Helping You Navigate Land Use and Related Issues Amid Coronavirus: Agency Operations & Procedures Update
Please note: All dates and updates in this newsletter are accurate as of Wednesday, March 25, 2020.
As the world is dealing with many issues related to the pandemic, the Land Use team at Lerch, Early & Brewer is continuing to work on issues that predate the Coronavirus while also working with our clients to ensure the wheels of active development projects do not grind to a halt.
We intend to provide regular updates to our clients and colleagues to address overarching development issues, those directly related to the pandemic and, of course, the individual projects on which each of us is working.
One bright spot we predict will be an even greater interest in supporting growth in the economy and the production of new housing. This may mean encouraging the counties in the coming weeks to be more aggressive than their previously announced efforts. We have been working closely with key political leaders over the past several months on some ideas for making development (particularly residential) in the County more attainable, and we plan to continue to advance these discussions along with other similar efforts.
Stay tuned for a future newsletter that will be focused on specific, current and upcoming legislative efforts that our Land Use team is advancing. We welcome any requests or suggestions from our clients, and specifically will be seeking your input as to what legislative efforts are important to you so we can help you navigate these unprecedented times.
Keep reading below for updates on department and agency operational procedures, as well as key upcoming dates and notices.
Lerch, Early & Brewer’s Land Use Group
Stuart Barr, Robert Brewer, Pat Harris, Bob Harris, Chris Hatcher, Bill Kominers, Patrick O’Neil, Chip Reed, Susan Reutershan, Steve Robins, Liz Rogers, Chris Ruhlen, Stacy Silber, and Laura Tallerico
Updated Department and Agency Operational Procedures
While the various government agencies involved in the development approval process are continuing to work, much of the work is being done remotely and procedures are continually evolving as employees figure out how to transition to electronic formats. Below is a summary, as of this date, of what we understand to be the current status for the operations of many of these agencies and departments.
- Planning Department headquarters is currently closed to the public, while Planning Staff continues to operate on a telework schedule. However, Staff has the ability to arrange meetings electronically and have been very responsive to these requests. Development applications continue to be accepted online through e-plans, and a procedure has been put in place to process and accept paper copies and checks that may be necessary to complete the intake process. Click here for more information.
- Development Review Committee meetings will be held remotely until the Planning Department reopens. Call-in information will be sent directly to the relevant applicants, the day before any scheduled meeting.
- The Montgomery County Planning Board will continue to hold weekly meetings online that will continue to be live streamed on the Planning Board’s website. Additionally, members of the public can sign up to testify or comment on specific agenda items. Those who sign-up online by the deadline will be given a phone number to call-in during the appropriate time to provide their testimony. Click here for more information.
Montgomery County Council
- The Council held a remote session via Skype on March 24, 2020. The meeting was televised live on County Cable Montgomery and also streamed through the Council website, the Council’s Facebook page and on YouTube (note: there was no opportunity for live testimony during this meeting, but testimony can be submitted electronically, via mail, or placed inside the collection box, located outside the Council Office Building). The County Council has not yet decided how meetings will be conducted moving forward, if at all, but we will continue to closely monitor. Committee meetings have also been cancelled for the time being.
- The availability of individual councilmembers to meet (and the format for those meetings) varies and is anticipated to be more limited than usual, as they are currently focused on the pressing public health and economic issues at hand. We remain in contact with many councilmembers and will continue to push forward with pending and necessary legislative efforts.
Board of Appeals
- The Montgomery County Board of Appeals offices are currently closed to the public but Staff are teleworking. The Board of Appeals is still in the process of working out many procedural issues (e.g. swearing in witnesses, how to handle exhibits etc.) but plans to continue to hold regularly scheduled hearings online through Microsoft Teams. Hearings and worksessions scheduled through March 27th are postponed and will be rescheduled. Depending on how long it takes to figure out these procedural details, the upcoming April 1st Agenda may also be postponed. Remote filings are being accepted and instructions can be found here. We will continue to monitor for updates.
Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings
- Like many of the other agencies, OZAH is restricting access by the public. OZAH has modified their typical operations to accept electronic filings (via email), provided that a paper copy is postmarked on the same day. Appointments may be made to pick up application notice signs, review application materials (that cannot be emailed) etc. Like the Board of Appeals, OZAH is currently exploring electronic formats that will allow them to hold hearings remotely. We will continue to monitor for updates to the procedure and format for future hearings. You can also check OZAH’s website, which should be updated with more information as it becomes available.
Department of Permitting Services
- DPS offices are currently closed to the public and visitors, although Staff continues to operate and provide services through remote telework. eServices will continue to be available, and limited access to the building will be allowed for customers needing to drop off/ pick up existing paper submissions. Currently, inspection services continue to be performed in the same manner as they have in the past. More information on DPS’ modified operations can be found here.
Information on other Montgomery County agencies and departments can be found here.
Prince George's County
- Planning Department headquarters is closed to the public, however, Staff continues to work and process applications remotely. Detailed information on the Planning Department’s initiatives and procedures can be found here.
- The Planning Board’s meetings will continue to live-streamed online on their normal streaming website. To allow for testimony and accommodate those wishing to speak, the Planning Board will set up a GoTo Meeting. Those wishing to testify must sign up online at least 24 hours in advance, and will be given call-in information to connect to the meeting remotely (via GoTo Meeting or the Planning Board’s phone bridge).
- Subdivision and Development Review Committee staff will provide major issues memos to relevant planners and their supervisors to distribute to applicants. Then Staff will arrange a time to follow-up with applicants to go over the complete list of SDRC comments.
Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement
- DPIE will function remotely and continue to process applications online. A physical drop-box will be made available at the building for customers to drop off plans (for those that cannot use the online services) and payments. At the moment, DPIE intends to continue to inspect construction and properties.
Prince George's County Council
- All public meetings, sessions and hearings of the County Council, sitting as the District Council on land use matters, will be continued for at least sixty days (from March 17, 2020) or until the statewide emergency is lifted. For more information on adjustments to Council operations, please see the emergency legislation adopted by the County Council on March 17, 2020 (CR-10-2020).
On behalf of our clients, we remain in direct contact with pertinent people in each of these agencies and departments to minimize disruptions to existing and proposed projects, and continue to advance matters with them, albeit often at a slower than normal pace. We will keep you informed of operational changes, as they continue to develop and evolve over the coming weeks.
Key Dates and Notices
• Silver Spring Sector Plan Update. On March 26 the Planning Board is slated to approve the Silver Spring Downtown Plan, Scope of Work. This is effectively the launch of the update to the existing Silver Spring Sector Plan and presents an opportunity for current Silver Spring property owners, as well as those with an interest in Silver Spring, to get involved early and advocate for Sector Plan recommendations that will facilitate future redevelopment. Through early next year, M-NCPPC Staff will be soliciting feedback from the community and property owners. A Staff Draft is due Spring of 2021 and final adoption of the updated Sector Plan is slated for June 2022. Please reach out to us for more details and guidance on how to best position your Silver Spring interests.
• The Prince George’s Countywide Map Amendment Joint Public Hearing, scheduled for March 23, 2020, has been postponed.
To submit a request or suggestion on legislation or any other topics you want covered in this space, please reach out to your Lerch Early Land Use attorney by going to https://www.lerchearly.com/services/land-use-zoning and clicking on the "Find an Attorney" button.
Lerch Early is monitoring the COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on our clients and communities. As part of this effort, we've created the Lerch Early COVID-19 Resource Center to aggregate not only our original content but to share other links that may be important to you and/or your business. Check it out here: https://www.lerchearly.com/news/coronavirus-resource-center-lerch-early.
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