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Howard County to rewrite development regulations after nearly 40 years

The Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning is launching a rewrite of its hefty development regulations, which saw its last major update in the 1970s.

The nearly three-year process will clarify, consolidate and revise regulations in an effort to modernize the county's nearly 500-page zoning regulations and other manuals and documents that guide land use and development.

In a statement, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said the county's development requires "significant updates."

"As Columbia turns 50 and we look at redevelopment projects around Howard County, this review will be critical in helping us address the environmental, transportation and other questions we must address," Kittleman said.

The rewrite effort was triggered by community input from organizations like the Howard County Citizens Association, and the development community, who pointed to ambiguities and inconsistencies in the county's regulations, said Val Lazdins, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

Over time, the zoning regulations have "taken on a life of its own," Lazdins said. In some cases, requirements are nestled among definitions, making the document unwieldy and confusing, especially for first-time readers, he said.

For other county districts, statements that indicate intent of the area do not align with requirements.

"One district may talk about environmental preservation protection of resources, but yet the densities that are permitted really would prevent that from happening. It's rife with those kinds of problems," Lazdins said.

The county's zoning regulations are updated as part of comprehensive rezoning, a once-in-a-decade process that allows properties to seek council approval for changed zoning, but a comprehensive re-write has not been completed since the 1970s, county officials said.

The process could take as long as three years.

In the first phase, Clarion Associates, a national land-use consultant hired by the county, will conduct a technical review of the county's current regulations and kick off a months-long public involvement process to gather community input. The consultant, which was hired in 2014 to rewrite Prince George's County's regulations, will complete its technical evaluation by early spring next year.

In the second phase, the county will select a firm by early 2019, through competitive bids, to complete the rewrite of the regulations.

"The diversity of places in the county – from Columbia, to historic Ellicott City, to the busy transportation corridors and the rural west – will require innovative and tailored solutions guided by lots of stakeholder and citizen input," Don Elliot, Clarion's director, wrote in a statement.

Lazdins said the duration of the project could change depending on the complexity of the proposed recommendations and the community's interest. The consultant could recommend consolidating specific districts, which could open the county's zoning map — which guides development patterns and designates zoning districts and overlays — for possible changes.

Codes should be updated every five years to ensure they're consistent with regulations and guidelines, Lazdins said. The consultant will also review manuals that set out broad visions for the Route 40 and Route 1.

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