Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan

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Draft Plan Coming Soon! Our team of consultants, Department of Planning and Zoning staff, and representatives from multiple county agencies have collaborated in the preparation of a draft master for Ellicott City and its watershed.  This summer, DPZ will be posting the public draft online to provide the general public an opportunity to comment on the draft. The draft plan is the result of both the project team’s technical expertise and public input collected through many events following the 2016 flood. Supporting technical material and reports associated with the planning effort are available on this webpage. 

COVID-19 Statement: Howard County is committed to providing community services and continuing government operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. DPZ is working to identify industry best-practices to ensure that all stakeholders may participate in a meaningful and safe manner. 

For the Ellicott City master plan, remaining summer milestones in the outreach process include: a 30-day public comment period on the draft plan, a draft plan virtual open house, a virtual Master Plan Advisory Team meeting, and a virtual advisory session with the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).  Later in the year, the adoption process will continue with a Planning Board meeting and legislative adoption with the County Council. The progression of the pandemic, and best practices from public health experts, will influence whether these events occur virtually or in-person with physical distancing measures.   

Frequently requested materials and links: 

  1. Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan Draft (coming soon)
  2. ECSafeandSound.org
  3. October 15, 2019 Workshop Presentation
  4. March 2018 Master Plan Public Workshop Slides (Draft Concepts as of March 2018) 
  5. Video of the May 31, 2017 Master Plan Kickoff and Hydrology & Hydraulics ("H&H") Presentation
  6. Hydrology & Hydraulics ("H&H") Study

Howard County launched its master plan process for Ellicott City and its watershed in 2017. The May 2018 flood required the county to take a renewed look at the master plan. This master plan effort will help define a comprehensive community-driven vision for rebuilding a stronger and more resilient Ellicott City. It will also incorporate a watershed plan in a way that many traditional master plans do not. Ellicott City's unique topography, hydrology, road network, and mill town heritage will require a tailored, well-planned roadmap for long-term rebuilding. 


Project Schedule as of 2019 (subject to change)

Plan Background

Plan Background at Master Plan Launch - May 31, 2017: On July 30, 2016, Ellicott City experienced devastating flooding when nearly six inches of rain fell in less than two hours. This flash flood claimed two lives, significantly damaged dozens of businesses and displaced many residents. While Ellicott City has experienced many flood events through its 250-year history, the destruction caused by the 2016 flood was the worst in recent memory.

Following the flood, the overarching goal was to return Ellicott City to normalcy as quickly and affordably as possible. During the recovery phase, Howard County effectively worked to stabilize Ellicott City and repaired and replaced damaged infrastructure; in some cases in a utilitarian fashion (i.e., asphalt was poured on damaged sidewalk areas instead of concrete or brick replacement). Merchants, business owners, residents, and many others worked tirelessly to clean up and rebuild. On November 26, these efforts culminated with an official grand reopening and ribbon cutting on Main Street. While Main Street is open, safe and functional, many rebuilding decisions have been postponed until long-term planning efforts are completed.

An engineering consultant was hired to take a fresh look at the entire Ellicott City watershed. The consultant's findings were presented at the May 31 master plan kickoff meeting, and summarized in the 2016 Ellicott City Hydrology/Hydraulic Study report (also known as the "H&H" study). The H&H study is an unprecedented, comprehensive analysis of the Tiber-Hudson watershed. The analysis modeled how certain water retention controls and channel enhancements would reduce the amount of flooding on Main Street in various storm conditions. The results of the hydrologic and hydraulic study, and the dynamic model it created, have been used as a touchstone throughout the master plan process to help guide decisions, set planning parameters, and test choices. 

Plan Background as of November 2018: The master plan was nearing its final phase - the delivery of a draft plan - when the May 27, 2018 flood hit. The draft master plan vision, which remains relevant, stated: "Ellicott City and its watershed is a model, resilient community that thrives by protecting its people, commerce, history, culture and natural environment."

Prior to May 27, the master plan process included the presentation of several draft concepts to the community. Originally, master plan concepts would be recommended as near, medium or longer-term projects. These concepts, presented in March, included a major flood conveyance improvement called "Hudson Bend," a daylit, widened, terraced stream channel spanning from Court Avenue through Lot D.

Following the May 2018 flood, it became a priority to develop an accelerated concept for flood mitigation. The master plan process was paused and the previous five-year plan for flood mitigation developed. Master plan concepts were then developed in response. However, the master plan was again paused following the 2018 election to allow for the new administration to take office. Alternative flood mitigation options were then explored under County Executive Ball's Safe and Sound plan.

About the Consultant Team

Mahan Rykiel Associates (MRA) is a Baltimore landscape architecture, urban design, and planning firm. Their portfolio includes downtown revitalization, streetscape and transportation enhancements, park and open space design, hospitality/retail design, healthcare design and campus planning. With 33 years of experience and a staff of 47, MRA services clients in the U.S. and in more than 30 countries around the globe. MRA has specific expertise related to urban design including downtown revitalization master plans for small to mid-size communities as well as detail design and construction expertise for streetscapes, parks and plazas in both contemporary and historic urban environments. In particular, MRA is committed to the “Main Street” approach of downtown revitalization and have worked in over 30 Main Street Communities in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Their implementation work considers the broader context of the project and our planning work is done with an eye toward implementation. MRA has prepared design and construction drawings for numerous urban streetscapes and open spaces. MRA will lead this effort with support from the following subconsultants.

RK&K will provide civil and structural engineering as well as watershed planning, hydrology and hydraulic expertise and architectural and cultural resources support. At RK&K, they understand that resilience is the ability of a community to maintain its functions in the face of changing circumstances, such as aging infrastructure, localized and nuisance flooding, natural disasters and climate change. RK&K’s team of interdisciplinary experts identify risks, quantify probability of occurrence and potential impacts, develop adaptation strategies, and will help Howard County implement cost-effective and sustainable real-world solutions. They have developed customizable frameworks that provide tools, services, and specialized expertise for master plan and flood control efforts for Federal, State and local agencies.

Arnett Muldrow & Associates is a planning, preservation, economic development, community marketing, and branding firm based in Greenville, South Carolina and Milford, Delaware. Over fifteen years, Arnett Muldrow has worked in over 450 small to medium sized communities (as well as neighborhoods within cities) to enhance their downtowns, tell the story of revitalization, and develop practical and implementable strategies to foster economic prosperity. The firm has deep roots in Maryland and has worked in seven communities throughout the state, five within the Baltimore metropolitan area. Arnett Muldrow is eager to play a role in assessing the market conditions and developing marketing strategies that capitalize on the brand for the district to communicate with customers and investors. A particular skill that Arnett Muldrow brings is experience with communities impacted by flooding. The firm has worked with nine Vermont communities impacted by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene and eleven communities in Mississippi with flooding impacts from Hurricane Katrina.

Land Studies will provide Watershed Planning Support. Since 1995, Land Studies has led efforts in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to implement Watershed Planning in Pennsylvania with the first comprehensive Watershed Planning and Restoration program for Lilitz Run. This EPA National Showcase Watershed approach blends technical understanding with community based planning that identifies key locations where regional benefits can be realized. Over the years, they have fine-tuned the approach with new technologies continuing to help scores of communities improve water quality and provide flood hazard mitigation through the implementation of our branded “Economic Ecology,” a systems-based approach that provides incentives for smart growth while measurable improving the environment.

SouthCoastConsulting will help with funding and implementation strategies. The firm was created in 2003 to assist nonprofits and municipalities in the complex process of strategic planning and resource identification. SouthCoastConsulting has established relationships in the funding community and brings a fresh perspective to our community clients. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, SouthCoastConsulting worked through the state and local governments to move coastal downtowns through the recovery, rebuilding and renewal.

Preservation Consulting is a historic preservation firm with specific projects within Patapsco River Valley, and specifically this watershed and an established working relationship with DPZ preservation staff and Historic Preservation Commission.

Public Engagement Associates was founded in 2014 to engage citizens in decisions that impact their lives.  All of our founding members have broad experience working on projects that have effectively engaged thousands of people in the Washington, DC area and around the country.   In particular, all of our associates are trained in the innovative methods pioneered by AmericaSpeaks, which combines technology with small group dialogue to produce clear priorities and recommendations from citizens and stakeholders. PEA has helped to organize significant public engagement efforts throughout the country during the past 20 years, including: Responding to Disasters: bringing thousands of people together to respond to the disasters of both 9-11 and Katrina; Region-Wide Involvement: coordinating citizen involvement in a major economic revitalization effort in NE Ohio; and Youth Development: helping Charlotte, NC and other cities set priorities for actions to help improve education and foster positive youth development.

Team Members:  

Mahan Rykiel Associates:    

Tom McGilloway, Principal in Charge, Project Manager, Planning, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design. Tom has over 33 years of experience as a landscape architect working in towns ravaged by natural disasters such as the Mississippi Gulf Coast where he provided urban design services to nine communities.

Andy Kalback, Urban Design and Illustration

Megan Griffith, Planner

Jeff Dube, Landscape Designer 


John D’Epagnier, Site Development Director

Matthew Thomasson, Civil Engineer

James Burnett, Transportation Engineer

Land Studies:

Kelly Gutshall, RLA, Principal in Charge / Landscape Architect

Ward Oberholtzer, PE, Senior Geomorphologist


Stephanie Francis, Funding and Implementation

Stacy Pair, Economic Specialist and Implementation

Arnett Muldrow Associates:

Tripp Muldrow, Market Analysis & Marketing Strategies Implementation

Ben Muldrow, Community Marketing/Branding 

Preservation Consulting:    

Lisa Jensen Wingate, Preservation Conservation

Public Engagement Associates:

Steve Brigham, Principal

Public Workshops and Outreach

November 7, 2019 HPC Workshop

The Department of Planning and Zoning participated in a workshop with the Historic Preservation Commission to discuss the master planning effort. Download the presentation slides from the workshop.

October 15, 2019

Presentation Slides

Meeting Video

Summary of Public Input

Summer 2019 Online Open House

The Department of Planning and Zoning held an Online Open House from July 26 to August 11, 2019. The Online Open House focused on several key downtown areas where significant changes to previously-proposed master plan ideas would be likely, given the flood mitigation proposed under the EC Safe and Sound Plan. The Online Open House provided opportunities for public input through a series of short surveys. Read the summary of public input received.

May 2, 2019 EC Safe and Sound

Planning and Zoning staff and members of the master plan consultant team participated in the May 2, 2019 EC Safe and Sound public meeting. This meeting allowed for public input on five flood mitigation options under consideration at the time. 

Master plan posters were displayed to show previous concepts developed from May 2017 to October 2018 and identify concepts potentially requiring updates, contingent upon selection of a preferred option for flood mitigation.

Oct 25, 2018




Summary of Survey Comments

Responses to Questions/Comment Cards

Sept 12, 2018

March 22, 2018

The Master Plan consultant team presented the vision statement and guiding themes, an overview of emerging strategies for the watershed master plan, and concepts for downtown core area (refinements, hydraulic modeling, cost estimates, etc.). Meeting materials are available for download:


Visions and Core Goals Handout

Recovery Progress Handout


November 14 and 15, 2017

The Master Plan consultant team presented alternative scenarios and preliminary recommendations for public review and discussion at workshops in November 2017, as summarized in the online resource. Meeting materials are available for download:

The consultant team presented emerging concepts for opportunity sites throughout the Ellicott City core area, including the former Roger Carter site, parking Lot F, parking Lot E, parking Lot D, the courthouse site, Lot A, the Patapsco Riverfront area and Tiber Alley. The consultants shared initial recommendations on transportation, parking, and the Main Street "streetscape" (the street and sidewalk space). Attendees provided feedback on ideas that could impact the future of Ellicott City. 

September 2017 Outreach

On September 23, the master plan team popped up at Main Street Music Fest with an interactive booth. Through a "placemaking" activity, festival-goers helped planners understand what types of amenities would make Ellicott City even more of a destination. Pouring over boards filled with photos from inspiring places, festival-goers noted their preferences on amenities like games, street art, pocket parks and other features that would solidify Ellicott City as "THE Place to Be." Through the activity "What's in a Name?" planners challenged festival-goers to brainstorm names for Ellicott City's parking lots, adding to name lists generated through a 2014 pilot project. The goal is to identify more memorable, Ellicott City-centric names to replace the letter names the lots currently sport. 

Earlier in the month, Howard County high school and middle school leaders received a crash course on the Ellicott City master planning effort and were able to share their input.  At the September 13 meeting of the Howard County Association of Student Councils (HCASC), Howard County planners presented an overview of Ellicott City's unique heritage, the July 30 2016 flood event, short-term recovery efforts, and the long-term goal to rebuilt Ellicott City as a model, resilient community. Students received a sneak-peek of the placemaking activity conducted at Main Street Music Fest, and were able to share their opinions on what amenities would make Ellicott City a stronger draw for young people. The 71 students attending the meeting expressed interest in the master planning effort, and many even volunteered to assist in the planning process.


July 11, 2017

Agenda and Schedule handout - in addition to providing the agenda for the July 11 workshop, contains a brief overview of the Master Plan scope, lists the consultant team members, and details the schedule for the master plan effort. 

Sample Projects/Ideas Maps - the consultant team's working maps showing locations of ideas from the Community Advisory Group report, the Hydrology & Hydraulic study, and other past studies/plans.

Completed/In Process Projects Map - depicts status of county projects as of July 2017

Progress and Ideas handout - contains listing of county project status as of July 2017 (also depicted in 'Completed/In Process Projects Map' above). Lists ideas from prior studies/plans (as a summary, grouped by theme).  

Table Exercise Map - the consultant team developed this map to guide the table discussions at the July 11 public workshop. 

Master Plan Presentation - slideshow presented at the workshop (slides only)

Video Recording of Meeting

May 31, 2017

Agenda and Handouts

Hydrology and Hydraulics Presentation (Slides)

Master Plan Presentation (Slides)

Video Recording of Meeting

Recovery Community Meetings (Fall 2016)

The County held four targeted community meetings between October and December 2016 for the purpose of achieving the following objectives: 1) to bring the community together and listen to concerns, 2) to learn about recovery efforts in other jurisdictions and 3) to obtain ideas on how to rebuild a stronger Ellicott City. The County hired a community engagement firm to assist with the recovery process, specifically to identify objectives, frame the issues, and design and facilitate the meetings. 

Rebuilding & Historic Preservation Meeting (December 10, 2016) - Video, Presentation and Meeting Summary

Rebuilding & Economic Development Meeting (December 1, 2016) - Video, Presentation and Meeting Summary

Rebuilding & Environment Community Meeting (November 10, 2016) - Video, Presentation and Meeting Summary

Community Recovery Forum (October 18, 2016) - Video

The ideas collected at these meetings (and via an online form) were summarized by theme and also listed individually in the Community Advisory Group's Final Report (see Appendix E).