Montgomery County voters have to choose between sitting at-large councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich for county executive on November 6. The Greater Greater Washington community is far from unified in its view on this race. To help readers think about the issues, we're bringing you a pair of opinion pieces by members of our community who are backing different candidates. Read the other one, by Ben Ross, making the case for Marc Elrich.
Montgomery County is one of the DC region’s largest communities and one of its fastest-growing. As we grow, can we make room for everyone? As our tax base shrinks, can we give future generations the opportunities that current residents had? In this year’s pivotal election, urbanists who want a more inclusive county should consider Nancy Floreen for county executive.
The County Executive influences how our communities are built
The Planning Board and County Council make many decisions over land use and zoning in Montgomery County. But the executive also plays a large role: they appoint directors for agencies like the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which handles community revitalization projects, affordable and workforce housing, and code enforcement. They also manage the Department of Permitting Services, which enforces zoning and issues building permits.
The executive also interacts with the Planning Board in two ways: they can veto the Council’s Planning Board appointments, meaning they can block somebody they don’t agree with. They also review community plans after the Planning Board approves them, and actually implement them. As a result, candidates’ past records on land use are an indicator of how they’ll run the county.
Floreen has decades of planning experience
Floreen began her career as a neighborhood activist in the 1980s before serving on the Planning Board. She was first elected to the County Council in 1998; for eight years, she’s chaired the council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee, which handles land use and housing issues.
This year, she received the Leadership for Public Officials Award from the local chapter of the American Planning Association, as well as the Advocacy Leadership Award from the Montgomery County Affordable Housing Conference, which advocates for low-cost homes.
Floreen has championed affordable housing
As a councilmember, Floreen has consistently supported affordable housing. This year, she cosponsored a bill that would make it easier to build accessory apartments, which would create low-cost rentals while providing an income stream for homeowners, addressing the county’s rising home prices. She also sponsored a new law giving the County Council more power to increase affordable housing requirements in wealthier neighborhoods, which could address the growing segregation in our school system.
She’s also stood up to neighbors who fight affordable housing. Last year, the council considered allowing developers in downtown Bethesda to build taller buildings if they set aside more subsidized apartments than the law already requires. Some residents didn’t want taller buildings near their homes, and at a public meeting demanded that the county “protect their neighborhood.”
“When people say protect the neighborhood,” replied Floreen, “I hear ‘Protect me from affordable housing.’”
Floreen was one of just three councilmembers who voted to apply the rules in all of downtown Bethesda. But she was part of a council majority that struck a compromise covering part of the downtown. Councilmember Marc Elrich, who’s running for County Executive as a Democrat, voted against both measures.
Floreen actually supports transit-oriented development
Since the 1960s, Montgomery County has worked to focus growth around transit and in our town centers, growing our economy while preserving agricultural land. Along with most of the County Council, Nancy has consistently voted in favor of community plans that encourage compact, urban development near Metro stations, and along the future Purple Line and Bus Rapid Transit lines.
Because of her leadership on the PHED committee, we’ll get tens of thousands of new homes in walkable neighborhoods near transit, which will help us accommodate our growing population without putting more cars on the road, provide a type of community that people increasingly want, and keep home prices from skyrocketing.
Meanwhile, Elrich is usually the lone council vote against allowing more homes near transit, and in the past has even organized residents who oppose them. At Chevy Chase Lake, where the council agreed to allow shorter buildings at neighbors’ request, he said his colleagues had “utterly … [disregarded] the wishes of the community.” In Long Branch, he accused the Planning Board of trying to commit “ethnic cleansing” by allowing new homes around a future Purple Line station.
Highways promote sprawl. But so does fighting homes in close-in areas.
Among my friends in the smart growth and urbanist communities, there’s anxiety about Floreen’s support for highway projects like Montrose Parkway East and Midcounty Highway. I agree that those projects are too expensive and ecologically harmful, and I will continue fighting them if she gets elected.
But a good transportation plan starts with a good land use plan. When we don’t make room for our growing population by denying new homes in close-in areas, the result is higher house prices, more segregated neighborhoods, more people who are priced out, more traffic, more enviromental degradation, and more sprawl, which is why we’re talking about building more highways in the first place.
While Marc Elrich says he supports affordable housing and transit, his policies have had the opposite effect. He’s voted against tens of thousands of new homes near transit, including thousands of affordable homes. He said we should put jobs in Frederick County instead of in our community. He’s opposed charging developers more to build in far out areas as an incentive to build closer in, and making it easier to build accessory apartments because it would “radically alter” single-family neighborhoods.
These actions ultimately promote the cycle of sprawl and gentrification that urbanists want to stop, while depriving our county of the tax base we need to support our parks, schools, and social programs.
We need leadership that embraces new residents who can contribute to our county, and believes in building near existing job centers and transit, so people don’t have to commute long distances by car if they don’t want to. For 20 years, Nancy Floreen has done that, by supporting the building of homes and workplaces in our town centers, and standing up for affordable housing. And she’ll do it as county executive.
Read the other view, by Ben Ross making the case for Marc Elrich.