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Montgomery County Planning Board approves recommendations to update Public Benefits Point System

Recommended updates will ensure new development aligns with county goals while delivering needed benefits in neighborhoods near transit.

Wheaton, Md. – The Montgomery County Planning Board, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning (M-NCPPC), approved the transmittal of recommendations for the Incentive Zoning Update project for the County Council’s review. The project was started in 2022 by the Montgomery County Planning Department and updates the Public Benefits Point System for Commercial-Residential and Employment Zones which is used to evaluate new development and determine to what extent it must provide corresponding public amenities.

These recommended changes will allow different neighborhoods to evolve with market trends and community needs while benefitting from the addition of new development near transit. This update will also better align the policy with countywide priorities as envisioned in initiatives like Thrive Montgomery 2050, the Climate Action Plan, and the implementation of the county’s Racial Equity Law.

The recommendations envision a more streamlined menu of thirteen public benefits under four categories which align more strongly with overall county priorities:

Housing for all

  • Moderately priced dwelling units (MPDU)
  • Family-sized units
  • Deeper levels of affordability

Environmental resilience

  • Energy
  • Green buildings
  • Sustainable site design

Infrastructure for compact growth

  • Offsite improvements
  • Public facilities
  • Street grid and extensions

Complete communities

  • Art and placemaking
  • Neighborhood services and mixed use
  • Great public realm
  • Design excellence

Other key recommendations include:

  • Migrate from a points-based scorecard to a more direct and proportional, FAR-based evaluation of public benefits.
  • Offer four tiers of participation for each public benefit and payment-in-lieu options where practical for added flexibility while providing needed benefits.
  • Allow master plans to tailor the menu of public benefits.
  • Apply the policy strategically to each of the four zones EOF, LSC, CR and CRT.
  • Establish the optional method threshold at 0.5 FAR for CR and CRT zone.
  • Incentivize broader utilization of the Building Lot Termination and Transfer of Development Rights farmland preservation programs.

The recommendations will now be sent to the Montgomery County Council for their review. Planners will work over the summer to package the recommendations, which will be made available on the project’s website. Planners worked with a technical advisory group, the development community, partner agencies, and residents through a series of open houses, working sessions, and other conversations to develop the recommendations.

“We wanted to modernize this project so that neighborhoods are getting the amenities they need,” said project manager Atul Sharma. “Thrive Montgomery 2050 outlines a vision for complete communities, and we think this policy update will help us achieve that vision and put us on a path for positive growth in the future.”

About the Public Benefits Point System for Commercial-Residential and Employment Zones

The system incentivizes applicants to provide certain public benefits in exchange for obtaining additional density and height for their projects, based on transparent and publicly available evaluation criteria. Projects must deliver certain amounts of public benefits depending on their size, intensity, and location. This system ensures the delivery of high-quality public amenities, maintains equity across negotiations for public benefits with applicants, provides transparency and certainty about the review process, and expedites the overall timeline for regulatory reviews. Most master plans in Montgomery County prioritize specific public benefits to achieve plan goals for an area.