Montgomery County Planning Director Rollin Stanley is not a man known for tact. But he has apologized for referring to some of his critics as “rich white women” in a recent Bethesda Magazine article. The ongoing calls for his resignation are far out of proportion to this offense.
Stanley’s critics are aiming at his ideas about the future of Montgomery County, and it is those ideas that are the proper subject of public debate.
The critics want to stop change and keep Montgomery County the way it was in the 1950s. They want it to be a suburb of nothing but single-family houses and travel by automobile. People who want urban living, as former County Councilmember Rose Crenca said last year, should move someplace else.
The campaign against Stanley uses language more politic than Mrs. Crenca’s, but the hostility to urbanism is the same. The county’s Civic Federation, in its letter demanding Stanley’s resignation, said that the county is “comprised of suburban communities, more densely developed transit centers, and rural areas.” Aren’t downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring, which have long since turned urban, part of the county too?
Councilmember Marc Elrich charges (in the article that triggered the controversy) that Stanley wants to “make roads so bad people only use transit.” This is the language of the “war on cars” that we hear whenever motorists are asked to make the slightest concessions to pedestrians and bicyclists.
The county benefits from open debate over land use, planning, and transportation. Land use policies affect income groups differently. For example, limits on the supply of new housing are more popular among owners who bought long ago than among renters and those trying to save up a down payment.
Focusing on the substance of policy rather than personalities can bring the entire population into discussions that too often include only developers and long-time homeowners. This gives newer and less affluent members of the community a chance to challenge policies that put them at a disadvantage.
Despite the wishes of Stanley’s critics, the county is already changing, and it will continue to evolve. The question is, how should the county adapt? Should we embrace demographic and cultural trends that allow us to build more livable communities, or should we stand firm against change until we are overwhelmed by it?
Rollin Stanley’s resignation would slow the effort to plan for a better future. But it will not stop change itself.