Thursday, October 30, 2014

Zoning Code Enters the 21st Century

Confused about zoning in Montgomery County? You’re not alone. Up until now, only a select few understood the nuances of our 1,200-page zoning ordinance. But now, thanks to the newly overhauled code, zoning information in Montgomery County will be clearer, more accessible and available online. That means residents will be able to participate more effectively in key land use decisions and that small businesses will be able to locate and expand in the county without having to untangle a complicated web of archaic rules. The updated version took effect today.

The new code encourages community engagement. Who has time to sift through ten pounds of paper to find the relevant footnote? An exclusive club of land use attorneys, maybe, but certainly not the average resident. Soon, everyone will be able to access comprehensive information about every property in the county as the new code becomes available in an interactive, online format. Add to this the soon-to-be-launched electronic plans, which will allow residents to access project plans with the click of a mouse, and the mysteries unravel almost entirely.

The County Council, Planning Board and staff at both agencies spent about five years reviewing and streamlining more than 400 land use categories and 123 zones that were originally established in 1977 and augmented piecemeal over the following decades. The new zoning code does away with the traditional approach of land use planning by specific use and employs more flexible zones designed to spur economic development in our communities.

Some folks have expressed concerns that the new code will lead to more development, but I say the new code will lead to better development. With more predictability in the system, businesses will be able to act more nimbly and be more responsive to community concerns. That’s good news in a county that has long been criticized for failing to support job creation.

The modernized zoning code does not change our fundamental commitment to the master plan process. It just simplifies and clarifies the rules for achieving these plans, which increasingly focus development near transit and encourage urban hubs there while preserving agricultural lands and existing communities.

In Montgomery County we are always striving toward efficiency, transparency and openness. The new zoning code goes a long way toward achieving all these goals. What’s more, it fosters innovation, small business and community involvement. I’d call that a win all the way around.

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