Land Rezoning in Maryland

Land rezoning can be a complex process, especially in a state with diverse zoning regulations like Maryland. Whether you’re a property owner, developer, or simply interested in the subject, we’re here to help you understand the intricacies of land rezoning in Maryland. We demystify the process, shedding light on when rezoning becomes necessary, the different types of rezoning, and the role of zoning attorneys. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to approach the rezoning process in Maryland.

When Rezoning Becomes Necessary

Rezoning generally becomes necessary when the zoning within a planning area becomes out of date, or when the current zoning category for an individual property does not allow for a specific proposed development project. Rezoning is not a process undertaken lightly; it often comes into play when there’s a significant shift in the community’s needs or land use priorities. For example, a once-quiet residential area may evolve into a bustling commercial hub, necessitating a change in zoning classification to accommodate new businesses.

Changes in county governing policies can also be a catalyst for rezoning. A new comprehensive plan may be introduced, outlining different land use strategies that require adjustments to existing zoning maps. Similarly, the introduction of a new development plan for infrastructure, such as roads or public facilities, may also trigger the need for rezoning.

Understanding the Rezoning Process in Maryland

The process of land rezoning in Maryland is a multi-step endeavor that requires meticulous attention to detail. For a Comprehensive Rezoning/Sectional Map Process, it involves careful monitoring and advocacy throughout the various phases of the County adoption process.  For a specific property/Local Map Amendment process, it generally starts with assembling a team, identifying the target new zone based on the proposed project, and filing an application, which is then subject to a planning department review.

Public hearings are an integral part of the process, providing a platform for community input and assessment of the proposed rezoning. Following this, the Planning Board issues a recommendation, which is required for the next steps.

Given the complexity of the process, the involvement of an attorney is often indispensable. The process also involves working closely with the Office of Zoning and Administration, culminating in a County Council decision. A written decision is then issued, outlining whether the rezoning request has been approved or denied.

Different counties in Maryland often have differing procedures for rezoning. For example, let’s take a look at the differences between Montgomery and Prince George’s County.

Rezoning in Prince George’s County, Maryland

In Prince George’s County, a piecemeal rezoning—that is, a rezoning of a single property—is known as a Zoning Map Amendment. Depending on the type of Zoning Map Amendment, one of two general processes will apply. Similar to other jurisdictions in Maryland, in order to successfully rezone an individual property to a Euclidean zone, an applicant must prove in most cases that there either has been “a substantial change in the neighborhood” or “there was a mistake in the current sectional map amendment,” which is a process that occurs when a particular group of properties is rezoned together.  

In addition, Prince George’s County allows an applicant to apply for a Planned Development Zoning Map Amendment, which provides flexibility in exchange for certain benefit features and involves a different set of criteria to prove.  A public evidentiary hearing on a Zoning Map Amendment will be held by the Zoning Hearing Examiner, and the County Council, sitting in its capacity as what is referred to as the District Council, will make the final determination on any Zoning Map Amendment.  A person with standing has the ability to challenge the District Council’s decision in court by filing what is known as a petition for judicial review.

Rezoning in Montgomery County, Maryland

In Montgomery County, the zoning category for a property can only be changed in one of four ways:  by District Map Amendment; Sectional Map Amendment; Local Map Amendment; or Corrective Map Amendment.  The review and approval process for Local Map Amendments (individual properties initiated by the property owner) is similar to Prince George’s County.  The County Planning Department reviews an application and makes a recommendation to the Montgomery County Planning Board.   The Planning Board conducts a public hearing to gather input and makes a recommendation to the Hearing Examiner within the County Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings.  The Hearing Examiner conducts a public hearing and prepares a report and recommendation to the Montgomery County Council, which makes the final decision.

Proposed rezonings to Euclidean zones must prove a change in the character of the neighborhood or a mistake with the existing zoning, whereas rezonings to floating zones are evaluated based on compatibility standards, master plan recommendations, and the public interest.  Montgomery County places a strong emphasis on aligning rezoning requests with its comprehensive plan, ensuring that any changes are in the best interest of the community.

Types of Rezoning in Maryland

In Maryland, rezoning is not a one-size-fits-all process. There are various types of rezoning that can be pursued, each with its own set of requirements and implications. Understanding the different types of rezoning is a necessity for anyone looking to make changes to a property’s zoning classification.

Local Map Amendments

Local Map Amendments are a specific type of rezoning that applies to individual properties. This process can involve either Euclidean zones, which are traditional zoning districts with set regulations, or floating zones, which allow for more flexible land use. The process for Local Map Amendments is typically initiated by the property owner or contract purchaser and focuses on changes that affect each individual property.

Comprehensive Rezoning and Sectional Map Amendments

Comprehensive rezoning is a broader approach that impacts larger areas. This rezoning process is initiated by the County Council and is generally based on Master Plan recommendations. Unlike Local Map Amendments, which are more focused, comprehensive rezoning aims to align zoning classifications with broader land use goals and community needs.

Knowing What Type of Rezoning is Needed

Determining the appropriate type of rezoning for your project often involves a thorough review of the existing zoning classification, the proposed changes, and how those changes align with broader community plans. Consulting with a zoning attorney can provide valuable insights into which type of rezoning would be most suitable for your specific needs.

What Does a Zoning Attorney Do During Rezoning?

The role of a zoning attorney in the rezoning process is multifaceted and often indispensable. A zoning lawyer’s responsibilities should include:

    1. Organization of a team: Assembling a team of experts, such as land planners and engineers, to ensure that the rezoning application is comprehensive and well-supported.
    2. Identification of the correct new zoning category: The proposed new zoning category must be carefully identified in order to meet project objectives.
    3. Preparation of the application: Crafting a detailed application that meets all legal requirements and effectively presents the case for rezoning.
    4. Preparation for public hearings: Strategizing for public hearings, including gathering supporting materials and preparing for potential questions or objections.
    5. Compliance with findings for approval: Ensuring that the rezoning application complies with all the necessary findings and criteria for approval, such as alignment with the comprehensive plan.
    6. Navigation through complex processes: Guiding the client through the intricate steps of the rezoning process, from initial application to final approval, while navigating any challenges that may arise.

Given the complexity of rezoning, the expertise of a zoning attorney is invaluable for successfully navigating the legal and procedural hurdles involved.

Our Zoning Attorneys Are Here to Help With Land Rezoning in Maryland

Navigating the complexities of land rezoning in Maryland can seem like a formidable task, but you don’t have to go it alone. At Lerch, Early, and Brewer, our experienced zoning attorneys are well-versed in the intricacies of Maryland’s rezoning processes. Whether you’re dealing with a Local Map Amendment or a Comprehensive Rezoning, our team can provide the expertise and guidance you need to successfully complete this process.

Don’t leave your rezoning project to chance. The importance of working with an experienced zoning attorney cannot be overstated. Contact us today to ensure that your rezoning process is handled with the utmost professionalism and care.