What is the PlanHoward Academy?

The Academy is an award-winning planning course designed by the Department of Planning and Zoning that educates residents on how the planning and land development process works. The free, five-week course includes in-class instruction, hands-on learning exercises and take-home materials. Taught by professional planners and attorneys, the Academy provides residents with a thought provoking, interactive curriculum focused on the underpinnings of land development in Howard County.

2019 NACo Award

PlanHoward Academy received the 2019 Civic Education and Public Information Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo). Recognized as an innovative, effective county government program that strengthen services for residents, PlanHoward Academy seeks to educate residents on land use plans, policies and procedures that shape and grow our county. We’ve now held six classes and engaged over 130 residents, including five elected officials, two Planning Board members, 17 Homeowners Association members, and 13 board or committee members.

Online Tutorials and Guides

The purpose of the PlanHoward Academy is to help people understand and be more involved in the zoning and development process. DPZ wants to augment the in-person class with relevant education/tutorial materials online. Here you can find some of the materials that class attendees and members of the public have found helpful.

Search for Zoning Information

Zoning governs what can and can’t be built on a parcel of land, along with a development’s permitted uses and its housing density. The County maintains a web-based mapping application that allows you to search for a property and determine its zoning. This tutorial will walk you through the steps to determine what uses are permitted on a parcel. Click to learn more.

Community Input

Community participation is welcome in the planning process at all times, however, the best time to provide your input in DPZ's land development process can be found in the flow charts below.

Subdivision and Land Development Review Charts:

Community Registration and Search Plans Tutorial 

A great way to stay informed is to register as a community organization representative or citizen, which allows you to receive notices about pre-submission community meetings.

Learn more about the Community Registration Tool

Search plans allows you to find historic and current development plans to gain access to additional project information.  Whether you saw a notifications sign, heard about a pre-submission meeting, or are interested in information regarding an ongoing or proposed development plan near a specific address, this tool can help you to find that information. 

Search Plans App

Search Plans App User Guide

Want to Participate?

If you are interested in the Academy, you can receive information by signing up here for updates.

Who Can Participate?

The Academy is open to County residents and offered at no charge. Classes are held once a week over five consecutive weeks and are taught by a team combined of planning staff and attorneys; the classes include, interactive activities, group discussions and take-home exercises. Students who attend the classes receive a certificate at the conclusion of the Academy.

When Can I Apply?

If you are interested in the Academy, you can receive information by signing up here for updates.

What We've Done

The Academy launched in the fall of 2017 with its inaugural class of 25 residents. DPZ built on the success of the first Academy and increased the number of sessions to five (5) for the second class, which was held in the spring of 2018 with 27 graduating. DPZ hosted its sixth PlanHoward Academy last fall. Attendees have come from many parts of Howard County, including Columbia, Clarksville, Ellicott City, Laurel, Elkridge, Jessup, Fulton, Woodstock and Woodbine.

Students get a closer look at the County's planning processes through presentations, table exercises, role playing and small and large group discussions. Residents network with each other and build relationships with DPZ staff, an important goal emphasized early in the Academy's development. The result provides a great opportunity for residents to become better informed about the important role they play in shaping the County's future.

The Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) appreciates the time and dedication of all Academy participants and looks forward to the contributions these graduates will make to Howard County’s civic life. We will continue to provide opportunities for residents to effectively participate in shaping their communities and our County's future.

Additional Information

Candidates are selected through an online application process and participation is free. Classes include hands-on exercises accompanied by concise, take-home materials, and demonstrations on how to access information through DPZ’s interactive map and web-based tools. 

What: The goal of the Academy is for residents to:

  • Educate citizens about the land development process, including how growth policies are shaped, the role of PlanHoward2030, the development review process, and zoning regulations;
  • Teach residents how to access DPZ’s interactive map and web-based tools;
  • Provide citizens with the tools to participate in the planning process;
  • Develop relationships with planning staff; and
  • Build a cadre of informed citizens who can become planning ambassadors in their communities.

Testimonials from Past Participants

"It was excellent and informative. Please attend to learn more about how zoning works and how you can participate in the decisions that are being made in your own county."

"If they want to understand the changes they see around their neighborhood and the county as whole, this is an essential starting point for navigating planning, zoning, and development."

"If we want Howard County to continue to be a great place to live, the citizens need to be active, but we need to be informed in order to be active. This course gives a great background to help you act constructively."

"Incredible opportunity to learn the ins and outs of zoning...no matter your current level of knowledge. If you care about development in Howard County, you will learn how to take part in the process and make your voice heard."

"If you want to learn more about planning and zoning, about how Howard County's process works, and how you (as a resident) can give input on zoning and other plans - this is the place to come."

"It is a great learning experience and a wonderful way to meet others in the community who have similar interest and the outstanding staff who make the county a place where folks can feel heard and appreciated."

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