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Planners brief Planning Board on approach to conduct legislatively required climate assessment of Zoning Text Amendments and Master Plans

December 8, 2022

County Bill 3-22 passed in July 2022 requires climate assessments of bills, zoning text amendments and master plans

WHEATON, MD – The Montgomery County Planning Department, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), briefed the Planning Board on a proposed approach to conduct climate assessment of Zoning Text Amendments (ZTAs) and master plans as required by the County Bill 3-22.

On July 25, 2022, the Montgomery County Council signed Bill 3-22, “Climate Assessments” into law. The bill requires the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) to conduct a climate assessment of introduced county bills starting January 1, 2023, and the Planning Board to conduct a climate assessment of proposed ZTAs, master plans, and master plan amendments starting March 1, 2023.

Montgomery County Planning Department staff worked with their consultant, ICF, Inc., and a community stakeholder group during fall 2022 to develop an approach and a template to address the requirements of Bill 3-22. The stakeholder group consisted of several environmental groups and individuals. The proposed template includes both qualitative and quantitative assessments of potential impacts of proposed ZTAs and master plans upon greenhouse gas emissions, sequestration, and community resilience and adaptability.  The consultant’s work also included a literature search and exploration of how other jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada were conducting similar climate assessments; that review determined that no other jurisdiction in the country has developed a climate assessment approach for planning and zoning.

View the presentation from the December 8 Planning Board meeting and staff report. View ICF, Inc.’s recommendations.

Additional Background on Bill 3-22

Bill 3-22 also replaces an existing requirement for the Planning Board to assess a master plan’s potential impact on greenhouse gas emissions in the county, including a carbon footprint analysis, and consider ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled and options to minimize GHG emissions. Beginning in March 2023, the newly required climate assessment for master plans will replace carbon footprint analysis that, since 2008, the Planning Department has prepared to accompany Planning Board draft master plans when they are transmitted to the County Council for review and approval. Bill 3-22 requires that climate assessment of bills, ZTAs, and master plans must be submitted to the County Council at least seven days prior to the County Council hearing on a bill, ZTA, or master plan. The new law specifies that each climate assessment must include:

  1. the sources of information, assumptions, and methodologies used;
  2. a description of variables that could affect the assessment;
  3. if a ZTA, master plan or bill is likely to have no climate impact, why that is the case;
  4. the potential positive or negative effects, if any, of the ZTA, master plan, or bill upon climate change;
  5. quantitative or qualitative evaluations of the identified effects upon greenhouse gas emissions, sequestration, and carbon drawdown;
  6. quantitative or qualitative evaluations of the identified effects upon community resilience and adaptative capacity; and each climate assessment must identify amendments or other recommendations, if any, that would reduce or eliminate any anticipated negative effects of the ZTA, master plan, or bill upon carbon dioxide removal, sequestration, carbon drawdown, community climate resilience, and adaptive capacity.

The goal of Bill 3-22 is to enhance the County Council’s understanding of the potential impacts of proposed legislation on climate change. While climate assessments for master plans will be required to be submitted when Planning Board draft of master plans are transmitted to the Council, the Planning Department’s assessment methodology is designed to incorporate consideration of potential climate impacts of master plan recommendations earlier, during the plan development process.  This approach also will allow planners to develop master plan recommendations to support implementation of the county’s Climate Action Plan and Thrive Montgomery 2050, the new General Plan for the county adopted in 2022.  Policies and strategies in both plans support eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and making land use and infrastructure more resilient and sustainable.