PEA Facilitates the Inaugural PlanHoward Academy

We had a unique opportunity this summer and fall to work with the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) to design and facilitate the inaugural PlanHoward Academy.

The Academy idea originated with County Executive Alan Kittleman. Early in his first term, he committed to involving County residents far more in the planning arena and the notion of the Academy grew directly out of that commitment.

We designed a four-week, interactive Academy with senior DPZ staff to provide focused opportunities for residents to become better informed about the County’s planning efforts, learn how to access information through DPZ’s interactive map and other web-based tools, to build relationships with planning staff, and learn about plans, policies, and procedures that shape the county’s future.

Outreach was a great success with an unanticipated large number (125+) of residents applying to be a part of the first Academy and, after a thorough application process, twenty-five were selected for the first class. The residents selected represented the diverse demographics of the county – by race, age, geography, and length of time living in the county.

We held the Academy every week for two hours for four consecutive Wednesday evenings at the beautiful Howard Community College campus. Students took the Academy very seriously, completing the homework assigned each week, and participating actively in mapping exercises, role playing, and small and large group discussions.

The sessions focused on four primary topic areas:

  • Planning 101 – an overview of the history of planning, the key demographic and other changes occurring, and the role of the General Plan in the County.
  • Land Use Law and Zoning – a review of the legal underpinnings of federal, state, and local law related to planning and zoning and explored the county’s zoning regulations and processes.
  • Development Review – a review of the county’s land development process for both commercial and residential developments.
  • Responsible Growth and Informed Citizenry – an exploration of how the County is likely to continue to grow, what tools and approaches can help foster responsible growth, and how citizens can influence plans and planning.

DPZ viewed the Academy so successful that it has committed to holding the Academy semi-annually going forward, with the next Academy likely to launch in the first few months of 2018.

It was exciting to help the county launch this new initiative to help make citizens’ voices much more informed and integrated into the county’s planning processes.

We are working with DPZ over the next couple of months to evaluate the surveys completed by the first class and determine what changes and refinements to make to the second Academy.

One clear piece of feedback from residents that we’re seeing already is to increase the number of sessions that the Academy offers in order to cover more topics and to delve deeper into the topics already being covered.

We look forward to seeing these new ‘ambassadors’ out in their communities and at public meetings in the future and to watch the network of informed citizens who understand their role in planning and development grow in the years to come.