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Amy Gowan is the new director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.
Amy Gowan is the new director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning. (Courtesy photo / HANDOUT)

Amy Gowan has been named director for Howard County government’s Department of Planning and Zoning, effective immediately.

County Executive Calvin Ball announced the decision Monday after former director Valdis Lazdins left the department Oct. 18. In the time since Lazdins’ departure, Gowan, who was the deputy director of the department for four years, served as acting director.

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“I live in this county, I work in this county and I’m committed to this county. Now that I’ve been doing [the job of acting director] for two months, I’m really enjoying it. I’m energized by it, and I decided that it wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up,” Gowan said.

“I’ve been involved with the department for the last four-and-a-half years so I have good relationships, not only with the staff but with various stakeholders in the community and elected officials. I’m hoping that that will help me to succeed in my new role.”

Before coming to Howard County, Gowan worked for the city of San Diego as an adviser to the mayor on various land-use projects and managed the city’s economic development and community revitalization functions.

Ball said Gowan’s leadership, her understanding of the county, and her experience working with him and the County Council members were all characteristics he wanted in a planning and zoning director.

“I wanted someone who could help shape the future and the growth of land use in Howard County, but also shared my priorities of safety, health [and] being connected in sustainable communities,” Ball said.

According to Gowan, the county’s General Plan is the biggest item on the 2020 horizon for the department.

“The General Plan is the comprehensive long-range plan for all of Howard County,” according to the county website. “It guides decisions related to development, land preservation, changing demographic and employment trends, neighborhood sustainability, capital projects, county services and other key issues.”

The General Plan is updated approximately every 10 years; its last update was in 2012.

“We’re getting ready to embark on [the General Plan] in the beginning of next year, and that’s really an opportune time for us to take a look at how the county has been growing and how the county is going to grow over the next 20 years,” Gowan said.

The process will take at least two years, she said.

“The General Plan is critical and will guide the future of land use in the county for the next decade,” Ball said Monday.

Gowan also said she’s hoping to usher in a new era of engagement and transparency during her tenure.

“We are looking for innovative, cutting-edge tools for public engagement. Our job is to get the public as engaged as they possibly can be, to reach out to groups that don’t normally participate in planning conversations and to help them to shape this plan,” she said.

“We’ve really been trying to create a more transparent method of operation at DPZ, where decisions that are made are more readily available for the public.”

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Gowan will also be looking at the Ellicott City master plan, according to Ball.

“As we restart that plan, the logistics and the staffing will be critical,” he said.

County Council member Liz Walsh said Gowan’s efforts in leading master planning efforts for Route 1 and historic Ellicott City could be “tremendously transformative.”

“Including DPZ under her leadership, highest levels of county government finally have evidenced a willingness to abide by, enforce and even enhance state and local laws protecting our forests and green space,” Walsh said. “Director Gowan has my fullest support in taking a public-minded, long view to land-use planning for this county, marked by transparency, thoughtfulness and her ever-consummate professionalism.”

Council member David Yungmann agreed, saying, “Amy has the perfect skills and temperament to lead an important high-profile department. This is a big win for Howard County.”

Monday’s announcement comes on the cusp of a Howard County Charter requirement that no temporary appointees “shall serve as Acting Chief Administrative Officer or acting head of any office or department for a period longer than sixty days.”

Gowan’s 60 days as acting director would have expired Tuesday.

“We are aware of the requirements required by the Howard County Charter in regards to ‘Acting Director’ appointments,” said Scott Peterson, a Ball spokesman, prior to Monday’s announcement.

The Howard County Charter also stipulates the 60-day limit “may be extended an additional four months by resolution of the Council.”

According to Walsh, because the council does not meet in December, they would have had to call an emergency meeting.

Walsh said the council can only act on “immediate emergency affecting the public health safety or welfare.”

The county executive’s office declined to comment on the possible repercussions if the clause had been violated.

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