Ellicott City Master Plan Unanimously Adopted

On Monday, December 7th, 2020, the Howard County Council voted unanimously in favor of adopting the Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan as an amendment to the Howard County General Plan, PlanHoward 2030 through passage of CB61-2020

ECWMP lower main rendering

The watershed master plan is a comprehensive, long-range document that creates a community-driven vision for historic Ellicott City and the Tiber Branch Watershed. The plan represents the culmination of a multi-year public outreach process that began in response to the 2016 flooding and builds upon County Executive Ball’s “Ellicott City Safe and Sound” flood mitigation plan. The adopted master plan establishes goals, desired outcomes and policies for the next twenty years. It also features conceptual illustrations that can serve as inspiration should specific opportunities arise over time.  

The Department of Planning and Zoning greatly appreciates the many hours community members and business leaders spent working with the county and consultant team to develop and refine this plan. Hundreds of thoughtful comments and ideas were collected through multiple public events and input activities throughout the course of this multi-year project. DPZ is also extremely thankful for the contributions made by the members of the Master Plan Advisory Team (MPAT), who served as a sounding board to the planning process. 

National Association of Counties (NACo) 2021 Planning Award

The Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan received the 2021 Planning Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo). Recognized for its “comprehensive, community-driven vision for rebuilding a stronger and more resilient Ellicott City”, the plan presents a flexible approach for responding to the catastrophic floods of 2016 and 2018.  To accomplish this protection and enhancement, the master plan integrates strategies for community character and placemaking, flood mitigation, environmental sustainability, economic development and transportation and parking for this almost 250-year old town. The recommendations in the plan will help generate a more resilient response to flood events should they occur again in the future.

NACo Achievement Award


Howard County launched its master plan process for Ellicott City and its watershed in 2017 with the goal of defining a comprehensive, community-driven vision for rebuilding a stronger and more resilient Ellicott City. The process has incorporated 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. 

Our team of consultants, Department of Planning and Zoning staff, and representatives from multiple county agencies have collaborated to prepare the draft plan. The document 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. 



Ellicott City Master Plan Timeline Graphic

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

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