Zoning governs all development in Howard County.

The zoning regulations specify what can - and cannot - be built on a parcel of land, including its use, density and configuration on the site.  3 buildings

For example, some zoning might allow apartments to be built on a parcel, while elsewhere, the zoning allows only single-family houses or a commercial building, such as a gas station.

The role of County Council as it relates to zoning & development is:

  • Set policy through the General Plan
  • Allocate growth annually through the housing allocation process
  • Adopt Zoning and Development Regulations including Comprehensive Zoning and zoning text amendments
  • Act as the Zoning Board to approve re-zonings outside of the Comprehensive Zoning Process
  • Appoint the Hearing Examiner and Board of Appeals
The role of County Executive and governmental departments as it relates to zoning & development is:

  • Review land use plans to ensure compliance with adopted regulations and policies
  • Implement those regulations and policies
  • Review land use plans to ensure compliance with adopted regulations and policies, or adjust those under special circumstances
All development must follow existing zoning, unless the landowner/developer requests and receives an exception from the zoning code to allow a different kind of development to occur on the parcel. 
In some cases, zoning exceptions - which are called conditional uses - might allow more housing units to be built on a parcel than the existing zoning permits, or allow a commercial building on a parcel that is zoned for residential. In addition, variances can be granted to regulations on specifics such as setbacks, height, lot coverage, etc. Conditional uses and variances are granted by the Hearing Examiner.


The General Plan process happens approximately every 10 years
Landowners can request a change to a parcel's zoning during the County's Comprehensive Zoning process. This process typically follows an update of the County's General Plan, which establishes the County's land use policies. The rezoning is done to ensure that the zoning code is consistent with newly adopted General Plan policies. Rezoning requests that are not done through the Comprehensive Zoning Process can only be approved by the County Council, acting as the Zoning Board.

Plan Review 

The County begins its official review of a proposed building project once the landowner/developer submits a project plan to County officials. All plans are reviewed by the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) and other county agencies (such as Public Works, Soil Conservation, Fire, etc.) for compliance with county regulations. The approval or denial of specific projects is done either through an Administrative or a Discretionary process.

Administrative Process -All development plans are reviewed by County agencies, led by the Department of Planning and Zoning, for compliance with adopted regulations. Plans are typically revised numerous times before approval is granted.

Discretionary Process -Some development plans are submitted to either the Planning Board, Zoning Board or Hearing Examiner for approval or denial. Review occurs through a public hearing process and decisions are based on criteria that are specific to each type of request.

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General Plan 

The council adopted the current General Plan, Plan Howard 2030in the 2012. The plan targets growth in particular areas of the county, including downtown Columbia and the Route 1 corridor. The General Plan establishes the policy direction for where development should occur, as well as the amount and intensity of development.

Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance 

All approved developments also must comply with the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), a growth management tool that enables the county to provide adequate public roads, schools and housing allocations in a timely manner and achieve General Plan objectives. APFO is designed to direct growth to areas where adequate infrastructure exists or soon will exist. 

The county also has launched HoCode Rewrite, a process to modernize and unify the development regulations under a single, comprehensive document that will make them simpler for residents to understand and use. The rewrite will better align with PlanHoward 2030 goals in several ways, including: make the regulations more internally consistent; tighten ambiguous language; and organize information in a user-friendly manner.

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For more information:

Kristin O'Connor | [email protected]

Peter Conrad |


PlanHoward Academy is held on the campus of Howard Community College in their state-of-the-art classrooms. The county is grateful to partner with this community educational institution whose mission is to serve our community and to provide pathways to success for everyone whose life goals can be realized through education . Below is a recent email from HCC staff in response to our thanks for hosting our spring 2018 Academy: 

"We’re happy to know that our facilities have continued to meet your needs and we look forward to assisting you again in the future. Your communications made it a very easy arrangement to manage.”                        

- Director of Auxiliary Services, Howard Community College, May 15, 2018