Land Use Alert: Planning Budget Approved, SSP Transportation Issues Next

Montgomery County Approves 3.9% Increase in Planning Department Budget

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council approved the operating budget for the Montgomery County Planning Department of the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission. The Montgomery County Planning Board had requested a 7.4% increase in its budget, and the Montgomery County Executive had recommended only a 1.8% increase. Ultimately, the Council approved a 3.9% increase.

The intent of the budget is to enable a “continuity of services,” which is the Council’s goal for all departments. As part of the budget approval, the Council also approved the Planning Board’s work program for the next fiscal year. Significantly, this enables the development approval process to continue, while also funding several land use master plans and some functional master plans relating to future development. At the broadest level, the General Plan update will proceed and is expected to be completed by approximately October, 2021. The I-270 Corridor Transit Plan is scheduled for completion by May, 2022. Some of the more specific land use master plans have been delayed, with the Shady Grove Sector Plan delayed the longest, now not being completed until July, 2021. New master plan efforts will begin for Takoma Park and the Fairland/ Briggs Chaney area, each with slight delays simply to avoid conflicting with the 2022 election cycle.

Overall, the Planning Board is anticipating some drop in the number of development applications, but they are continuing to process those they receive, including by use of remote hearings and virtual meetings. They are working hard to make sure that they are part of the solution to any economic slowdown, not part of the problem.

For further information, please contact one of our land use attorneys.

Update to Montgomery County Procedures during COVID-19 – Interim Traffic Count Requirements

Montgomery County Planning Department staff is preparing policy adjustments that would modify traffic count requirements and allow Traffic Studies to be prepared in the midst of the pandemic. Normally, the Local Area Transportation Review Guidelines require a comprehensive Traffic Study if the project generates more than 50-peak-hour person trips. This Traffic Study includes vehicle counts at designated intersections to be conducted during the peak hours of the applicable policy area. The counts may be up to a year old and must be taken when public schools are in session.

Because Montgomery County public schools have been closed for several weeks and are anticipated to be closed for the rest of the year, Planning Staff is suggesting modifications to the traffic count requirements that are consistent with those adopted in Prince Georges County (discussed here ). In particular, for a limited time during the health emergency, Montgomery County would accept counts that are between 2-3 years old with a growth factor applied. We understand that the proposed change will be set forth in a Staff Memorandum to the Planning Board that will be posted on April 30 and discussed with the Planning Board on May 7.

Transportation Issues to be Addressed in the Upcoming SSP Review

This article is a continuation of a series anticipating the Planning Board’s review of the Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP), which will thereafter be reviewed and approved by the County Council in November 2020. Past discussions focused on general information about the SSP (found here ) and the likelihood that the SSP’s evaluation of school capacity will be relaxed (discussed here ). We focus below on the anticipated review of transportation issues in the new SSP.

As a reminder, the current SSP requires that, prior to development approval, the Planning Board must find that there are adequate transportation facilities to support the proposed development (traffic studies are required for projects that generate more than 50-peak-hour person trips). This review specifically evaluates whether there is sufficient road, pedestrian and transit infrastructure to accommodate the proposed development per standards set forth in the Local Area Transportation Review Guidelines (LATR).

Based on initial feedback from Montgomery County Planning Department Staff, there are not expected to be any significant changes to the transportation review policy in the SSP, thereby leaving the majority of the current LATR analysis in place, with one notable exception. Staff proposes refining the LATR process to better reflect travel safety goals and objectives of the County’s Vision Zero Action Plan. The Vision Zero Plan seeks to provide safe and efficient travel for all travel modes. Planning Staff envisions some level of LATR review for applicable projects regarding the safety of all travel modes, including walking, bicycling and transit use.

Another notable change being contemplated by Planning Staff is the reclassification of properties surrounding the future Purple Line Stations from the Orange Policy Area to a policy area that more accurately reflects the transit oriented nature of these locations. This is an important change as these policy areas are used in the calculation of Development Impact Taxes, with Orange Policy Areas typically having much higher development impact taxes as compared, for example, to the Red Policy Area for Metro-accessible locations. The SSP revisions would also be a good time to make other modifications affecting the calculation of Development Impact Taxes, including allowing for Transportation Impact Tax credits for County-recommended transit improvements within the State’s right-of-ways (under the current policy, developers cannot receive County Impact Tax Credits for any improvements within the State right-of-way, even if the improvements are recommended by a County Master Plan). This change would better align with County priorities for development along major transportation corridors, many of which are State owned.

The proposed recommendations are expected to be posted as early as May 7 and reviewed by the Planning Board on May 14. That said, we note that the Board’s agenda is very heavy on May 14 and it is possible the matter will be discussed on May 21 or May 28 instead.

To discuss these or any other changes you would like to see included in the upcoming SSP, please contact one of our Land Use attorneys.

Key Dates, Notices & Insights

Montgomery County Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP): A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, June 11, with a planning board work session the following week on Thursday, June 18.

Prince George’s County Budget: Virtual budget hearings and work sessions began on April 22. Hearings for the County’s operating and capital improvement program budgets take place at 5:00 PM on May 4 and May 11. You can view a full schedule of all committee work sessions here. Instructions for using the County’s new e-comment portal can be found here.