The county's new General Plan has been judged best in the nation by a nine-member panel representing the American Planning Association.
The panel picked the Howard plan Nov. 3 over 43 others, saying it was "of unusually high merit."
Angela Moore, director of the Henrico County, Virginia, planning office and chair of the American Planning Association's 1991 national awards committee, said the plan excelled in five areas: originality, transferability, quality, implementation and comprehensiveness.
"When I first got it, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, too much paper,'" said Moore.
"Then I saw that the three levels -- the technical information, the six-point plan and the summaries -- were a unique way to communicate with everyone: technicians, politicians and the public."
"It puts Howard County on the map and in the vanguard of good planning," said county planning director Uri Avin.
"The county will be spotlighted and get a lot of national attention because the award assures that it will be studied as a model."
One of the ironies of the award is that Avin will probably not be around to accept it at the American Planning Association conference in New Orleans at the end of March.
County Executive-elect Charles I. Ecker has said he plans to fire Avin.
Ecker said Friday he had no elaboration of his earlier statement. Avin said he and Ecker have not talked yet about his future, but will meet tomorrow.
"Sometimes the messengers get killed," Moore said. "That's the risk taken with an innovative plan. I would hate to think that this plan with such diverse backing would be lost because the director is going."
Avin also said he hopes the award will help the plan to survive.
"This award was not for me personally," he said. "It was a staff effort.
All county departments helped put (the plan) together."
The county received notification of the award Thursday in a letter from Moore dated Nov. 9.
Moore praised the plan for its "diversity, inclusivenesses and the variety of ways information is presented."
"It addresses so many concerns," she said, and does it in such a way that the plan can become an outline for communities elsewhere.
The only topic "not strong enough" was solid waste, Moore said.
"Otherwise the plan excelled in comprehensiveness."
Moore said she also would have preferred the plan to include an "evaluation step" -- a way to monitor each phase of the plan's implementation.
"This is one of the few Oscars the planning community awards," Moore said, adding Howard County planners should feel "wonderful and extremely proud."
As for Avin himself, Moore said she was "certain" that the county's winning of the award would be "helpful" to Avin in his search for another job.
"I'm sure there are a lot of communities out there that would be delighted to have him," she said.