How to Engage with Development (The Villager 2017-03)

How to Engage with Development Around our Community

This article is published on the River Hill “The Villager”, March 2017 issue.

By Chao Wu

On February 1, I was invited by Mr. Craig George to attend a cub scout meeting to share with five scouts my experiences on the Columbia Association Board, River Hill Board and other volunteer positions. We discussed how our community is changing and I shared with them the need for residents to engage in the development process to affect change. The cub scouts were very interested in making our community greener, pedestrian friendly and safer.

On February 6, the River Hill Community Association’s Board of Directors met with State Highway Administration staff to have a conversation about the process for making improvements along MD 32 and MD 108 to benefit the community and how residents can weigh in during the development process. We had more than 30 members of the community in attendance that night.

Last year, the Board of Directors invited staff from Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) and they provided an overview of the development approval process. There are numerous opportunities for the community to have input on development projects. Below I have outlined the subdivision and land development review process they shared. We should all realize that most comments and community inputs are taken before Step 5.

Subdivision and Land Development Review Process in Howard County

Step 1: Pre-submission community meeting. Property owner must hold meeting prior to submission of plans to DPZ)for sketch (S), preliminary equivalent sketch (SP), minor final plan and site development plans (SDP).

Step 1A: Design Advisory Panel (DAP). DAP meeting required for Rt. 1 and Rt. 40 projects, Downtown Columbia, New Town Village Centers, MD 108 in Clarksville, sketch, preliminary equivalent sketch, and site development plans. Members of the community may submit written input.

Step 2: Submission to DPZ: S, P, SPF, SDP, Environmental Concept Plan (ECP).

Step 3: Review of plans by Subdivision Review Committee (SRC) and assessment of Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO). SRC meeting or review will be held 3 to 4 weeks after initial application date. If required for revision, 45 days resubmittal deadline, return to Step 2. Members of the community may provide input to the SRC via letter, email, or phone.

Step 4: DPZ determines whether plan is technically complete. May require revised plan submission to specific SRC agencies.

Step 4A. Planning Board. A hearing or meeting is required for projects in some zoning districts, including the New Town zone (Columbia development and re-development projects). Members of the community may provide input via letter, email, or in person.

Step 5: Option A (if applicable): originals are submitted for ECP,S, SP or P for signature, then review process complete for ECP, S, P, and SP stages, proceed for SDP and F stages. Then the process is complete.

Step 5: Option B (if applicable); Final plan or SDP plan.

Step 6: Original final construction drawings submitted to DPZ for signature. Roads, storm water management, water and sewer, landscape, forest conservation (60 day deadline).

Step 7: Payment of surety by land owner. Executes developer’s agreement and payment of fees (120 day deadline for final plan, 180 for SDP).

Step 8: Submission of original final plan or SDP for signature (180 days deadline demo technically complete letter).

Step 9: Plat signed and recorded at land records office (DPZ assigns permanent APF housing unit allocations).  Then the review process is complete for SDP and F stages.

As we can see, the community should get involved as early as possible if we have any concerns about development projects around our neighborhood.

Here is a list of topics, shared by Richard Klein of Community & Environmental Defense Services, that we should be concerned about when development is being planned: Clean Water, Traffic Congestion & Safety, School Overcrowding & Safe Streets, Tree & Forest Preservation, Flooding, Buffering & Views, Property Value, Air Quality & Health, Fire & Emergency Medical Services, Park & Recreation Areas, Water Supply, and Historic-Archeological Resources.

Thanks for reading this.


Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council

Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email:  Tel: 240-481-9637  Website:

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

River Hill Village Center at night