Zoning or rezoning in Howard County is primarily conducted in two ways. Approximately every ten years, the County Council undergoes a legislative process called comprehensive zoning during which county officials review the entire county zoning map, hold hearings, and, ultimately, making a legislative decision about how to best assign zones throughout the county. In between Comprehensive Zoning cycles, through a process called piecemeal rezoning, individual property owners can petition for a rezoning of a particular parcel of land if the property owner can establish that there was a mistake during the last Comprehensive Zoning cycle that resulted in an incorrect zoning assignment or that there has been a significant change to the area such that the current zoning category is inconsistent. The Zoning Board (which, in reality, is comprised of the County Council members, but in this forum they are wearing different “hats”) then makes a quasi-judicial determination whether the facts support a rezoning of the property.
The 2012 Howard County Comprehensive Zoning process has begun. The Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning ("DPZ") will be making recommendations for both "Map Amendments" and "Zoning Regulation Amendments" ("ZRA") to the County Council. A “Map Amendment” is a zoning change that will result in the assignment of a different zone to a parcel or parcels of property during the zoning review process (for instance, a "residential use" property could be changed to a "commercial use" property). A ZRA is a change to the text of the Howard County Zoning Regulations (for instance, the minimum lot size for a residence could be changed to allow more houses in a development).
In addition to recommendations being made by DPZ, property owners can submit applications for Map Amendments starting October 15 through December 14. Property Owners may also submit proposals for ZRA's. All of these applications will be reviewed by DPZ, the Planning Board and the County Council. Any requested change must be in harmony with the new General Plan for the County, called PlanHoward2030, which is now in effect and sets the parameters for zoning preferences and sets forth the general land use goals for the County for the next 10 to 20 years.
Whether or not a property owner wishes to submit an application for a map amendment or ZRA, all residents of the County can find out what changes are being requested and attend the public meetings and hearings to weigh in on proposed changes.