of our residential neighborhoods and the agricultural reserve. What is more, he is a person of great intellect and passion for his work, two qualities that will serve him well as Chair. He is generous with his time, and willing to meet with any member of the community to discuss issues facing our community—the big ones and the small ones. His door is always open.

This morning, Commissioner Anderson received nearly unanimous support of the Council. I am confident that as Chair he will help lead our County to a more dynamic and prosperous future that embraces and builds upon our existing terrific community assets. 

And it is more than worth noting that the Planning Board works for our Council. We make the calls—block-by-block, building by building.  I have been among the most active members on land use issues over the years, even though I am not a member of the PHED Committee.  I led the fight to preserve Ten Mile Creek in Clarksburg; I fought for lower heights in Chevy Chase Lake; and I was proud to lend my energy to making White Flint a terrific destination—which it most assuredly will be. As we move into the next term, I will continue to advocate for land use plans that propel our county forward and address some of our overarching policy goals while simultaneously advocating for neighborhoods. This has always been the way I have gone about my work at the Council and that will not change.  At the end of the day, the Council will always be the final decision-maker on all land-use issues.

I have a strong and positive belief in our County's future. We can have it all if we work at it—together.  My deliberations over who should lead Planning Board as the next Chair were guided by that vision for our future.    

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