Interest groups line up behind their choices for Montgomery Planning Board chair

July 10, 2014

Note: This story was updated to include additional endorsements of candidates for planning board chair.

The five finalists for Montgomery Planning Board chair brought a cover-all-the bases caution to their four-and-a-half hours of interviews with the County Council on Tuesday.

Casey Anderson, Rose Krasnow, Norman Dreyfuss, Meredith Wellington and Mike Knapp all committed to protect residential neighborhoods, park land and the county’s 93,000-acre agricultural reserve. They all signaled, in one way or another, that the county’s economic development goals are best served by high-density growth around mass transit. Each promised a more collaborative approach toward the council and other county agencies. They said they would streamline the development process. All agreed that more affordable housing was a good thing.

The job, which pays $168,000 a year, is low-profile but high-impact. The chair leads the five-member panel that advises the council on all land use questions, from big-picture master plans to smaller individual development proposals. The post can be politically and personally bruising. The last time a board chair returned for a second four-year term was 1998. Current chair Francoise Carrier did not seek reappointment. The council plans to make a selection next week.

The differences between the finalists are probably best illuminated by a look at who is most enthusiastic about their candidacies — and who is not.

Anderson, an attorney, former Capitol Hill staffer and a board member since 2011, comes “highly recommended” by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, according to its letter to the council. He is also endorsed by the Action Committee for Transit, an advocacy group heavily behind the Purple Line and other rail and bus projects, and the Sierra Club. County files show recommendations from the Trail Conservancy, the Sligo Creek Golf Association and the Lyttonsville Community Civic Association in West Silver Spring. Charlotte Cofield, speaking for the association, praised Anderson’s work with the group on the potential impact of the Purple Line, which is aligned to run through the community.

“Also, he arranged for his son’s Scout Troop to visit the exhibit on the History of Lyttonsville to learn about the community,” Cofield added.

Wellington, a former lobbyist and attorney for the National Labor Relations Board, served under four chairs as a member of the planning board from 1999 to 2007. She’s drawn support from a diverse range of groups, including the Sligo Creek Golf Association, the Association of Vietnamese Americans, the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association (an organization of African American lawyers in Montgomery and Prince George’s), the Audubon Naturalist Society, Conservation Montgomery, the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, Upcounty Action, the South Four Corners Citizens Association and the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights.

She currently heads Neighborhood Montgomery, which monitors land use issues for neighborhood and community organizations. She was active in last year’s revision of the county zoning code, helping groups understand the plan and pushing for modifications that advocates said added more protection to residential neighborhoods.

Krasnow, the former mayor of Rockville and currently the deputy planning director, was ranked just under Anderson by the Montgomery chamber with a “recommended” rating. Former council member Mike Knapp, Upcounty’s District 2 representative on the County Council from 2002 to 2010, had no organizational endorsements included in Tuesday’s council packet. He has founded two companies: Orion Ventures, a consulting firm, and SkillSmart, which links job seekers with employers. He is also a member of the Montgomery College Board of Trustees.

Dreyfuss, the board’s lone Republican and developer (an executive with IDI Group Cos., developer of Leisure World) was recommended by the Montgomery Chamber and the Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association, which praised his “unique set of experiences as regards management, executive action, strategic planning and land use with real world experience.”

He apparently can also run a diner. To underscore the priority he places on sound management, his application included an anecdote about his experience at a Waffle House several years ago. Seeing a line of customers leading out the door and empty, unbused tables inside, he discovered that the manager had called in sick.

“Clearly no one was in charge,” Dreyfuss said in a note to Council President Craig Rice. “I don’t know what came over me, but I suggested to a waiter that he and the cashier clear the tables so the waiting customers could sit down. ... The cook needed orders so he could get going so I had one waiter get starter beverages as the other took the food orders. ... Soon the place was humming.”

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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