A committee appointed by Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist called yesterday for several major changes in county planning but stopped short of recommending the broad transfer of power from the council to the executive that Gilchrist sought when he created the body in June.
In its most significant recommendations, the 17-member committee called for the executive, instead of the council, to appoint members of the county planning board and said the executive should have the power to veto council decisions involving master plans.
"In most jurisdictions the executive is essentially in charge of the planning process. That's what he wanted here," said Stephen Poteat, committee staff director.
The committee also did not recommend that the executive be given authority to formulate master plans -- the county's blueprints for growth -- and veto power over council zoning decisions.
"I think they have stopped somewhat short of what the executive recommended, recognizing it was sort of overboard," said County Council member Neal Potter.
Gilchrist's appointment of the committee coincided with his announcement of a campaign to "wrest control over development" from his political rivals on the County Council.
The committee was charged with deciding how much additional authority the executive should have, and it clearly did not go as far in its recommendations as the executive wanted, Poteat noted.
That view was supported by the inclusion of several minority opinions in the report that called for a stronger executive role in planning and zoning.
The committee also called for the executive to take over administration of the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), which ties growth to the availability of roads, schools and other public services. That task now belongs to the five-member County Planning Board.
"The committee was very concerned that their recommendations would not lead to the establishment of another large planning staff," said Chairman Harvey Kushner. "They did not give the executive the kinds of things [that would]."
The committee, however, wanted to give the executive control over the timing of growth, so it decided to recommend transferring authority over the APFO to the executive branch, Kushner said.
Since the early 1970s the responsibility for planning and zoning has rested exclusively with the seven-member County Council. The planning board was created by state law to prepare master plans and act as an advisory group to the council on zoning and planning issues.
Gilchrist's effort to expand the executive's role in the planning process comes at a time when record levels of residential and commercial development have created snarling traffic congestion on most major county roads.
He blamed the traffic problems on the planning board, which he said was too strong and not accountable to the voters, and indirectly on the County Council.
The committee, too, said the council was "ultimately responsible and accountable for the problems we face."
But it said the "root cause of our problems" lies with the "fragmentation of responsibilities" for development between the council and the executive.
The committee concluded that the executive should "share in accountability with the council for the results of planning, as well as the implementation of county development."
"It's clearly not what he [Gilchrist] was seeking," said planning board Chairman Norman L. Christeller. "It's a little bit of tinkering with the process."
Potter and Christeller said they would strongly oppose granting the executive the power to appoint planning board members because the board acts as an advisor to the council.
Council member Esther Gelman called the committee's work a "misplaced exercise." Other council members could not be reached or declined to comment.
Most of the committee's recommendations will require state legislation to implement, according to Poteat.