PlanHoward Academy


What is the PlanHoward Academy?

The Academy is a planning course designed by the Department of Planning and Zoning to give citizens a better understanding of how local government works, along with information about current planning efforts. The course also teaches users how to access web-based information, build relationships with County staff and learn about the plans, policies and procedures that shape our county. 

Online Tutorials and Guides NEW*

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

The Basics of Zoning and Development 

Here is a quick look at the process that guides residential and commercial development in Howard County, including how land owners submit development plans and how officials publicly review those plans in deciding whether to approve or deny them. Click to learn more.

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. Search plans allow 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.

Click to learn more about the Community Registration Tool

Click for the Search Plans Tutorial

Who Participates?

The Academy is open to County residents and offered at no charge. Classes are held once a week over five consecutive weeks in the spring and fall and are taught by a team combined of planning staff and industry professionals; 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

The next Academy will be held in the Winter of 2019. However, applications are currently not being accepted so as to accomodate residents from previous application periods. We thank those who have already expressed interest in the Academy. 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. Attendees of both classes came from many of Howard's communities, including Columbia, Clarksville, Ellicott City, Laurel, Elkridge, Jessup, Fulton, Woodstock and Woodbine. A key aspect of the Academy's selection process includes diverse representation by race, age, geography and length of time living in the county.

Initial outreach was a great success, with more than 130 residents applying, an indication of the high level of community interest in planning issues. Students get a closer look at the County's planning processes through presentations, table exercises, role playing and small anr large group discussions. Residents also are able to 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) appreciate the time and dedication of all Academy participants and look forward to the contributions these graduates will make to our local government. 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 a rigorous  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. The application period is currently closed.

Who:  Residents interested in Howard County's planning and who:

  • live in various geographic areas of the county;
  • represent the county's diverse population;
  • have lived in the county for varying amounts of time;
  • are interested in their community's future.

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

  • build relationships with planning staff, each other and gather information;
  • be better informed about the County’s planning efforts;
  • learn about the land development process, including the growth policy, the role of the general plan, development review, zoning and more;
  • become ambassadors to educate and inform neighbors;
  • learn how to access information through DPZ’s interactive map and use web-based tools; and
  • become part of an informed network of citizens who understand their role in planning and development decisions.

Next Session: Winter 2019

Where: Howard Community College

Class Quotes

"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 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."

Sign Up For Updates!

For more information:

Kristin O'Connor |

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