Thursday, April 19, 2012

BREAKING: Montgomery County Planning Board Director Rollin Stanley Resigns // Major City Poaches Smart Growth Evangelist

UPDATE: Washington Post coverage of Rollin Stanley's departure today mentions Maryland Juice's coverage and notes that Stanley will be leaving mid-May. Meanwhile, MoCo blogger Dan Reed from Just up the Pike has a piece up at Greater Greater Washington that summarizes Stanley's work plotting out the future of land use in Montgomery County.

MoCo Planning Director Rollin Stanley

ROLLIN STANLEY DITCHES MOCO: Maryland Juice has learned from two knowledgeable sources that Montgomery County's Park and Planning Director Rollin Stanley has resigned today. When asked about the matter, Democratic Planning Board member Casey Anderson stated simply: "He got a fantastic offer. A much bigger job."

This would indicate that Rollin Stanley was poached by another jurisdiction. When asked to provide details about where Mr. Stanley was headed, Casey Anderson stated: "It is a major city that has grown rapidly and is expected to continue growing fast. They want to announce his hiring themselves next week."

That Rollin Stanley should be poached is not surprising, considering that the public tide among planners and residents these days, strongly favors smart growth principles for land use. Stanley's vision for Montgomery County and his work for other cities has won national accolades. Even still, the timing of the poaching is very interesting, given recent controversy surrounding Mr. Stanley. He recently engaged in a war of words with anti-growth activists, and his job upgrade now leaves him with the last laugh. But the consolation prize for his critics is that he is now gone. Maryland Juice's hope is that the next Planning Board chief will bring the same broadview and gaming out of Montgomery County's future that Rollin Stanley did.

BACKDROP TO THE RESIGNATION: It is worth noting, that Mr. Stanley had recently sparred with anti-development activists through media columns and op. ed's over recent remarks he made in Bethesda magazine last month. The article generated a mini-controversy, as anti-smart growth activists sought to use off-color remarks by the Planning Board director to call for his ouster. The timing of this controversy likely made Mr. Stanley all the more susceptible to a raiding attempt from a competing jurisdiction. The Washington Post at the time editorialized that Stanley should stay in his post, after first describing the events leading to the controversy:
WASHINGTON POST: Montgomery County has a fine tradition of clamorous debate — and woe to the public official whose forbearance might waver in the gale of dissent that attends any hot topic. Rollin Stanley, the county’s planning director, now finds himself in the eye of such a storm, partly of his own making, having let slip an unguarded, foolishly dismissive remark about his critics.

Those critics now want Mr. Stanley’s head, or rather his job. In fact, removing him would be a piteous overreaction, for Mr. Stanley, whatever his shortcomings as a diplomat, is a nationally renowned planner, and excellent at his job.

The tempest over Mr. Stanley has its roots in years of fiercely contentious debate in Montgomery about the pace and shape of growth; the demands that can or should be made of developers; and the character of changing communities. Mr. Stanley, formerly a top planning official in St. Louis and Toronto, arrived in Montgomery four years ago and promptly set the county on a course toward preparing for rapid urbanization, particularly in places served by mass transit.

That riled a group of opponents and longtime activists, many of them veterans of decades of such battles in the county. These are not garden-variety community watchdogs, but lawyers, former planning commissioners and others with a knack for dogged, even relentless, advocacy....

In comments to Bethesda Magazine, Mr. Stanley, under fire and evidently exasperated at the flak directed at him, dismissed a small group of his most vocal critics as “rich white women” who “spread fear” and “sow discord” by “stalking” his appearances before civic groups.
Much of the tension surrounds Rollin Stanley's advocacy for smart growth in Montgomery County. See this excerpt from a Bethesda magazine article that was written in May 2009, when Stanley first came to MoCo. It highlights the tensions surrounding Stanley's vision for Montgomery:

Bethesda Magazine article about MoCo Planning Director Rollin Stanley - May 2009
BETHESDA MAGAZINE: Stanley is a modern-day evangelist preaching the gospel of smart growth: the movement to cluster housing, jobs and stores around mass transit, thereby cutting down on the need to drive. A newcomer to these parts, he was hired away from the top planning position in St. Louis in February 2008. Since then, he has made it clear that he believes Montgomery County and its sprawling suburbs are behind the times. Many in the real estate and development community are intrigued by his ideas, but his commitment to height and density—proposing to build 28-story buildings around Metro stations, for example—puts him squarely at odds with citizens groups and a number of county officials.

“We cannot continue growing in the suburban mold,” Stanley says. “There isn’t enough space left. Taller, narrower buildings allow for strategic growth in small areas, so the growth is not spread out but concentrated around things like a subway stop. This reduces the impact on the wider community....”
Counters Marc Elrich, a slow-growth advocate on the county council: “Basically, what you’re saying when you say that is, ‘the only way we can grow is by making our quality of life worse, by getting so congested that you can’t get around so you have to use transit.’ Which might work if you had adequate transit, which we don’t have.”

We'll follow-up with details soon!

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