All About Thrive #2: What does Thrive say about land use/growth patterns?

This is the second part of our “All About Thrive” series — a new series to help people learn more about Thrive 2050, Montgomery County’s new general plan that has yet to be finalized. If you missed it, you can read the first part of the series about what Thrive is and where things currently stand in the process. We also hosted a webinar about why it’s important for Thrive to have a strong “No New Highways” policy. 

Today, we’re covering what Thrive says about land use and growth. At its core, Thrive is a land use plan that provides a framework for where and how the county should grow over the next 30 years, so this is one of Thrive’s most important topics.

What does Thrive say about land use and growth?

Thrive says the county should concentrate growth in downtowns, town centers, rural villages, and along major transportation corridors. They call this “compact growth,” as opposed to sprawl. Thrive says, “The intensity of development along these corridors should be aligned with the urban, suburban, and rural context and calibrated to account for existing or planned transit and other transportation infrastructure.”

This section also talks about preserving and enhancing the Agricultural Reserve. Thrive says the county should manage it, keeping agriculture as the primary land use, to maintain a rural pattern of development for the benefit of the entire county.

Below is Thrive’s growth map. It has three major growth areas: 1) corridor-focused growth (light blue), 2) limited growth (medium blue), and 3) rural areas and the Agricultural Reserve (dark blue). Within those areas there are growth centers of different scales and sizes, and growth corridors that include major roads like Rockville Pike, Georgia Ave, and Colesville Rd.

Thrive 2050 Growth Map. Image from Montgomery Planning.

Thrive also talks about how deprioritizing Colesville Road (US-29) as a growth corridor in the county’s original general plan from the 1960s led to inequitable disinvestment in East County. Thrive’s inclusion of US-29 as a growth corridor is one of the reasons why the East County Citizens Advisory Board wrote a letter in support of Thrive.

What does this mean for me?

This means that if you currently live in an activity center or growth corridor, you are likely to see better sidewalks, transit service, public amenities, and green infrastructure improvements near your neighborhood. Whereas today, many smaller single family homes are being torn down to be replaced by very large, very expensive homes, Thrive 2050 will encourage over time more housing options like duplexes and triplexes. It will be easier to get to a coffee shop, market, or other nearby retail. 

Land use does not change overnight, and no one can change your property unless you sell it. But choosing to grow where there is existing infrastructure rather than sprawl protects farms, forests, and other undeveloped greenspace. Growing compactly means growing more efficiently and sustainably. 

Recent research from Montgomery Planning also shows that allowing more housing is the best way to achieve inclusive growth. A lack of new housing has decreased the number of housing opportunities across the county, especially for people with middle or lower incomes. Although, more dedicated affordable housing will be a part of growth throughout the county. In the next few installments, we’ll talk more about how housing plays into this equation.

What can be improved?

While CSG and Montgomery for All strongly support the current draft of Thrive 2050, we believe the plan can still be made even better through amendments. On land use and growth patterns, we’d like to see the plan focus more on activity centers than on corridors, since strong centers are what make vibrant corridors possible.

We also think the growth map could be improved by including all activity centers (especially those along the future Purple Line), and providing more detail about how to strengthen the county’s incredible Agricultural Reserve for the 21st century.

An update before you go: Last week, we shared an email in which we spoke too soon about winning free Ride On fares in the 2023 budget. Unfortunately, despite a 7-1 straw vote to continue free fares, the Council ultimately decided to go with $1 fares, starting in July 2022. This is down from $2 fares prior to the pandemic. We apologize for any confusion this caused.