Real-time Tracker and new Forest Conservation Plan exemption application aim to make the review and approvals process more efficient and transparent
SILVER SPRING, MD – The Montgomery Planning Department, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, continues to come up with new ways to improve the development review process. One initiative greatly simplifies the application required for certain forest conservation exemptions while the other lets developers, their consultants and the public see exactly where an application is in the review process and how long each step of the process is taking.
“Improving the development review process is a top priority for us,” says Planning Director Gwen Wright. “We have recently launched new tools on our website to streamline the process and make it more transparent so doing business in the County is easier and more predictable.”
Real Time Tracker
The new County Zoning Ordinance that went into effect on October 30, 2014 requires a 120 day review schedule for site plans. This tool allows applicants to check on the progress of a site plan application that was submitted after the October effective date. It also shows whether delays that are identified are being caused by the applicant or by staff
The Tracker is now part of the Development Finder website, launched on October 7, 2014. That site offers an interactive map of the County and allows users to put in an address to see what projects are happening nearby or to enter a simple term like “Wheaton” to learn about current projects in that entire area. From this window, users can access the Development Activity Information Center (DAIC), which allows the viewer to see all the plans, staff reports, and other documents associated with the review of a plan. Clicking on the Real Time Tracker icon on this web page takes you to a timeline that shows everything from the accepted date of the application to the Planning Board’s decision on the project.
Forest Conservation Plan Exemption
Projects submitted to the Planning Department for review need either a forest conservation plan or a forest conservation exemption. Although an exemption can usually be approved fairly quickly, documentation to support a forest conservation exemption has been long and cumbersome. Under the new process, if a project is being changed in a way that requires no land disturbance (e.g. restriping parking spaces to increase or reduce the number provided) or there are no specimen trees or forest on the property, a simplified application is available.
Applicants who qualify will complete a newly created, one-page form attesting that their project qualifies for the exemption. No application fee will be charged for filling out this form. Applicants will make the exemption request at the same time they submit a development plan application or a special exception application to the Department. Planning staff will review and approve the forest conservation plan exemption request as the same time as they review the entire development application for consistency with the submission requirements.
Learn more about the Montgomery Planning Development Review Process.
SILVER SPRING – This week, some property owners in Silver Spring and Wheaton will be the recipients of new shade trees, courtesy of the Montgomery County Planning Department.
On Thursday, contractors will plant more than 30 beeches, oaks, elms and other native species to boost the amount of tree canopy in the areas of Montgomery County that need it most. Increasing the tree canopy brings a host of benefits, from reducing local greenhouse effects to providing an economic boon to businesses.
Planners and policy-makers have long made trees a priority in the county, with a strict Forest Conservation Law and Planning Board review of forest conservation plans during the development review process.
Yet, many of Montgomery County’s urban areas lack sufficient tree canopy cover, according to a 2011 analysis. The Planning Department-sponsored analysis, which used high-resolution aerial imagery to gather data on tree cover, revealed significantly lower cover in urban areas than most surrounding suburbs.
Why does that matter? Urban tree canopy improves water quality, reduces air pollution and decreases energy demand. Moreover, urban trees contribute to attractive, quality places that invite consumers to shop, dine and congregate.
Planners launched Shades of Green, which targets downtown Silver Spring, downtown Wheaton and the Montgomery Hills neighborhood, in September. By partnering with property owners to accept planted trees, planners are improving the look and feel of down-County urban districts. All trees will be three inches in diameter or greater, and come with two years of tree watering and maintenance. The Shades of Green website includes an application form for qualifying property owners.
The tree-planting program is financed through the Forest Conservation Fund, contributions paid during the development process to compensate for forest/tree loss and when tree-planting on site is impractical.
Property owners in the Central Business Districts of Silver Spring and Wheaton are encouraged to learn more and apply for trees .
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SILVER SPRING – On Thursday, the Planning Board voted unanimously to protect 46 acres of high-priority forest while reviewing an application from Montgomery College to erect a BioScience Education Building on its Germantown campus.
The Board required – and during the hearing Montgomery College officials agreed – to protect the 46 acres, called out specifically for conservation in the 2009 Germantown Master Plan because of its strategic location in a sensitive watershed. The Board regulates and enforces the County Forest Conservation Law, which comes into consideration when landowners propose construction on properties greater than 40,000 square feet.
Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson suggested that college officials take advantage of the high-value forest’s proximity by creating a research opportunity for faculty and an outdoor education center for students.
On the 224-acre campus, college officials propose to construct a 127,000-square-foot education center, extend Observation Drive, and build a connector road between Observation Drive and Goldenrod Lane. The College’s application would have protected approximately 43 acres of the existing 57-acre high priority forest standing between campus buildings and I-270. The master plan permits the removal of some acres, but requires 46 be retained.
Environmental planners who reviewed the proposal for the Planning Board suggested three alternatives for college officials to retain required forest. The options allowed the officials to keep their road design, but suggested protecting other high-priority forest in the same area by minimizing tree loss during road construction.
With the approval of the forest conservation plan, Montgomery College plans can move forward for consideration by the County Council.
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SILVER SPRING – Montgomery County planners and a Potomac private school have joined forces to protect forest and create an ambitious environmental educational program featuring academic scholarships.
The Planning Board yesterday approved a forest conservation plan proposed by Connelly School of the Holy Child school officials as part of its application for changes in the school campus. As they construct a new athletic field to improve the school’s recreational opportunities, school leaders and planners have devised a strategy to maintain valuable forest and, in addition to the typical mitigation measures to ensure restoration and preservation of wooded areas, provide comprehensive environmental education and a life-changing experience for two students.
The field, which will measure 340 feet by 190 feet, affects a conservation easement on the property. The easement limits most activities to maintain a naturally regenerating forest. Storm damage and other activities have affected other wooded areas on the campus.
To rectify for forest loss, which typically draws a fine from the Planning Board, planners offered a deal: restore the forest but don’t pay a penalty by combining education with environmental restoration. In the end, the Connelly School will create 11 percent more protected forest on site, provide scholarships, and run environmental education classes.
Board members, assured yesterday that the forest mitigation required of school officials was consistent with the Forest Conservation Law, praised the planning staff for creating a long-term educational solution with lasting benefits in lieu of collecting the penalty.
The scholarships will grant full tuition for two underprivileged Montgomery County children from grade 6 through 12, creating the potential for life-changing experiences for these students to attend the prestigious faith-based school for girls. Nearly 40,000 students in Montgomery County come from low-income households.
School officials also agreed to create an educational program where students plant, monitor and maintain wooded areas on the school campus. The program will be designed as a hands-on, outdoors program to monitor and maintain forest from planting through full growth.
Planners will work side by side with students to advance their understanding about the connections between well-maintained forest and wildlife, water quality, air quality and overall environmental quality. By doing so, planners hope to lay the groundwork for young people to become good stewards of the environment.
Planning Director Rollin Stanley lauded Connelly School leaders for providing scholarships and the comprehensive forest management program to demonstrate how public agencies can encourage both environmental protection and broader goals like education.
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SILVER SPRING, MD – To achieve a number of environmental goals in its ongoing efforts to “green” Montgomery County, the Planning Department has launched a program to encourage residents to plant trees in their yards.
Called Leaves for Neighborhoods, the campaign features a coupon valid at participating county nurseries. The $25 discount off native shade trees worth $75 or more is intended to increase the county’s tree canopy on residential property, which will bring a host of environmental benefits. For example, trees help prevent erosion, improve local air quality and filter stormwater runoff to improve area streams and rivers.
Residents seeking to get involved with environmental stewardship will find the program easy to use. Moreover, trees have economic benefits. Shade trees can lower energy costs 15 to 30 percent by reducing the need for heating and air-conditioning.
The $25 coupon is available at http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/Leaves and will be distributed at area nurseries, Park and Planning headquarters and county park facilities in early May.
The campaign is funded by the Montgomery County Forest Conservation Fund. The county’s Forest Conservation Law may require property owners or developers to reforest or pay a fee in lieu of planting when they file applications with the Planning Department. The fees support the Leaves for Neighborhoods campaign, which will run from May 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010.
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SILVER SPRING, MD – On Thursday, January 10 at
approximately 7 p.m., Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson will join a panel of
county officials and environmental and building advocates to discuss pending
changes to the Forest Conservation Law, which regulates how much forest is
protected when a landowner plans to build.
Hanson will join County Councilman Marc Elrich and
representatives from the environmental and business communities at a League of
Women Voters forum about forest conservation at the County Council office building
in Rockville. The council will consider changes to the existing Forest
Conservation Law starting with a public hearing on January 22.
Planning Board drafted a new law last fall that would require that more forest
be saved when land is developed, increasing the percentage of forest that must
be saved over the existing law by at least 5 percent. The board’s recommended
changes would require better care for newly planted forests by extending the
period for which they are maintained. The new requirements would apply to
property owners proposing to build on lots measuring 40,000 square feet or greater.
will outline the board’s approach, which he describes as marrying conservation
with common sense. The board’s recommendations affect approximately 12 percent
of the lots in Montgomery County, given the 40,000-acre threshold that triggers
the law. By contrast, other versions of the law that reduce the applicable lot
size could affect up to 50 percent of county properties.
Board Chairman Royce Hanson
of Women Voters Forest Conservation Forum
p.m. Thursday, January 10
Council Office Building, 7th floor
100 Maryland Ave.
Rockville, MD 20850