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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
Less than a week before to taking office as county executive, Marc Elrich held a listening session at Olney Elementary School, drawing a standing-room-only crowd eager to discuss a wide variety of issues and concerns with Montgomery’s new top official.
About 300 people — most from the Olney area, but others from around the county — filled the school’s multi-purpose room on Nov. 29.
As it was billed a “listening session,” Elrich was unable to provide complete answers or resolutions, but in most cases offered to look into the issue or have his team follow up on the comments.
Matt Quinn, executive vice president of the Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA), expressed concern about the community’s lack of input on development, from the communications tower proposed for Georgia Avenue at the Intercounty Connector (Route 200) or new businesses.
Lydia Rappolt, chairwoman of the Olney Town Center Advisory Committee, echoed Quinn’s comments, stating the committee was chartered as part of the 2005 Olney Master Plan.
Both said that when the community has input in a project, its track record is highly effective, but often residents do not learn about a project until it is too late to play a role in the development.
Elrich said he thought their concerns were “solvable,” and agreed to sit down with them to discuss what mechanisms are working and what mechanisms should be put into place.
“I think we can have conversations about what’s coming down the pike, so you can get involved,” he said.
Quinn said his goal was to remind Elrich to pay attention to Olney and to get him to publicly agree to meet with Olney community leaders.
“I sometimes think we are an afterthought,” he said. “They say the county respects GOCA, but I am not sure where we are on the priority list.”
Another local issue brought up was the proposed opening of a medical cannabis dispensary in Olney, located in close proximity to elementary schools and public housing. Elrich appeared unfamiliar with the project, but said he would review compliance with state and federal laws.
Doug Farquhar of Sandy Spring questioned whether the floating townhouse zone could be amended. Farquhar said the zoning doesn’t restrict the size of townhouses, just the number built.
His concern stemmed from townhouse developments in Sandy Spring, one under construction and the other recently approved by the Planning Board.
Elrich replied that he was interested and willing to talk to him.
Several of the speakers raised concerns about mental health care, and in particular, assisted outpatient treatment.
Elrich admitted that “Maryland doesn’t do mental health well” and agreed it should be a priority for the county.
Other comments included the arts, immigration, inclusivity, transportation, development, bullying, climate control, police relations and women’s issues.
Quinn said he thought the event was helpful.
“I think I am not going to agree with Marc Elrich on everything, but I like his style and feel that the listening session was very valuable,” he said. “For a post-election event, I think the turnout is a very positive thing.”
Elrich (D), who was elected county executive after 12 years on the County Council, also said he was “amazed” at how many people showed up at the Olney session and others he has held, especially after the election.
Of the listening sessions, he said, “We need more conversation.”
The Olney event was one of five forums held around the county. Elrich said he intends to hold additional events in the future.
Those who were unable to attend the sessions are encouraged to submit comments at www.elrichtransition.com.
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