Five candidates are vying for the seat on the Montgomery County Planning Board left by the death of former Commissioner Jean Cryor last year. The County Council will appoint someone to the seat within a few weeks. Several of the candidates have prior Planning Board and county agency experience, including the front-runner Norman Dreyfus, head of the company which developed the Leisure World seniors community in Silver Spring.
But the best candidate for the seat is Ken Hurdle, a resident of Luxmanor in White Flint, and the Secretary of the Board of Directors of Friends of White Flint. Hurdle, an architectural consultant and long-time community leader, is the only candidate who combines a traditional planning background with a resident’s perspective and, most importantly, a thorough understanding of the New Urbanism principles which are driving the County’s future plans.
(Ken Hurdle, standing, center, in Planning Board design session)
The County brought Dr. Royce Hanson out of retirement to be Chairman of the Planning Board in order to solve the crises generated by the Clarksburg development miscues, but he also brought a welcome revolution in County thought: if the County was going to grow (and there’s no question that people will continue to flock to Montgomery County), then the County ought to use the most modern and sustainable development principles. Not just more of the same. The critical factors are not just economic, but sustainability, including the looming hammers of state (and likely federal) carbon reduction laws. It’s difficult to overstate the impact these laws will have on Montgomery County in the next thirty years, forcing hard choices on the County. Recognizing the needs of the future, Dr. Hanson revamped the Planning process to reflect sustainability and to meet the carbon challenges.
But Hanson didn’t do that by just mouthing empty platitudes about being “green.” After all, it’s easy to “talk green,” but, as the great American philosopher Kermit the Frog says: “It isn’t easy being green.” Simply cutting off development wouldn’t be enough for true sustainability, and it would have been an economic disaster.
Instead Hanson embraced a new urban design theory: New Urbanism. Actually, this is an old design, one used for thousands of years, of putting the things needed for daily living within easy walking distance. It has only been within the last sixty years that the development of the carbon-spewing automobile has given rise to the “sprawl and crawl” which characterizes most American suburbs. And with it, the rapid increase in carbon which the new state laws attack. New Urbanism is transit-oriented, which, together with the compactness of the urban designs, naturally leads to less car useage, without costly subsidies or draconian limits on driving (a la Central London). (For more on New Urbanism, see our main web site at www.whiteflint.org.)
It’s a simple, elegant design principle, and almost everyone in the County development process embraces it now. But it wasn’t like that only a few years ago. It took Dr. Hanson to bring New Urbanism to the County, and to educate our leaders about its simplicity and its necessity.
Unfortunately, Dr. Hanson is leaving the Planning Board when his term expires this year. It’s important to have people on the Planning Board to carry on his legacy. The current members of the Board, Joe Alfandre, Amy Presley, and Marye Wells-Harley, have already been educated; Alfandre is a nationally-recognized leader in the field. But the new candidates for Jean Cryor’s seat should also have demonstrated commitments to New Urbanism. With all the County’s pressing needs, there isn’t a lot of time for a new Board member to get up to speed on this basic principle.
The candidates for the open seat on the Planning Board are all stellar quality. Of the candidates, however, only Ken Hurdle has demonstrated that commitment to New Urbanism, both in knowledge and action.
That’s why the Board of Directors of Friends of White Flint, made up equally of representatives of residents, businesses and property owners in White Flint, unanimously endorsed Ken Hurdle for the open Planning Board seat.
A Washington Post story, by the indefatigable Miranda Spivack, is available here: