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.

The Academy is a 5-week course that educates residents on land use plans, policies, and procedures that help shape and grow our County. At the Academy, residents can:

  • Build relationships with planning staff and other participants
  • Be better informed about the County’s planning efforts including the general plan update, HoCo by Design
  • Learn about the land development process, including growth management policies, the role of the general plan, development review, zoning and more
  • Share their knowledge with neighbors
  • Learn how to access information through DPZ’s interactive map and use web-based tools

Stay tuned for more information about future PlanHoward Academy sessions.

PlanHoward Academy collage

Nationally Recognized

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.

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Who Can Participate?


The Academy class size is up to 35 Howard County residents.

Planning staff anticipate there being a significant number of applicants; therefore, they will be reviewing applications based on demonstration of interest in Howard County planning and their community’s future. Each PlanHoward Academy class will attempt to be representative of the County as a whole with participants that:

  • live in various geographic areas of the County
  • represent the County's diverse population
  • have lived in the County for various amounts of time

What Will I Learn?


Participants will attend five sessions with the following learning objectives: 

Session 1: Introduction to Planning

Learn about the history of planning in the County. Gain an understanding of the role of the County’s General Plan and the demographic changes and other factors that drive growth in the County. Become familiar with how you can have a voice in the process of comprehensive, corridor, and small area planning.

Session 2: Planning & Zoning

Attend interactive presentations on planning law and county zoning. Learn about the legal underpinnings of land use decisions while gaining an understanding of case law, Supreme Court decisions, and the legal process of land development. Learn how zoning regulations regulate or encourage different types of development in specific geographic areas, and how you can participate in zoning decisions.

Session 3: Zoning & Land Development

Gain a better understanding of commercial and residential land development processes. Understand the different types of development projects and the required plan submissions for each. Learn when and how citizens can become involved during the development review process.

Session 4: Development Review & Enforcement

Understand the process for expanding or modifying an existing development. Learn about the types of relief from regulatory requirements that can be considered and how requests are processed. Find out when and how citizens can be more involved in plan review and code enforcement.

Session 5: Responsible Growth & Informed Citizenry

Learn about adequate public facilities, infrastructure planning, capital budget planning, and pacing new development. Understand tools and approaches that can lead to responsible growth in the County.


How Do I Apply?


Stay tuned for more information about future sessions. For questions, contact Kristin O'Connor at koconnor@howardcountymd.gov.


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. Attendees have come from many parts of Howard County, including Columbia, Clarksville, Ellicott City, Laurel, Elkridge, Jessup, Fulton, Woodstock and Woodbine. We’ve held six classes and engaged over 160 residents, including five elected officials, two Planning Board members, 17 Homeowners Association members, and 13 board or committee members.

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. 


Testimonials from Past Participants


"Thank you for putting together an amazing course...Your enthusiasm and positivity was infectious, the course was incredibly well organized, communication was exemplary, the lectures were clear, relevant and informative, and the speakers were clearly well prepared and knowledgeable... I’ve learned quite a lot, but more than that, I’ve come away with a real appreciation and respect for the work that you do.  It’s made me even prouder to be part of this community and better equipped and more eager to engage."

"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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