Published on: Tuesday, August 8, 2023 News

Montgomery County Climate Assessments and Plans


Given some community questions about climate assessments for master plans, the Montgomery County Planning Department would like to provide additional information about the County Council’s requirement to conduct climate assessments for master plans.

As part of its consideration of legislative matters and typically prior to its public hearing, the County Council requires different types of impact statements or assessments. These include economic impact statements for county bills and racial equity and social justice impact statements for bills and zoning text amendments (ZTAs), all of which are prepared by the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO). Impact statements produced by the OLO can be accessed here. The Council also requires fiscal impact statements for bills and master plans and climate assessments for bills, ZTAs and master plans.

In July 2022, the Montgomery County Council passed Bill 3-22, “Climate Assessments”. This law requires OLO to conduct climate assessments of county bills starting January 1, 2023 and requires the Planning Board to conduct climate assessments of ZTAs and master plans starting March 1, 2023. This law updated a previous requirement that began in 2008 for the Planning Board to provide a carbon footprint analysis for master plans transmitted for County Council review and approval. That previous requirement specifically directed the Planning Board to assess a master plan’s potential impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the county, including a carbon footprint analysis; to consider ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT); and consider options that would minimize GHG emissions. Accordingly, for 15 years between 2008 to early 2023, when the Planning Board transmitted a master plan to the County Council for final review and approval, the Board also provided a carbon footprint analysis. These carbon footprint analyses varied from a one-page assessment to a more detailed analysis, depending on the scope of the plan.

Both the current climate assessment requirement and the previous carbon footprint analysis requirement apply only to the Planning Board Draft Plan that is transmitted to the County Council for final approval, and not to the Working Draft Plan or Planning Board Public Hearing Draft Plan that are prepared by the Planning Department for Planning Board review prior to Council review.

Bill 3-22’s requirements for what issues are to be considered in a climate assessment apply to both OLO’s climate assessments as well as those provided by the Planning Board. Bills, ZTAs and master plans are to be assessed for potential impact on GHG emissions, carbon sequestration, adaptive capacity to climate change and community resilience. The law allows for qualitative or quantitative analysis. OLO and the Planning Board (through the Planning Department) are responsible for developing their methodologies to comply with the law. The Planning Department’s methodology as approved by the Planning Board can be found here.

Environmental considerations, and more specifically potential impacts of climate change and how to address them through land use policies, are a major component of master plans. Area master plans typically include recommendations to address environmental issues and the impacts of climate change on particular communities. Montgomery Planning staff incorporate these considerations during each phase of the master plan process—scope of work, community engagement, Working Draft Plan development, and Planning Board review, culminating in the Planning Board Draft Plan approved by the Board that is transmitted to the Council for its final approval.

Climate assessments are one tool the Council considers during its review of master plans, but they are not part of the master plans and therefore not approved by the County Council. Master plan recommendations that address climate impacts are the ones that receive final adoption by the County Council and then are implemented by public agencies and the private sector over multiple years.

As noted earlier, climate assessments for bills, ZTAs and master plans are requirements for the County Council’s process and must reflect the item as transmitted to the Council for its review. Master plan recommendations can change during Planning Board review, therefore the climate assessment cannot be completed until the Planning Board Draft Plan is approved by the Planning Board to be transmitted to the Council.

Community members have multiple opportunities during the master plan development process led by the Planning Department, the Planning Board’s public review, and the County Council’s public review before final approval to provide feedback on climate-related issues and draft recommendations. We encourage community members to review the current draft for the Takoma Park Minor Master Plan Amendment and to participate in the upcoming Planning Board public hearing. After transmittal to the County Council, the Council will hold its public hearing on the Planning Board Draft Plan. The climate assessment will be available no later than seven days prior to the Council’s public hearing.