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This week, we continue the series looking at Montgomery County’s zoning code rewrite. Montgomery has 120 zones, more than double the number of any other county in the region, and creating an untenable situation.

The simplification and modernization of the code has many aspects, one of which is a restructuring of the zones. This restructuring will simplify the code in several ways:

  1. Eliminate unused zones
  2. Combine zones with similar standards
  3. Restructure zones into groups based on use

One of the main reasons we may be able to so dramatically reduce the number of zones is because we can shift the focus of zoning to real impacts.

Currently, while zones are somewhat differentiated by impact (read, density), they are primarily concerned with minute differences between allowed uses and development standards. Take, for instance, the R-150 and R-200 zones. Both are low-density residential zones. Except for a few differences in permitted uses, the zones are identical, even in development standards.

By combining zones based on these parameters, we can probably reduce the number of zones from 120 to less than two dozen.

Potential conversion from existing to proposed zones

This restructuring proposal, which is still being hammered out, will likely not have any substantive effect on single-family, existing planned development, or rural zones, including the Agricultural Reserve. Together, these zones make up over 95% of the county’s land area.

While the names of these zones might change, little will be different for homeowners or developers in agricultural and low-density residential areas. In these cases, the main effort in the restructuring will be to ensure legibility, increase understanding, and modify the development standards and permitted uses to fit into a revised format.

The primary changes will be focused on the County’s mixed-use and commercial areas. Some of those zones will see changes, including adding the CR zone family, which will be discussed tomorrow.

The changes to our commercial and mixed-use areas should improve the diversity and integration of uses, design of spaces and buildings, and the quality of public amenities in these areas. The restructuring, however, will not change existing densities or heights without a comprehensive public review and Council approval.

Changes to the zoning in our activity centers are important because of the changing nature of Montgomery County. The county is rapidly running out of developable land, and is striving to become more environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable. It is important for the new code to address redevelopment and infill development.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the CR zones, which are a family of zones likely to have a major impact on how we grow in our activity centers.

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington