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Development Review Process Workgroup releases recommendations to streamline Montgomery County’s development review process

October 13, 2023

Workgroup reaches consensus on 22 recommendations after four months of public meetings, listening sessions and testimony; report will be provided to Chair Delegate Lesley Lopez (D-39) and Montgomery County Delegation

Wheaton, Md. – The Montgomery County Development Review Process Workgroup has completed its work after four months of examining the county’s development review process, with a special focus on finding opportunities to improve the county’s economic competitiveness. The workgroup finalized 22 recommendations that were reached by consensus and as part of a report delivered to the workgroup’s Chair, State Delegate Lesley Lopez (D-39). These recommendations are accompanied by an executive summary with attachments consisting of a summary of the correspondence received by the workgroup. The Maryland General Assembly’s Montgomery County Delegation created the workgroup in February 2023.

Read the workgroup’s full report.

The workgroup held three public listening sessions during the summer of 2023 to gather feedback from residents on the development review process. This community input was discussed during the nine public workgroup work sessions and helped to inform the final recommendations. View the video recordings of the meetings.

Recommendations from the Development Review Process Workgroup include suggestions for decreasing review times for development projects by allowing simultaneous reviews, improving coordination among county and state agencies during the development review process, allowing for digital signatures to speed up the record plat process and deepening community notification and participation regarding proposed developments.

Key recommendations include:

Recommended Changes to State Law

  • Codify language limiting the State Highway Administration’s (SHA) review of development applications to 30 days to align with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s (MCDOT) review time so that all transportation comments can be addressed at the same time.
  • Add specific language allowing for conditional approval of plats by the Montgomery Planning Board. This change could shorten the plat process for applicants by up to three weeks.
  • Explore the use of digital signatures on plats and allow for the archiving of digital plats.

Planning Department and County Agency Related Recommendations

  • Expand the required distribution of proposed development notifications to the community to homeowners’ associations (HOAs) and civic associations within one mile of the proposed development. This will increase the number of HOAs and civic associations that will be noticed with each application.
  • Create an opt-in email list for the public to receive notices of all development applications.
  • Improve the signs posted at the proposed development site that notify the community about the proposed project. Include a QR code linked to the project for ease of access.
  • Investigate how to improve development project notification and inclusion practices for the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community.
  • Provide training on the development application intake process for applicants and their consultants that is uploaded to the Planning Department website for future reference.
  • Publish development application review timelines related to permitting processes on the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services (DPS) website.
  • During the pre-submittal meeting, require development applicants to describe opportunities for public comment and participation during the development review process.
  • During fiscal year 2024 clarify and update the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between M-NCPPC and county agencies on which agency takes the lead on various issues, including those related to improvements in the right of way, access and loading, traffic, safety, on-site development issues, and conflict resolution.
  • Facilitate a mechanism to regularly educate the public on planning practices and the development review process that is similar to the citizen education academies in Howard County and Baltimore City. Prioritize regions of Montgomery County and population groups historically under-represented in the zoning, planning, and permitting processes.

For a complete list of its recommendations, please visit the Development Review Process Workgroup website. You are also invited to watch a recording of a briefing on the recommendations to the Montgomery Planning Board on September 28.

“The product and the progress this group has made are phenomenal and have exceeded everyone’s expectations,” said Delegate Lesley Lopez (D-39). “It’s a testament to the participants on the workgroup. We couldn’t do the work we do as legislators without tapping into the expertise of the members, and for that we are so grateful.”

“I appreciate the commonsense recommendations put forward by the members of the workgroup,” said Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass. “Any time we can take a closer look at and improve our processes for growing our community, it is a win for our residents and businesses. I will be monitoring the implementations of these recommendations and look forward to continuing this important discussion.”

“We thank Delegate Lesley Lopez and the members of the workgroup for all of their hard work,” said Planning Board Chair Artie Harris. “This has been a commitment of time and resources for a critical process in our county — one that creates the communities where we all live, work, play, and thrive. I’m confident these recommended adjustments will streamline the development review process and provide more certainty for the development community and inclusivity for all county residents. We are committed to continuing to work with our agency partners to enhance our process so that it supports the economic health of Montgomery County.”

“Thank you to Delegate Lopez and the members of the workgroup for their work and all the time they spent on this effort,” stated County Executive Marc Elrich. “The workgroup was the first look in decades at these entrenched issues, and produced some recommendations which can help improve the process to a certain extent. Our planning system is unlike any other in the country, and not in a good way. I am grateful for the work done, but know we have more work to do to eliminate duplicative processes, increase transparency and provide more certainty for development applicants and members of the public.”

More About the Development Review Process Workgroup

The Development Review Process Workgroup is made up of county residents, M-NCPPC, county, state, regional and County Council representatives, and the development community. Workgroup members were selected by the Planning Board Chair and the County Executive and include:

Chair: Delegate Lesley Lopez (D-District 39)

  • Montgomery Planning: Robert Kronenberg and Christina Sorrento
  • Montgomery Parks: Henry Coppola
  • Montgomery County Council: Pam Dunn and Livhu Ndou
  • Montgomery County Executive’s Office: Meredith Wellington and Tom Lewis
  • Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services: Ehsan Motazedi
  • Montgomery County Department of Transportation: Tim Cupples
  • Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection: Steven Shofar
  • Director of the Montgomery County Office of Racial Equity & Social Justice: Tiffany Ward
  • Maryland State Highway Administration: Kwesi Woodroffe
  • WSSC: Karem Carpio
  • Pepco: Danielle Freedman
  • Washington Gas: David Shults
  • Development Community: Katherine Kubit and Gary Unterberg
  • Broader Community: Amanda Farber and Charisse Scott
  • Senator Ben Kramer’s office: Diane S. Jones

In the Letter of Intent from February 2023, it was agreed that the workgroup would work together in support of the following principles:

  • Montgomery County residents and applicants for development approvals deserve the best and most efficient process, while neither minimizing public participation, racial equity and social justice, nor compromising on safety, transportation access, or environmental standards in approved plans.
  • Montgomery County has the assets to be the best county in the region for economic development and improving the development review process will help ensure a better economic development environment for all.
  • All parties are striving to create the best Montgomery County that we can and recognize that every person’s experience tells a story that needs to be respected.

About the development review process

View a graphic explaining the development review process.

State law established The M-NCPPC and Montgomery County Planning Board whose members are appointed by the Montgomery County Council and approved by the County Executive. Under county law, any subdivision, sketch plan, and site plan must be approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board.

The development review process ensures that new development applications are consistent with adopted master plans and state and county laws as well as considering the impact on the environment, quality of design, compatibility with neighboring uses and the availability of public facilities (water and sewer, transportation, schools).  Each development project is reviewed by the Montgomery County Planning Department and the Planning Board, both part of The M-NCPPC, and by a Development Review Committee (DRC), which under county law is comprised of planners, county agencies, state agencies and utilities. The development review process and Planning Board approval are necessary and legally required steps that take place prior to approved projects applying for permits to construct.

The Planning Board is responsible for planning and subdivision functions in Montgomery County pursuant to the Maryland Land Use Article. This includes the administration of subdivision regulations, approval of sketch, preliminary and site plans, preparation, and adoption of recommendations regarding zoning map amendments and conditional uses, the preparation of master plans, and mandatory referrals. The Planning Board serves as the Montgomery County Council’s principal adviser on land use and community planning. The Council adopts zoning and subdivision laws, as well as master plans, which are then implemented by Montgomery Planning and the Planning Board. Montgomery Planning drafts master plans, and performs surveys, studies and other planning duties under a work program approved by the Montgomery County Council.

The DRC is organized by Montgomery Planning and is one step in the development review process. The DRC includes representatives from Montgomery Planning, Montgomery Parks, county agencies dealing with transportation (Montgomery County Department of Transportation), stormwater, rights-of way,  fire safety, and well and septic (Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services), water and sewer (Department of Environmental Protection), and housing (Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs); the State Highway Administration; and utilities (PEPCO, Washington Gas, WSSC, Verizon). Montgomery Planning reviews plans and is also the authority per county law for forest conservation compliance and enforcement. The DRC structure allows applicants to work with agency staff on clarifying and resolving specific technical queries regarding development applications at the beginning of the review process. DRC biweekly meetings are live-streamed and open to the public. There are multiple opportunities in the development review process for public participation, through pre-application meetings, public DRC meetings and opportunities to submit comments to agencies and testimony for the public Planning Board hearings.

After the Planning Board approves an application, the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services (DPS) and Montgomery County Department of Transportation review and issue required building and access permits, final stormwater management requirements, and other approvals related to sediment and erosion control. For projects that involve state roads, the Maryland State Highway Administration reviews and issues necessary access permits. During building and site construction, DPS staff also monitors for compliance and conducts final reviews and inspections when construction is complete.