In the 2020 General Election, Montgomery County voters approved a fundamental change to the structure of the Montgomery County Council, the legislative branch of the County’s government. By approving “Question C,” voters have initiated a process whereby the County will create two new councilmanic districts, adding two new members to the Council’s legislative body. Significantly, this will represent the first change to the Council’s composition in more than 30 years, affecting the disposition of certain land use matters that come before the body.
Current County Council Composition
Since 1986, the Montgomery County Council has been composed of nine members who are elected at the same time to serve four year terms. Five of these members represent specific geographic districts within the County, and are elected by the voters of these districts. The remaining four serve in an “at-large” capacity, and are elected on a County-wide basis. While the County’s population has grown significantly in the past thirty years to approximately 1.1 million residents (by some estimates, a 50 percent increase), this Council structure has remained intact up to this point.
County Council to Expand
With the approval of Question C, the Council is set to expand. In the near future, an eleven member bipartisan commission of registered voters will begin the process of drawing boundaries for seven (rather than five) councilmanic districts, based on data collected during the 2020 Census. The Council has been interviewing members for the “Commission on Redistricting”, which must be seated by February 1, 2021. The Commission will be required to complete its work and present a redistricting plan to the Council by November 15, 2021, so that the Council can review and approve these seven updated councilmanic districts in time for the 2022 election.
Effect of Changes to Council Composition
Among other things, the increase in the Council’s membership will change the number of affirmative votes required to obtain approval for certain land use matters where the Council has final authority (i.e., where it sits as the District Council for the portion of the Maryland-Washington Regional District located in Montgomery County). For example, this will affect the number of affirmative votes required for approvals of comprehensive master plans, area master plans, and functional master plans; Growth Policies and associated development impact tax rates; rezonings; and Zoning Text Amendments and Subdivision Regulation Amendments.
The aforementioned matters generally require majority approval (i.e., five affirmative votes) under applicable provisions of the Montgomery County Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Regulations, and other relevant chapters of the Montgomery County Code. For certain rezonings that are contrary to the recommendations of the Planning Board or a relevant municipality, supermajority approvals of six affirmative votes are currently required. While we presume that these requirements for majority and supermajority approval will be proportionately retained moving forward (i.e., to six affirmative votes for a majority, or seven for a supermajority in limited instances), various text amendments will be necessary to modify the approval thresholds that are applicable to the new eleven-member Council, which presents an opportunity for the reconsideration of these standards.
We anticipate that the Council will introduce and adopt these necessary text amendments in 2022 in connection with its preparations for the Fall election. To that end, there will be opportunities to participate in the review of such modifications to ensure that the outcomes of this process remain in alignment with reasonable expectations. In the meantime, should you have any questions about the changes in the Council’s structure or the associated text amendments, please do not hesitate to contact one of our firm’s land use attorneys for more information.