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Comprehensive Plans

Legal Basis for Planning

​Maryland’s municipalities and counties primarily use three authorities to control land use within their boundaries. These are the authorities to adopt a comprehensive or master plan, to enact a zoning ordinance and to implement subdivision regulations. Together, these tools direct how land will be developed. The Local Government Article and Land Use Article, Annotated Code of Maryland, are the sources of State law that govern the administration of these three important land use powers.

Division I of the Land Use Article delegates these three basic planning and land use regulatory powers to the State’s non-charter counties and municipalities, and to Baltimore City. The Article but does not require these jurisdictions to exercise delegated planning and zoning powers, but does require that if these powers are exercised by a local government, the powers must be exercised in accordance with the Article’s provisions.

Jurisdictions Empowered Under Division I of the Land Use Article​

  1. All non-charter counties, which include Calvert, Carroll, Garrett, St. Mary’s, Somerset and Washington
  2. Baltimore City. The City receives its zoning powers from the Land Use Article; its planning powers are derived from its charter.
  3. All incorporated municipalities lying outside of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.
  4. The incorporated municipalities of Barnesville, Brookeville, Gaithersburg, Laytonsville, Poolesville, Rockville and Washington Grove in Montgomery County, and the City of Laurel in Prince George’s County.

​Planning and Zoning in Charter and Code Counties

Planning and zoning powers in the balance of the State are delegated under: (i) Title 10 of the Local Government Article, which gives powers to nine ​charter counties (Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Talbot and Wicomico), and six code home rule counties that have elected to exercise these powers (Allegany, Caroline, Charles, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Worcester); and (ii) Division II of the Land Use Article, which applies to Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties and to the incorporated municipalities within those two counties and not listed in (4) above.
Charter counties (including Montgomery and Prince George’s) and Code counties that have elected to exercises planning and zoning under Title 10 of the Local Government Article are, nonetheless, subject to the following provisions of the Land Use Article:
  • § 1-101, which defines “plan,” “priority funding area,” and “sensitive area”
  • § 1-201, concerning the twelve “Visions” that must be implemented in all comprehensive plans
  • § 1-206, which establishes certain educational requirements for planning commissioners and members of boards of appeal
  • § 1-207 and § 1-208, concerning certain annual reporting requirements
  • Title 1, Subtitle 3, which requires consistency between the comprehensive plan and local implementation of the plan
  • Title 1, Subtitle 4, Parts II and III, regarding requirement elements of a comprehensive plan and plan implementation
  • Title 1, Subtitle 5, regarding growth tiers
  • § 4-104(b), concerning provision for bicycle parking
    § 4-208, concerning provision for parking spaces in accordance with the Maryland Accessibility Code
  • § 4-210, concerning permits and variances for solar panels
  • § 5-102(d), concerning subdivision regulations related to easements for burial sites
  • § 5-104, concerning major subdivision review in Tier III areas
    Title 7, Subtitle 1 and 2, regarding Development Mechanisms and Transfer of Development Rights
  • Title 7, Subtitle 3, concerning Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreements, excepting Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties
  • Title 7, Subtitle 4, concerning Inclusionary Zoning
  • § 8-401, regarding conversion of overhead facilities
  • Title 11, Subtitle 2, concerning civil penalties for zoning violations
  • Certain single-county provisions for Baltimore, Howard and Talbot Counties

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