Municipal Annexations

​Question: W​​hat section of the Code of Maryland addresses annexations?

Question: ​Where can I learn more about annexations?

  • ​The Maryland Municipal League developed a helpful "Municipal Annexation Handbook​" that municipalities, counties, and others should reference to learn more about annexations. The handbook includes information on the purpose of annexations (pg. 7), an​​nexation procedures (pg. 4), legal requirements (pg. 10), the five-year rule (pg. 8), and annexation agreements (pg. 9). The handbo​​​​ok also includes an annexation checklist that municipalities can use to guide the local annexation process. 

​​​Is there a description that shows the annexation process from start to finish​​​​​​

  • ​The Maryland Municipal League provides guidance for municipalities in terms of their procedures for annexation through their annexation flow chart. This chart helps outline the process and timelines associated with annexations.​​​

What are the minimum standards a track of land must meet in order to be annexed into a municipality?

  • A municipality may only annex land that is contiguous and adjoining to its current boundaries, land which is not in another municipality, and land which would not create an enclave of unincorporated land bounded on all side by incorporated land. The latter means that an annexation cannot create a situation in which incorporated areas completely surround areas that remain within the jurisdiction of a county. Finally, land to be annexed must be included in a municipality's municipal growth element in its comprehensive plan, such as in a map of potential annexation areas, a list describing areas or properties to be annexed, or in a growth area analysis that incorporates specific properties. The municipal growth element should make it apparent to comprehensive plan readers that the municipality is planning to annex, or preparing for the annexation of, a property. ​​

​What percentage of persons must agree on an annexation?

  • As outlined in Local Government Article § 4-402, § 4-403​, and § 4-404, an annexation may be initiated in two ways, one is by the legislative body, and the other is by petition. Before the legislative body can introduce an annexation resolution, it must obtain consent from at least 25% of the registered voters who are residents of the area to be annexed along with the owners of 25% of the total assessed valuation of the property in the area. An annexation petition/consent must meet those same signature requirements and must be filed with the municipal legislative body.  ​​

What is MDP's role in the annexation review process?

  • As part of its review, the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) confirms consistency of the annexation with the municipal growth element. Planning also reviews the annexation plan to ensure that the area is contiguous and adjoining the existing boundaries of the municipality, and that it does not create an unincorporated enclave within the municipality, as required by § 4-401 of the Local Government Article. If Planning finds that the annexation is not consistent with the municipal growth element, that it is not contiguous with the existing boundaries, or if it would create an enclave, the department will include that in the review letter that it sends to municipalities and counties as part of the 30-day annexation review.

Can the Maryland Department of Planning deny, initiate, or modify an annexation?

  • No. Planning does not have the authority to deny or modify an annexation. If Planning's letter indicates an issue with municipal growth element consistency, municipal boundary contiguity, or the creation of an enclave, municipalities should discuss the concerns with their town or city attorney. Finally, Planning cannot initiate an annexation. Annexations can only be initiated by the legislative body, as described in §4–403 of the Local Government Article, or by petition, as described in §4–404​. If needed, and depending on the annexation, Planning may contact other state agencies to determine if there is other information related to state facilities potentially impacted by the annexation that should be considered by the municipality prior to annexation.

Can a county deny or stop an annexation?

  • ​​No, a county has no authority to veto or otherwise deny an annexation. The county has the right to be heard in the public annexation proceedings and may be able to challenge the annexation in court, and the county council or commissioners may decide later not to grant express approval for substantially different development in the form of a waiver (See question about the similarity between municipal and county zoning), but there is no provision in annexation provisions of the Local Government Article that grants a county the ability to formally deny a municipal annexation. Planning encourages municipalities to discuss potential annexations with the county during the development of its municipal growth element (long term collaboration) and before/during the initiation of an annexation through legislative action or petition (short term collaboration). This collaboration can address concerns early on in an annexation process and ensure that both jurisdictions understand the growth and/or preservation objectives of the other. Coordination between the municipality and the county on proposed zoning, water and sewer designations in the county water and sewer plan, the available and capacity of public water, sewerage, schools and other infrastructure, and the impact on surrounding growth areas should all be considered when applying for an annexation. If a municipality foregoes any of the critical steps described above, desired development may be delayed.

How does an annexation area relate to a municipality's comprehensive plan? 

  • In 2006 the General Assembly passed HB 1141, which modified § 4-415 of the Local Government Article, by adding the requirement that an annexation plan must be consistent with a town or city's municipal growth element. Consistency means that an area to be annexed must be included in the municipal growth area in the municipal growth element, usually, bot not always, in the form of a mapped area in the element. A municipality cannot annex an area that is not included in the municipal growth element. Therefore, municipalities should carefully consider potential annexation areas during the comprehensive plan development process. The inclusion of a property or properties in a municipal growth element does not mean a town or city must annex that area, but it does communicate to its residents, the county, and other stakeholders that certain areas have a potential to be annexed. Additionally, through this planning process the municipality demonstrates that it has considered the public facility and service demands associated with expanding the municipal boundaries. Land Use Article §3–206 requires municipalities, when developing a municipal growth element, to consult with counties in which they are located. If a municipality desires to annex an area that is not included in its municipal growth element, it will need to amend its comprehensive plan prior to annexation to ensure the subject property(is) are added. Please see the Maryland Department of Planning's comprehensive plan FAQs to learn more about comprehensive plan amendments, and the Department's Municipal Planning webpage​ for information about annexations and the municipal growth element.​​​​​​

Does the municipal zoning for an annexed area need to be similar to the county zoning following annexation?

  • No, but § 4-416(b) of the Local Government Article provides that no city or town may for five years following an annexation allow development of property within an annexed area if the development would be substantially different than the use authorized under county zoning at the time of the annexation. This means that the land use (residential, commercial, industrial) cannot be substantially different in the municipality than it would have been in the county. Also, for five years following an annexation, development density of newly annexed property may not be greater than 50% of what would have been permitted under county zoning at the time of annexation. If the zoning is not similar, the municipality may request a waiver (express approval) from the county commissioners or county council to permit substantially different development within five years following annexation. If a waiver is granted development can proceed immediately, but if it is not granted the five-year waiting period for development starts upon the effective date of the annexation.​​​​​

​When does the zoning for an annexed area change to the new zoning?

  • The resolution with which the municipality approves the annexation of an area, or a resolution with which the municipality approves the annexation plan, should include a section that designates the new zoning for the area and includes the effective date of the resolution, upon which the zoning will change.​​​

​If a waiver is granted/not granted by the county, does the zoning change immediately, or after the 5 year waiting period?  ​

  • If the municipal zoning is not substantially different or substantially denser than the county zoning, or if a waiver is granted by the county to permit substantially different or substantially denser development, then development under the new zoning category may commence immediately. If, however, the county did not grant the waiver to permit substantially different or substantially denser development, the zoning would still change upon the effective date of the resolution, but substantially different development would not be permitted in the annexation area until after the five-year waiting period. The Maryland Department of Planning recommends that municipalities and counties discuss the zoning and permitted timing of development with their respective attorneys offices. ​​​

​​When and to whom does a municipality need to submit an annexation for review?

  • A municipality submits an annexation for review when it is ready to present and move forward with all required documents and public hearings. A municipality should work with the county and any other interested parties to ensure the proper submission documents, public notification requirements, and public hearing dates can be compiled, met, and scheduled, respectively. The requirements for an annexation submission can be found on the Maryland Department of Planning's Instructions and Guidance on Submissions to the Maryland Department of Planning​ webpage. Municipalities should submit annexations to the department as described on our website. The Maryland Department of Planning recommends that annexation documents also be sent to the respective regional office of MDP for Western Maryland, the Upper Eastern Shore, and the Lower Eastern Shore, along with the Baltimore office, so that the timeframes and hearing dates can be met without interruption. A municipality should also send annexation documents to all interested regional and county planning agencies. At least 30 days prior to the legislative body's public hearing to consider the annexation, the annexation materials need to be submitted to the Maryland Department of Planning.​​​

​​What densities should be used for comparison when there are separate densities for with and without water and/or sewer service? If a municipality is considering whether to request a waiver from the county, what does it do if the allowable residential densities differ based on service?

  • Municipalities should compare like to like, so if the property to be annexed is or will be served by sewer, then the municipality should compare the proposed density to the density that would be allowed in the county if the property was served by sewer. However, the Maryland Department of Planning recommends that municipalities confirm zoning consistency with counties as part of every annexation process.​

​What is specifically required in an “Annexation Plan”?

  • A municipal governing body must prepare, adopt, and make available to the public an annexation plan​ which details the annexation and has specific requirements. This plan helps explain the impact of the annexation on the municipality, county, and surrounding property owners, and details financing, public services, and associated land requirements. The MML handbook breaks down an annexation plan into four parts, stating that an annexation plan must include “(1) the proposed land use or uses in the area to be annexed, (2) available land that could be used for anticipated public facilities that may be needed, (3) a schedule for extending municipal services to the area to be annexed, and (4) anticipated means of financing the extension of services." At least 30 days prior to the public hearing, the plan must be provided to the county from which the municipality is annexation land, as well as to the Maryland Department of Planning and any regional and state planning agencies with jurisdiction within the county.​​​

What does a municipality need to include when submitting an annexation for review?

At least 30 days prior to the public hearing, a municipality must submit a full annexation packet to the Maryland Department of Planning. This packet should include:
  • ​​An annexation plan (see question about how an annexation area relates to a municipality's comprehensive plan for details). 
  • An official cover letter from the jurisdiction which includes a copy of the public hearing notification. If the public hearing notification is not yet available, or if the public hearing has not yet been scheduled, the jurisdiction should provide the tentative public hearing date and provide a copy of the notification when it becomes available.
  • A copy of the proposed draft adoption resolution and/or the annexation petition.
  • An annexation boundary survey plat, the metes and bounds description, parcel and/or lot number, and address of property.
  • If the jurisdiction annexing the land has planning and zoning authority, then the packet should also include the existing county zoning, the proposed municipal zoning, existing and proposed density (if residential use is allowed in the zone), water and sewer service area category, and comprehensive plan designated growth area status.
  • If known at the time of annexation submission, the municipality should indicate if it intends to or has already requested a waiver from the county in which the annexation area resides. Waivers are required for development within five years for land uses substantially different from, or at a substantially higher density than, land uses currently authorized by county zoning (See Local Government Article § 4-416 (b)).
  • Any other pertinent information relating to the area of annexation.​

​Does an annexed area immediately become a Priority Funding Area (PFA) upon annexation?​​

  • ​​No. The PFA Law as enacted in 1997 established as PFA all incorporated areas as of 1997. However, the PFA Law changed in 2006 to require any newly annexed areas to be evaluated against the PFA criteria. This is often an area of confusion because some people think that all areas within a municipality are automatically designated as a local PFA. As part of its 30-day annexation review, the Maryland Department of Planning will review all annexation areas for PFA eligibility. Planning treats an annexation as a local PFA Certification request and if it determines that the annexation area meets the PFA criteria, Planning will update the department's online statewide interactive PFA map to include the annexation once the department receives official notification from the State Department of Legislative Services that the annexation has taken place. If an annexation area does not meet the PFA criteria, Plannng will classify the area as a Municipal PFA Comment Area. A municipality is not required to certify all annexation areas as PFA; the annexation review letters that Planning sends to municipalities prior to the public hearing on an annexation asks that the municipality contact the Department if it does not wish the area to be a PFA. If a municipality is annexing an area it does not wish to certify as a PFA, it should include that instruction in the annexation packet it submits to the department. For example, a municipality might not wish to certify parks or even agricultural lands within its incorporated boundaries.​​​

​​To whom does a municipality send annexation information after the resolution has been adopted?​​

  • ​Within 10 days after the resolution takes effect, a copy of the annexation resolution, municipal charter or annexation, and the Resolution Reposition Form with the new boundaries are required to be submitted to the State Department of Legislative Services. The Maryland Department of Planning includes instructions and comments for post annexation procedures​ as attachments to annexation review letters. The physical address for DLS is: State Department of Legislative Services,Legislative Division, 90 State Circle, Annapolis, MD 21401. ​​

​​​​​If a municipality annexed an area previously, and that area was then designated as Annexed but not PFA or PFA Comment Area, what does the municipality need to do to designate the area as PFA?​​

  • If a municipality would like to designate an area that has previously been annexed area as a Priority Funding Area (PFA), but which is currently designated as Annexed but not PFA or PFA Comment Area on the Maryland Department of Planning's (Planning) Interactive PFA Map, it should submit a PFA Certification request to Planning, as described on the department's Instructions and Guidance on Submissions to the Maryland Department of Planning Webpage. Within 30 days of receiving the PFA Certification request, Planning will transmit a PFA Certification letter back to the municipality either confirming the PFA designation or explaining why the area is not eligible for PFA Certification. PFA designation criteria differ based on the specifics and context of the area to be designated, but the standard requirements are: 1.) Zoning: if residentially zoned, the area must at least have a density of 3.5 dwelling units per acre. The zoning also qualifies if the area is zoned for employment uses, such as commercial, industrial, or institutional; 2.) Water and Sewer Plan: the area must be planned for sewer service in the 10-year water and sewer plan; and 3.) Growth Area: the area must be within a locally designated growth area. Please contact Joe Griffiths at joseph.griffiths@maryland.gov or the Regional Planner assigned to your jurisdiction​ if you have questions about whether an area qualifies for PFA designation. See the PFA FAQ for more information.​​​

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