The Montgomery County Planning Board has chosen Gwen Wright, a veteran planner for both Montgomery County and the city of Alexandria, to be the county’s planning director beginning July 1.
Wright is currently director of the development division of Alexandria Planing and Zoning, a unit that oversees major mixed-use projects, including Potomac Yard, the Carlyle area and Landmark Mall. She previously worked at Montgomery Parks and Planning from 1987 to 2008, including a stint as acting director.
She said that some of the challenges facing the Alexandria and Montgomery County are similar, and that as the region becomes more dense, planners need to pay greater attention to the way that buildings affect people on the street level.
“The way pedestrians and bicyclists and the folks on the ground interact with buildings is really, really key to making great communities,” she said. “I think that in Bethesda, Silver Spring and some of those areas of Montgomery County that’s really been acknowledged and built on, and that will continue as we look at Wheaton and White Flint and some other places.”
Wright will replace Rollin Stanley, who after four years in the job left last year to become the lead planner in Calgary. Stanley aggressively moved the county to urbanize traffic-snarled commercial corridors such as portions of Rockville Pike but stirred controversy after referring to opponents of his smart growth philosophy as “rich white women” in an interview with Bethesda Magazine.
Montgomery County has more than 1 million residents and nearly 500 square miles. Unlike Alexandria, Wright said it has extremely diverse land use needs.
“I’ve been really, really fortunate to work in Alexandria where we have a really great urban framework, and that framework has been used not only for in-fill projects, but when we’ve looked at new brownfield developments like Carlyle or Potomac Yard where we’ve been able to extend that urban grid that’s been historic and part of the sort of ethos of Alexandria,” she said.
“The thing that is sort of different [in Montgomery] is there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In Montgomery County, we have great suburban areas, great urban areas and great rural areas,” she said.
She also said she was proud to be joining a cohort of female planning directors in the region, among them the District’s Harriet Tregoning, Fern Piret of Prince George’s County and Alexandria’s Farroll Hamer.
“What I think is sort of cool is we have a very dynamic group of women who are all planning directors, all working in close-in parts of the region,” she said.
Wright holds a degree in architecture and architectural history from Yale University, according to a Montgomery County press release.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz