Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How the Planning Board Vote Went Down

The Gazette reported the County Council’s selection of Joseph Alfandre and Amy Presley to the Planning Board yesterday. But the details of the vote are more interesting than the results.

By law, the council had to select one Democrat and one Republican to fill the two vacancies created by the departure of Allison Bryant and the death of Gene Lynch. On the Democratic seat, the first vote taken by the council resulted in four votes for Action Committee for Transit President Ben Ross (from George Leventhal, Valerie Ervin, Duchy Trachtenberg and Phil Andrews), three votes for Kentlands developer Alfandre (from Marc Elrich, Roger Berliner and Mike Knapp) and two votes for former Prince George’s County Director of Parks and Recreation Marye Wells-Harley (from Nancy Floreen and Don Praisner). Since no candidate had a majority, a run-off vote was held. Ms. Floreen and Mr. Praisner supported Alfandre, giving him a 5-4 victory.

The interesting fact here is the nature of the two voting blocs. Many observers expected the five slow-growth Council Members (Elrich, Andrews, Trachtenberg, Berliner and Praisner) to decide on one candidate. This group has been sticking together, more or less, on votes on the budget, free parking at libraries and demolishing the Hillmead house. But that did not happen this time even though the selection of a Planning Board candidate is about as critical a development decision as the council will ever make. Council Members Leventhal, Ervin and Trachtenberg are known to be enthusiastic Purple Line supporters and perhaps that was one reason why they supported Ross. But most of the others concluded Alfandre was the better overall candidate. Most surprisingly, anti-development bad boy Marc Elrich and former End Gridlock slate member Nancy Floreen agreed on the same Planning Board candidate – and a developer no less!

This is a very positive event for a rather rancorous county government. What else might Mr. Elrich and Ms. Floreen agree on? Perhaps they should find out. I for one would love to see the product of an Elrich-Floreen alliance, if only because its very existence would bewilder the rest of the council!

Legendary Clarksburg activist Amy Presley was expected by everyone to win the other seat. But her move to the Planning Board creates some challenges for her Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee. Clarksburg has been a mess in recent weeks with the filing of multiple lawsuits and an apocalyptic showdown in which residents turned against each other in front of developer Newland Communities. (As an activist, I can tell you that there is nothing worse than seeing your own troops go to pieces in the face of the enemy.) Presley’s successors must find a way to get the best deal possible from Newland while keeping their own people together. That is going to be a challenge.

A word on outgoing Planning Board Member Allison Bryant. I will not soon forget how Bryant nearly fell out of his chair with roaring laughter at the sight of our Crossing Georgia video last winter. I have testified many times before many panels and have often wondered whether some of the presiding officials were paying attention. I never asked that question of Bryant, an engaging man who delighted in sparring with speakers. I did not always agree with him, but the Planning Board will not be the same without Bryant’s rolling eyes and thigh-slapping good humor. Planning, politics and life are more enjoyable if you can have fun, a valuable lesson taught by Allison Bryant to the rest of us.

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