Montgomery County Executive Proposes Speedier Zoning Approval Designed To Help Secure Amazon H2Q

Change would expedite the traditional development review for county approval, but only for a very large company

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County Executive Ike Leggett

Bethesda Beat file photo

Montgomery County is preparing to lay additional groundwork designed to convince Amazon to choose it for the site of its second headquarters.

On Friday, County Executive Ike Leggett proposed a new zoning process in a memo to the County Council that would allow an expedited development review process for Amazon should the tech giant select the county.

Leggett said in an interview with Bethesda Beat that the proposed zoning text amendment would enable to county to better compete with the other 19 places in North America that remain in the running for the headquarters.

“We are trying to make sure our processes are consistent with everybody else,” Leggett said. “Our [review] sometimes takes 100 to 120 days, while many other jurisdictions are much less than that.”

He noted the proposed change should not be considered a sign that Amazon is leaning toward choosing the county. He said he didn’t have an update on when the company may make its decision, other than it will be sometime near the end of this year.

Officials have said the county pitched the White Flint area to the company, though Leggett hasn’t confirmed that. Amazon plans to invest about $5 billion in building out its new headquarters and expects to employ about 50,000 workers at the location.

The zoning change would enable a company building a headquarters in Montgomery County that’s planning to employ at least 25,000 people to submit a single development plan that would be approved in 60 days or less. The typical review period in the county lasts about 120 days and includes the required submission of both sketch and site plans.

The change would also enable building height limits for a CR-zoned property to increase by up to 100 additional feet—but only for properties already zoned for a height limit of at least 150 feet. However, the heights would be capped at 300 feet and subject to Planning Board approval.

Zoning in the White Flint area, via Montgomery Planning Department

Most of the properties in the White Flint area are zoned CR, which allows for a mix of commercial and residential buildings. The CR zone is used around Metro stations and densely developed urban areas in the county.

The proposed zoning change must be approved by the council and is scheduled to be introduced Tuesday.

Council President Hans Riemer said Friday that although existing master plans for areas in the county could accommodate Amazon, some adjustments may need to be made.

“Generally, this creates reliability,” Riemer said. “It streamlines the process so that a company of this size can have the confidence they need to get where they need to go as quickly as they need to get there.”

He echoed Leggett in saying the zoning change “doesn’t indicate anything” about Amazon’s intentions.

“We know that we need to make some adjustments so they can look at us and say, ‘If we want to go there, we have a clear path,’ ” Riemer said.

Both Leggett and Riemer said the change wouldn’t enable Amazon to overwhelm the county’s current infrastructure of roads and schools by building too quickly. Leggett said Amazon plans to build out the headquarters over 15 years.

Leggett said Amazon is only considering locations that could accommodate a headquarters of the size it’s proposing. “Therefore you’d have to be able to demonstrate that you have the resources, the transportation, and all of the infrastructure that’s required. If you don’t have it, then you’re not even in the game,” he said.

County Executive Ike Leggett Memo on zoning changes

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