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Rockville, MD’s Zoning Revision is Underway


Rockville, MD’s (pop. 52,375) Planning and Zoning Ordinance is undergoing a major update and revision.  The Ordinance, which is Chapter 25 of the City Code, was last updated in 1975.  In those past 30 years, many new zoning concepts such as floating zones, performance zoning, form-based codes, and the entire concept of the New Urbanism have res

Rockville, MD’s (pop. 52,375) Planning and Zoning Ordinance is undergoing a major update and revision.  The Ordinance, which is Chapter 25 of the City Code, was last updated in 1975.  In those past 30 years, many new zoning concepts such as floating zones, performance zoning, form-based codes, and the entire concept of the New Urbanism have reshaped the urban planning field.  The city’s code needs to be revised to reflect and incorporate these 21st Century concepts appropriate for a city that is maturing towards full development. 

Rockville is fast becoming “built out”, in that there is very little undeveloped land left.  The zoning ordinance in many respects reflected development standards for a new, growing community.  In-fill development and redevelopment of obsolete uses provides an opportunity for the city to remake its image, provided the appropriate zoning tools are available. 

This comprehensive update is intended to accomplish the following:

  • Make the code user-friendly.  The current code includes some language that has been carried over from the city’s first zoning ordinance in 1931.  There are a lot of archaic legal terms and phrasing that are sometimes hard for the layperson to understand.  In addition, some of the definitions are also outdated, as are some of the land uses listed in the Use Tables.  One goal of this program is to have a code that is easily understood by the general public, while being legally sufficient to withstand legal challenge.  In addition, there are overlapping approval processes that need to be condensed or combined.
  • Modernize the zoning concepts.  Currently, all of the city’s zones are Euclidean, which means that the zones define a rigid set of standards and requirements, with little flexibility.  In order to achieve some of the desired flexibility, the city has developed optional development procedures that essentially overlay the underlying zones.  This can be confusing and cumbersome, sometimes raising questions about which development standards apply.  The revisions will include proposals to include some of the new zoning concepts noted above to supplement or replace some of the existing zones. 
  • Minimize impact on existing residential development.  For the most part, the current zoning regulations work well for the single-family residential neighborhoods that comprise the bulk of the city’s development.  However, there needs to be an examination and fine-tuning of issues such as front porches, accessory buildings, fences, special regulations for corner lots, special exceptions, and over-sized houses.

Rockville plans to complete this process and adopt the revised ordinance in the fall of 2007.  There will be significant public outreach as this program proceeds.  The Mayor and Council have appointed a review committee to assist staff in formulating the major policy changes that will be proposed, and to review the draft version of the revised text.  The civic associations, other city boards and commissions, and other organizations will be kept apprised also.  City staff will be available to attend association meetings to provide information and answer questions.  Ultimately, there will be a formal public hearing on the proposed new ordinance, expected to be held in the spring of 2007.

For more information, please contact the zoning revision staff by e-mail at zoning@rockvillemd.gov.  You can also reach them by phone at 240.314.800.

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