A DENSITY bonus allows a residential developer to build and sell higher, taller and more buildings than the zoning code would otherwise permit. Montgomery County awards such a bonus to developers who agree to suggestions, such as for more open space, offered by the public or the planning commission. In some zones, building more affordable housing than the minimum requirement, 12.5 percent of the total units being constructed, provides developers with an even greater density bonus.
The county is overhauling its 1,200-page zoning code for the first time in 35 years, and the latest draft revises the process for developers who seek approval to build more densely than would ordinarily be allowed. Today, the process is inconsistent and even arbitrary. Today, a developer seeking bonus density submits a plan and then is subject to the wishes and requests from the planning commission with input from the public. The developer often has few clear expectations about what it will provide in exchange for more density. The new code would include a menu of “public benefits,” or additional steps and features a developer seeking bonus density would be required to provide, weighted on a point system. Such features may include proximity to public transit, useful signage, public art, energy-conserving green roofs and respect for historical or architectural value.