Understanding the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board

In our discussion of the zoning code, the Planning Commission and Board of Muncipal and Zoning Appeals have been mentioned a number of times.  These two separate bodies play an important role in determining how our city grows and develops.

The makeup and duties of the Planning Commission are clearly laid out in the City Charter.  The Planning Commission consists of nine members.  Serving ex officio are the Mayor, Director of Public Works, and a member of the City Council who is elected by the Council.  The other six members are appointed by the Mayor.  You can view a list of the current Planning Commission members by clicking here.

The responsibilities of the Planning Commission as laid out in the Charter include:

  • Adopting and holding hearings on the City’s Master Plan and urban renewal plans. The Commission also has the authority to make amendments to these plans.
  • Submitting a capital budget and long range capital improvement plan
  • Issuing recommendations to the City Council on amendments to the zoning code and urban renewal plans
  • Submitting its own amendments to the zoning code for City Council approval
  • Hearing appeals on decisions made by the Director of Planning on issues such as site plan review, environmentally sensitive plan review, design review, and landscape review.

The Charter also gives the Planning Commission permission to perform other duties deemed beneficial to the city and prescribed by law.  For example, the zoning code assigns the Planning Commission with developing a landscape manual.  The Planning Commission also plays a very important role with regards to the development of Planned Unit Developments (PUDs).

All Planning Commission meetings are open to the public.  Click here to see reports from previous meetings and information on the upcoming August 6 session.

At its core, the responsibility of the Planning Commission is to advise the Mayor, City Council, and Department of Planning on how Baltimore should grow.  Planning can be a difficult topic to understand. Therefore, the City set up this specialized body to assist our elected officials with making land use decisions that are in the best interests of Baltimore.

The Board of Municipal Appeals (BMZA) is often referred to as the Zoning Board.  Like the Planning Commission, its duties and makeup are outlined in the City Charter.  The BMZA is required to c0nsist of five members appointed by the Mayor.  At least one of these members must be a lawyer.

The BMZA is primarily responsible for approving variances and conditional uses.  The proposed code also gives the BMZA oversight power over non-conforming uses.  It is also responsible for hearing appeals over whether charges from the city on paving sidewalks, alleys, and streets are appropriate.  A developer can also appeal decisions made by the Planning Director to the BMZA.

The BMZA’s meetings are open to the public.  For a list of past and upcoming meetings, click here.

Unlike the Planning Commission, the BMZA does not work to develop citywide planning policies. Rather it serves as a body for making individual zoning decisions, based on the directives handed down to it from the City Charter and the zoning code. Thus, it has more of a focus on specific technical details of particular projects, rather than on broader policy and planning. But like the Planning Commission, it is a specialized entity  that tackles complex topics.

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Gregory Friedman

Gregory Friedman

This article was written by Gregory Friedman. Click here to meet our writing team.

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