Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

"What is a Master Plan and why do we need one?"

The purpose of a Master Plan, in some cases called a Comprehensive Plan, is to communicate a jurisdiction’s vision for its future and guide the policies and decisions that will make that vision a reality. These documents outline goals, objectives, recommendations, and implementation actions to fulfill that vision.  A Master Plan is not a regulatory document, but rather guidance upon which future legislative and regulatory actions are based following adoption of the Plan.  The County’s eight municipalities are not under the jurisdiction of the County’s Master Plan; they each have their own planning and zoning authority under the Maryland Land Use Article.

Jurisdictions are required by Maryland State Law to review or update their Master Plans every ten years.  Carroll County’s most recent Master Plan was adopted in February 2015, and its update is currently underway! A Master Plan is prepared by the Bureau of Comprehensive Planning and the Planning & Zoning Commission and adopted by the Board of County Commissioners. Maryland State Law also outlines certain elements/chapters that must be included in a Master Plan: (i.e.: Goals and Objectives, Community Facilities, Housing, Land Use, Transportation, Water Resources, etc.).

"What does the Bureau of Comprehensive Planning do?"

The Carroll County Bureau of Comprehensive Planning is responsible for overseeing and coordinating various aspects of land use planning which guides growth and preservation within the unincorporated areas of the County, while achieving optimal health, safety, and welfare for all citizens. Its primary functions include:

Comprehensive Planning: Developing and guiding implementation of the Carroll County Master Plan, which serves as a long-range vision and policy guide for land use, transportation, economic development, environmental protection, and community facilities. The Bureau is also responsible for the development of small area comprehensive plans for the Freedom and Finksburg areas.

Land Use Analysis: Conducting analyses of existing land use patterns, demographic trends, housing needs, economic conditions, and environmental resources to inform policy decisions and identify areas for future growth, preservation, or redevelopment.

Project Review and Coordination: The Bureau’s role in the review of proposed development projects, site plans, and subdivision plats is to ensure consistency with master plans and functional plans.

Community Engagement: Engaging with residents, community groups, businesses, and other stakeholders through public meetings, workshops, surveys, and outreach efforts to solicit input, gather feedback, and promote public participation in the planning process.

Water and Sewer Planning: Working alongside our municipalities in setting existing, priority, long-range, and future water and sewer service areas. This includes updating the Water and Sewer Master Plan with amendments twice a year as well as the triennial update every 3 years.

Transportation Planning: Collaborating with transportation agencies and stakeholders to develop transportation plans, studies, and infrastructure improvements that enhance mobility, connectivity, and safety within the county.

Historic Preservation: Supporting the County’s lone Historic District, Uniontown, through the Historic Preservation Commission and analyzing ways to preserve the County’s rich history through grants, easements, tourism, etc.

"Can I rezone my property?"

There are two ways to change the zoning on a property: through a “comprehensive rezoning” that is done to implement a Master or comprehensive plan, or through a “piecemeal rezoning.” A piecemeal rezoning places the burden on the property owner seeking a zoning change to prove that there has been a change in the neighborhood or a mistake in the original zoning that would necessitate a rezoning. More information regarding rezonings can be found here:

"What is the difference between land use and zoning?"

Zoning, existing land use, and future land use are all concepts related to land planning and development, but they represent different aspects of how land is regulated and utilized. Here's a breakdown of each:

Zoning: refers to the division of land into different zones or districts, each with specific regulations and restrictions governing allowed uses, building heights, lot sizes, setbacks, and other aspects of development. These regulations aim to promote orderly growth, protect property values, and ensure compatibility between different uses. Zoning regulations are found in Chapter 158 of the County Code of Ordinances.

Existing Use of Land (existing land use): refers to the current or present use of a parcel of land or property. It represents the actual activities occurring on the land at a given point in time.

Future Land Use: refers to the intended or desired use of land as envisioned in long-range planning documents, such as the County Master Plan. These plans guide zoning decisions, infrastructure investments, and development regulations to achieve desired community goals, such as promoting economic development, preserving natural resources, enhancing quality of life, and accommodating population growth.

Both the existing use of land and the future land use rely on generalized categories to describe what type of uses might be found there now or in the future. Zoning is much more specific. For example, an area with a future land use designation of Residential-Medium Density is envisioned to be dominated by homes on moderately sized lots. However, depending on the Zoning district, those homes may be on lots ranging from 1/5 to 1 acre in size, and other allowable uses may include retirement communities, day care centers, private schools, and churches. The overall character of that area though would be residential.

"Where can I find the latest population counts for Carroll County and its municipalities?"

More information regarding demographics in the County, including Census data, can be found here:

"How do I know if a building is historic or in a historic district?"

To find out more information about the County’s historic properties and historic districts, please follow this link:

"How do I know if a property is in a Growth Area?"

The County has nine designated Growth Areas that generally are centered around the corporate limits of Westminster, Taneytown, Manchester, Hampstead, Union Bridge, New Windsor, Sykesville, and Mt. Airy. as Additionally, there are two Growth Areas in the County: the Freedom Area and Finksburg. You can check the boundaries of the municipal growth areas here, or you can find the comprehensive plans for Freedom and Finksburg here.

"How do I know what is planned for my property and the surrounding area?"

The best way to find this information is to look at the most recent adopted Master Plan or comprehensive plan for the property or area in which you are interested. You may want to pay particular attention to the parts of the plan that address future land use designations, planned roadways and trails, water and sewer service areas, important environmental features, or areas prone to natural hazards, and planned public facilities such as parks, schools, and public safety facilities. Every property in the County, that is not in a municipal Growth area, will have a future land use designation that shows where residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or conservation uses either exist or are planned in the future.

"What does the County’s Planning & Zoning Commission do?"

The roles and responsibilities of the County’s Planning & Zoning Commission are laid out in the Maryland Annotated Code. Specifically, Carroll’s Planning & Zoning Commission: approves development plans; helps draft the County’s Master Plan and other functional plans; makes recommendations to the County Commissioners regarding zoning of properties, zoning text amendments and municipal annexations; as well as other duties as they arise related to land use, zoning, and development. Our Planning & Zoning Commission is an integral partner in guiding growth and development in the County. All Planning Commissions in Maryland must adhere to the Open Meetings Act of Maryland, which requires public bodies to hold their meetings in public, give adequate notice of those meetings, and allow the public to inspect meeting minutes. The County’s Planning & Zoning Commission meetings are live streamed, with recordings and meeting minutes posted afterwards on the Meeting Portal. The Commission meets regularly on the third Tuesday of every month in room 003 of the County Office Building.