Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning

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The Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) manages planning and development in Howard County, Maryland, a Central Maryland jurisdiction equidistant between Baltimore,Maryland and Washington, D.C.

George Howard Building in 2014

Land use in Howard County has evolved over time. Roughly 60 percent of land in Howard County is dedicated, protected for rural uses, with the remaining 40 percent shifting over time from suburban to focused, mixed use nodes. Affluent Howard County offsets higher infrastructure costs of low-density development with high-valued homes that generate greater property and transfer taxes.[1][2]

The Department of Planning and Zoning provides staff and guidance to several citizen volunteer boards, including the Planning Board, the Agricultural Land Preservation Board, the Historic District Commission, the Design Advisory Panel and the Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board.

The Director of the Department operates as executive secretary of the planning board with five members with five-year terms. The planning board advises on Comprehensive Zoning, the General Plan, amendments to the zoning regulations, and conditional uses. The Board also is the design authority for most sketch plans and certain site development plans.[3]

Planning and Zoning Directors and Commissioners:

  • James MacGill - 1948 Zoning Commissioner. Established first set of zoning ordinances.[4][5]
  • James MacGill - 1951 first Planning Commissioner.[6] Norman E. Moxley, Chairman; James Hemphill, Roby H. Mullinix, E. Walter Scott, P. Stanley Hannan - Planning Commission[7] John Louis Coates - Building Engineer.[8]
  • David J. Custer - (1954-), later president of Howard County Homebuilders.[9]
  • Eugene Wheeler (1958- ) First planning director
  • Thomas G Harris Jr. Director of Planning (1959-1967)[10][11][12] Student of University of Pennsylvania professor and Rouse chief developer Bill Finley.[13]
  • Henri J Raphael Director of Zoning (1963- )[14]
  • Wilmer M Sanner Planning Commission Chairman (1962-1967) Sanner sold the majority of his 73 acre Simpsonville farm to Howard Research and Development prior to the public announcement of the Columbia project.[15]
  • Dorris Stromberg Thompson (1962-1966) Deputy Planning director. Former county commissioner candidate, daughter of Howard County Times Newspaper owner Paul Griffith Stromberg, niece of Commissioner Norman E. Moxley.[16]
  • AE Meyers - Zoning Commissioner (1966)[17]
  • Thomas G Harris Jr.- Planning director, Director of Planning and Zoning (1966-1987)[18]
  • J. Hugh Nichols Member of the Planning Commission (1968-1968) Nichols was later County Executive, and foreign energy consultant.[19]
  • Uri Avin - 1987 - 1991. Implemented historic planning positions.[20][21][22]
  • Joseph W. Rutter Jr. DPZ 1966-2002. Director 1991-2002. Left in 2002 to become Director of Planning in Anne Arundel County, now operates Land Design and Development Inc., a Howard County land development firm with developer Donald L. Reuwer.[23][24]
  • Marsha McLaughlin 2002–present. Former deputy director under Joseph Rutter.[25]

The department recommends zoning regulations to align with the County general plan. As of 2013, the county operates 41 separate zoning classifications. A comprehensive zoning review occurs every ten years. Zoning regulations are also created and changed in "comp-lite" reviews, as well as from council bills.


Planning is managed by the state of Maryland until the First edition of Howard County Subdivision and Land Development Regulations in 7 March 1961

  • 1934 - Elkridge becomes first in county to deploy water without federal aid.
  • 1943 - The Metropolitan District is formed to bring water and sewer to Ellicott City, sponsored by P.G. Stromberg, I.H. Taylor, Charles E. Miller, Murray G. Peddicord, John A. Lane, and W. Emil Thomspon.[26]
  • 1948 - The Zoning Enabling Act of 1948 is formed to create a zoning board of all three County Commissioners.
  • 1951 - First County Subdivision regulations proposed.[27]
  • 1954 - First County Zoning Code.
  • 1956 - Subdivision regulation approved.
  • 1958 - First county sewer plan adopted to provide county-wide low-density service.
  • 1960 - Planning department releases "A Planning Policy and Design Concept for Howard County". Recommended travel to Baltimore's central business district for commercial activity.[28][29]
  • 1961 - 1976 "Loop-hole" subdivisions period. Family subdivisions and 5 acre or larger lots are exempt from subdivision regulations.[30]
  • 1965 - Rouse lawyer Jack Jones briefs county planners that without awarding "New Town" zoning, the board would have to conduct 120,000 individual zoning hearing for the land they just purchased.[31]
  • 1965 -"New Town" (Columbia) zoning passed as an amendment to existing zoning ordinances. Zoning recommenced 2.5 units per acre, minimum of 2500 acres, and 80% ownership by a single entity.[32][33]
  • 1971, December 8 – The County Council passes a 1971 General Plan for development, projecting 200,000 more residents by the year 2000 than the current population of 61,000.[34][35]
  • 1977, October 3. Comprehensive zoning maps updated.[36]
  • 1980, April 13, Former planning director and retiring Judge, James MacGill overturns rule that requires developers to set aside land for public use on large projects.[37]
  • 1981, November 1 - GOP recommends removing planning board member William P. Brendel for rezoning property he owned on the historic St. Charles College ruins for a more valuable use.[38]
  • 1983, A 20 year development strategy based on Montgomery County is authored by Robert K. McNamara from the National Association of Realtors to implement Planned Employment Centers, Floating Zones, and Density Exchanges against citizen opposition concerned about spot zoning.[39][40]
  • 1985 Comprehensive Rezoning focuses on townhome development projects at Long Gate, Mount Joy, Burliegh Manor, Turf Valley.[41]
  • 1988, The task force on development and growth is formed to respond to growth issues, the board which included former County Executive Edward L. Cochran and developer Earl Armiger recommended concentrating growth in areas that can sustain it.[42]
  • 1989 – A moratorium on residential construction is imposed by County Executive Elizabeth Bobo. It is lifted 18 months later.[43]
  • 1990 – General Plan update considered the first true growth management plan for Howard County.[citation needed]
  • 1992 – Howard County Council adopts adequate public facilities ordinance, which places limits on residential construction based on capacity of public schools and roads. The legislation also creates the pacing of development through housing allocations. Western Howard county is mapped as Rural Conservation and Rural Residential,and Eastern Howard County is zoned for denser development.[44][45]
  • 1993 - The Howard County General Plan and Water and Sewer Plan are amended to bring public water to counter groundwater contamination at Alpha Ridge Landfill.[46]
  • 1997 - The State of Maryland passes "Smart Growth" legislation creating Priority Funding Areas (PFA)and zoning that supersedes local. Planning Director Joseph Rutter proposes a minimum housing density of 3.5 units per acre in PFA areas which overlap the entire county's water and sewer districts.[47][48][49]
  • 2004 – The 2004 Comprehensive Zoning Plan includes a Senior Housing Master Plan.[50]
  • 2006 - "Comp Lite" decreased time between comprehensive rezoning hearings.
  • 2008 - Future County Council candidate Jon Weinstein is contracted through his company Line of Sight to implement program management processes and utilities to speed the land development process. The "P3" program included ProjectDox, Project Management, and ProjectStat.[51][52][53]
  • 2008 - 17 October The department of Planning and Zoning moves to Stanford Blvd.[54]
  • 2012 – PlanHoward 2030 is an update of the 2000 Howard County General Plan. The County's General Plan has historically been revised approximately every ten years (1960, 1971, 1982, 1990, 2000). Regular updates are necessary for guiding decisions related to development, land preservation, changing demographic and employment trends, neighborhood sustainability, capital projects, County services and other key issues. The plan was adopted by the County Council during its July 2012 legislative session.
  • 2013 – New and revised zoning provisions for Route 1 corridor; new rural crossroads zoning, as well as farm friendly provisions.[citation needed]


  • Agricultural Preservation Program - Howard County has designated the Western Tier for agricultural preservation, leaving the central (Columbia/Ellicott City) and Eastern portions in a priority service area for denser development. State senator James A. Clark, Jr., a multigenerational owner of Clark's Elioak Farm, helped champion legislation to fund agricultural preservation. The program is partially funded through a combination of agricultural use-change taxes and transfer taxes from countywide new home sales and re-sales. The County pays the property owner small interest payments over thirty years for its development rights with a final balloon payment to the owner funded using 30 year zero coupon treasury obligation bonds.[55]


  1. ^ Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment, National Research Council. Financing Tomorrow's Infrastructure: Challenges and Issues: Proceedings. p. 97. 
  2. ^ "Forbes: Howard County among richest in U.S.". The Baltimore Business Journal. 11 April 2011. 
  3. ^ "Howard County Planning Board Rules of Procedure". Retrieved 22 June 2013. 
  4. ^ The Times (Ellicott City, Maryland). 31 March 1965. 
  5. ^ "Marylands Future the next 50 years". Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  6. ^ James M. Coram (30 June 30, 1993). "James Macgill set standard on bench". The Baltimore Sun.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ Maryland State Manual 1951-1952, Vol 164. p. 250. 
  8. ^ "1952 Howard County School Board Minutes". Retrieved 22 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "Howard County Home Builders Join State Group". The Times (Ellicott City, Maryland). 31 March 1965. 
  10. ^ Maryland State Archives Book 170. p. 88. 
  11. ^ "Miller favors buying building". The Baltimore Sun. 19 February 1966. 
  12. ^ Larry Carson (19 June 2001). "Retirement: County planner is leaving after 43 years of watching Howard's growth spurt". The Baltimores Sun. 
  13. ^ Joseph Rocco Mitchell, David L. Stebenne. New City Upon a Hill. p. 59. 
  14. ^ Maryland State Archives Book 170. p. 88. 
  15. ^ Maryland State Archives Book 440. pp. 80–82. 
  16. ^ Maryland Manual, 1962-63, Supplement 1963 Volume 170. p. 78. 
  17. ^ "Park Planning Splits Howard". The Baltimore Sun. 9 March 1966. 
  18. ^ Maryland State Manual vol 181. p. 554. 
  19. ^ "Nichols goes to new group". the Baltimore Sun. 31 January 1968. 
  20. ^ Scott Wilson (30 August 1998). "In Md., Stuck on Stumping; Charles Ecker's GOP Bid for Governor Is a Testament to His Will". The Washington Post. 
  21. ^ "Changes in zoning department hit the right spot Developers pleased with more efficient, much faster service". The Baltimore Sun. 16 November 1991. 
  22. ^ "Newest County Planner Looking Backward; Alice Ann Wetzel's Mandate: Identifying and Preserving Historical Landmarks". The Washington Post. 13 October 1998. 
  23. ^ "Man Who Led County From Blueprints to Boom Leaving; Planning Director Taking On Anne Arundel Challenges". The Washington Post. 19 December 2002. 
  24. ^ "Building plans create worry; Planning board hears neighbors' concerns over Taylor proposal". Baltimore Sun. 4 June 1999. 
  25. ^ "HCDPZ". Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  26. ^ "Metro Created for Water and Sewer Service". The Times (Ellicott City, Maryland). 31 March 1965. 
  27. ^ "Marylands Future the next 50 years". Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  28. ^ "A Planning Policy and Design Concept for Howard County". Retrieved 11 September 2013. 
  29. ^ "'Rural Howard County Eyes Its Future Warily: Backdoor Route Plan Stands". The Washington Post. 2 January 1962. 
  30. ^ Cindy Hamilton (26 February 2008). Regulation Applicability Grandfathering. 
  31. ^ Forsythe. Reforming Suburbia : The Planned Communities of Irvine, Columbia, and The Woodlands. p. 134. 
  32. ^ Howard County (Md.). Columbia Commission (1971). Impact of new town zoning on Howard County, Maryland: report to County Executive and County Council, Howard County, Maryland. 
  33. ^ A supplement to the text of the Howard County General Plan to Guide the construction of New Town and Large Scale Neighborhoods. 1965. 
  34. ^ "Howard Land Plan Passed". The Baltimore Sun. 8 December 1971. 
  35. ^ Howard County Council. General Plan for Howard County adopted December 6, 1971. p. 13. 
  36. ^ "Howard County vs Dorsey". Retrieved 17 May 2014. 
  37. ^ "Housing Subdivision Rule Is Overthrown". The Washington Post. 13 April 1980. 
  38. ^ Jeanne Garland (1 November 1981). "GOP seeks Brendel's removal". The Baltimore Sun. 
  39. ^ June Fletcher (25 March 2005). "Should Nearby Building Lead You to Nix a Deal?". The Wall Street Journal. 
  40. ^ R.H. Melton (12 July 1983). "Howard County Citizens Flay Development Plan". The Washington Post. 
  41. ^ Phillip Davis (5 May 1985). "Howard county is in for some new development--and more traffic jams". The Baltimore Sun. 
  42. ^ Lisa Leff (14 July 1988). "Task Force Scratching The Surface: Consensus on Growth Just the Beginning". The Washington Post. p. MD11. 
  43. ^ "Howard County Abandons Growth Limits". The Washington Post. 34 January 1991.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  44. ^ The Washington Post. 16 December 1992. 
  45. ^ The Washington Post. 13 August 1992. 
  46. ^ James M. Coram (12 May 1993). "Ecker wants public water near landfill Safety concerns about Alpha Ridge cited". The Baltimore Sun. 
  47. ^ Sprawl and Politics : The Inside Story of Smart Growth in Maryland. p. 87. 
  49. ^ Roger K. Lewis. "Smart Growth Bill". The Washington Post. 
  50. ^ Jennifer Evans-Cowley. Universal Design and Visitability: From Accessibility to Zoning. p. 74. 
  51. ^ "Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning Building A Foundation For Organizational Transformation". Retrieved 1 June 2014. 
  52. ^ Amanda Yeager (13 March 2014). "District 1 County Council candidates speak on minimum wage, transportation". The Baltimore Sun. 
  53. ^ George Berkheimer (5 August 2013). "Comprehensive Zoning, Stormwater Fee Revision Approved in Howard County". The Business Monthly. 
  54. ^ Department of Planning and Zoning Homebuilders: 1. April 2009. 
  55. ^ Eve Endicott. Land Conservation Through Public/Private Partnerships. p. 237. 

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