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What is the General Plan


The General Plan is the comprehensive long-range plan for all of Howard County. It guides decisions related to development, land preservation, changing demographic and employment trends, neighborhood sustainability, capital projects, County services and other key issues. The Plan is the basis for land use decisions made by the Planning Board, County Council, and Zoning Board. Howard County's General Plan has been updated approximately every ten years (1960, 1971, 1982, 1990, 2000, 2012) to reflect shifting demographics, regional growth, new laws, and changes to priorities and community goals.

Why is it being updated?

The most current General Plan, PlanHoward2030, established land use policies and goals over a two decade period and is scheduled for an update by 2022. The County is accelerating this schedule to address issues raised during a comprehensive assessment of the County's zoning and land development regulations in 2017-2018. During that process, DPZ conducted over 50 public meetings and received over 700 comments from the community, many of which were related to and better addressed as part of a General Plan update. Key issues included concerns about the character and quality of development, neighborhood infill projects, the adequacy of public infrastructure, and environmental protection. In response to these, DPZ will engage community members in a discussion about the County's future. The new Plan will provide policy direction for future work on development regulations, which will follow. Advancing the Plan will also ensure that subsequent development regulations are consistent with overarching planning goals.

Updating the General Plan will be a collaborative effort that encourages residents and the business community to help guide future land use decisions in Howard County. The Plan will be implemented through specific area and functional plans, manuals, regulations, and the capital budget. These tools must be consistent with planning policies, so it is important to get involved early - while the General Plan is being developed to help shape our future.

Why should I get involved?

General Plan is a collaborative effort that encourages residents and the business community to help guide future land use decisions in Howard County. It is implemented through specific area and functional plans, manuals, regulations, and the capital budget.  These implementing tools must be consistent with General Plan policies so it is important to get involved early- during General Plan development- to influence future implementation.



Timeline and Process

The process outlined below is a preliminary estimate and is likely to be modified once a consultant(s) is selected and a work plan is developed.  There will be ample opportunities to learn about the project, provide input and review materials at each stage throughout the timeline. 


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Howard County has manuals and guidelines that run parallel to the General Plan and apply design or other criteria to new development.


To see prior General Plans, click here.

Learn about the Regulations and Manuals by clicking here.

For county maps and GIS data, click here.



Get Involved

Once this process is underway, there will be multiple opportunities for community input. Join our email list to receive updates on how to get involved in the process.



Amy Gowan, Director

Planning and Zoning (410) 313-2350

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a General Plan required?

Section 16.801 of the Howard County Code requires that the “Department of Planning and Zoning shall coordinate the preparation and revision of a general plan for the County, including but not limited to a plan for land use and land conservation and multiyear development plans for transportation, public facilities, water, sewerage, parkland, housing, human services and environmental protection. The general plan shall follow general guidelines promulgated by the Planning Board and adopted by the County Council.”

What is included in a General Plan?

A General Plan includes demographic and population projections and assesses capacity to accomodate changes and growth. It evaluates demands on roads, schools, utilities, parks, housing, and other infrastructure and develops strategies to meet projected deficiencies. It anticipates how growth impacts community facilities and the environment and identifies areas where growth occurs. The State of Maryland provides a framework that suggests the following elements be included or addressed in General Plan policies: Quality of Life and Sustainability, Public Participation, Growth Areas, Community Design, Infrastructure, Transpiration, Housing, Economic Development, Environmental Protection, Resource Conservation, Stewardship, and Implementation.

How will my input be used?

Your input is critical to ensuring the General Plan reflects the vision and needs of the community.   Recurring themes are strongly considered and incorporated into the planning effort as well as the decision making process.