In Montgomery County, every piece of land is subject to zoning laws that determine how the land can be used and what public facilities and amenities are needed to provide service to the community.
The Zoning Ordinance, which is part of the County Code, also determines the height and size of buildings, parking, the number of units per acre that can be constructed, and determines whether the use is agricultural, residential, industrial, or commercial.
The County Council is the final authority on land use matters. The Councilís powers include approval or area master plans, functional master plans such as the master plan for bikeways and the master plan for historic preservation, as well as decisions about the zoning on individual parcels. The Council also approves changes in the Zoning Ordinance.
The Montgomery County Planning Board, composed of five citizen members appointed by the Council, is the Councilís principal adviser on land use and zoning issues, and recommends new or amended Master Plans to the Council. The Council has delegated some of its land use authority for detailed development to the Planning Board. The Planning Board, located at 8787 Georgia Avenue, has a staff of about 150. It and the Parks Department are the Montgomery County side of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Information about the board and about master Plans and other issues pending before the Board is available from the Boardís Community Relations office by calling (301) 495-4600. Additional information regarding land use can be found on the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Web site.
The Council is assisted in making zoning decisions by the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings. Zoning cases are first heard by the Hearing Examiner who compiles an official record for review by the Council. Councilmembers are not allowed to read or hear communications about a zoning case from the public. This is known as the ex parte rule.
The Board of Appeals is composed of five citizen members appointed by the Council. When the Zoning Ordinance provides that a land use is allowed only by "special exception," it is the task of the Board to determine whether the applicant meets the requirements stated in the law.