Hot seat on Montgomery planning board draws a very long list of candidates

With races for Montgomery County executive and the council gathering momentum, another important campaign is unfolding below the radar: the contest to be appointed to chair Montgomery’s planning board.

The $168,000-a-year post is one of the county’s most bruising, and consequential. The chair heads the five-member panel that makes recommendations to the County Council on all land-use questions, from broad policy to small individual zoning applications.

Chair Francoise Carrier, whose four-year term expires June 15, is not seeking reappointment. The last time a chair returned for a second term was in 1998.

There is a long line for the hot seat.

Two current planning board members, one former member, a former County Council member, the deputy planning director and a prominent land-use lawyer are among the 19 applicants who filed letters and résumés before Monday’s deadline.

The council will likely make its choice by July, said its president, Craig Rice, after budget deliberations and the June 24 primary.

But for weeks, contenders and their supporters have been reaching out to council members and campaigning behind the scenes.

One of the more surprising aspirants is Norman Dreyfuss, a Republican and the board’s only developer.

Dreyfuss, a Potomac resident and executive with the IDI Group (developer of Leisure World), said in his cover letter that the next chair should be someone “who has real world management experience, who knows and has been through the development process.”

Dreyfuss is well-liked and certain to get a respectful hearing from members of the council, all nine of whom are Democrats.

The other board incumbent, Casey Anderson, is likely to draw support from “smart growth” advocates and parts of the business community.

Anderson has played key roles in hammering out board consensus on complex projects, including a Bus Rapid Transit system and the White Oak Science Gateway.

In his application letter, Anderson said that the board must address demographic shifts that have made the county less uniformly affluent and more racially and culturally diverse, increasing the demand for housing near jobs, retail areas and transit.

“The county needs to compete aggressively to attract jobs and create incentives for the kinds of development that can broaden and sustain our prosperity in the future,” he wrote.

Anderson, a lawyer and former journalist who lives in Silver Spring, runs an opinion research firm that advises lawyers on complex litigation.

Mike Knapp represented Montgomery’s upcounty District 2 on the County Council for two terms, from 2002 to 2010, and chaired its Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. He has founded two companies: Orion Ventures, a consulting firm, and SkillSmart, which links job seekers with employers, and touched on similar themes in his letter.

“Our role as an economic engine for the state and region cannot be assumed as a foregone conclusion,” said Knapp, who lives in Germantown.

Meredith Wellington served on the planning board from 1999 to 2007, working on such issues as the Potomac Master Plan, the Woodmont Triangle amendment to the Bethesda Community Based Planning plan and regulatory failures in Clarksburg.

She wrote that she wants to use “the bully pulpit of the Chair to work tirelessly with all stakeholders to create a truly Progressive Montgomery,” with more affordable housing, dynamic urban centers and a collaborative relationship with the County Council.

A Chevy Chase resident and former assistant chief counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, she chairs Neighborhood Montgomery, a group that monitors planning activities by the board and council.

Other applicants for the position include Deputy Planning Director Rose Krasnow; David Freishtat, a land-use lawyer with the firm Shulman Rogers; former Rockville City Council member John Britton; and Victor Weissberg, a special assistant to the director of Prince George’s County Public Works and Transportation and a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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