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Many Local Implications in Zoning Rewrite

Four-year project moves from Planning Board to County Council.

— Earlier this month when Callum Murray, the county’s chief planner for Potomac, spoke to the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, he told the group that the rewrite of the zoning code was about to move from planning to County Council.

The Montgomery County Planning Board has rewritten the county’s Zoning Code, which guides all development and building in the county, to remove antiquated or redundant regulations and to help achieve goals in community plans, like the Potomac Master Plan.

The revised Zoning Code will cover what is permitted in each zone, and the process by which development is reviewed and approved.

The new draft, which the Planning Board transmitted to County Council earlier this month, proposes to:

• Consolidate 123 existing zones into 30 proposed zones

• Ensure consistency with existing height and density rules

• Retain consistency with recommendations in master plans

• Make the code easier to use by adding diagrams and clearer text.

What is unknown at this point, Murray said, is what the unintended consequences of the rewrite will be. Some effects of changes of zoning can become clear as the language is applied, and it is the unintended consequences that will be noteworthy, he said.

The council’s Planning, Housing & Economic Development (PHED) has at least two worksessions in February and two in March devoted to the Zoning rewrite.

The draft proposes new categories of floating zones and changes to the Commercial/Residential zone, according to Stuart R. Barr, a land-use and zoning attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer, a law firm in Bethesda.

“The current draft also proposes updated parking standards, open space standards, and buffering and screening requirements,” Barr writes on the firm’s website. “The draft also adds an entirely new category of uses — limited uses — that fill the gap between permitted-by-right uses and special exception uses.”

These conditional uses with certain set and identified standards, would “be allowed in particular zones provided that certain standards are met that are shy of the onerous requirements of the special exception process,” according to Barr.