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Greenbelt wants neighborhood conservation in zoning rewrite

greenbelt councilGREENBELT – The full draft of the county’s rewritten zoning ordinance will be released later this month, and residents of Greenbelt want to make sure their planned neighborhoods are protected in the new regulations.

Dozens of residents packed the council chambers Monday night, bearing handsigns and a 2,000-signature petition. The residents had also drafted a letter they wanted the city council to send to the county council requesting that a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay (NCO) Zone for Old Greenbelt be created concurrently with the rest of the zoning rewrite.

City Councilman Rodney Roberts moved to add the NCO discussion to the evening’s agenda, and after hours of hearing from residents and planning staff from the city and county, the city council voted 7-0 to send an amended version of the citizens’ letter to the county.

“The support is out there and the people want the city to be protected in no uncertain terms. Period,” Roberts said.

An NCO Zone would be applied on top of underlying zoning to provide additional review by the county’s planning director to ensure development in the zone meets stricter standards, which can be tailored to each NCO and may include architecture, form and design. It does not currently exist in county zoning, but is recommended for addition. The plan is to include instructions for communities to apply for an NCO in the comprehensive review draft, set to be released later this month.

“Our Comprehensive Review Draft will include a section that creates a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Zone as a generic opportunity for communities around the county that feel that that would be helpful to them,” said Derrick Berlage, countywide planning division chief. “They could then go to the (county) council and say, ‘we would like a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Zone for our community.’ It will create that generic authority, but will not yet create a specific zone in a particular community.”

Chad Williams, project manager for the rewrite, said the NCO is intended to be an additional protection while the base zoning of properties is meant to serve as the primary check on density in an area. He added that the new zones are all comparable to the currently-existing zones in Greenbelt and the county has no intention to push for growth and change in Greenbelt.

“Growth is a goal of this project in the areas where the county wants to grow and needs to grow: our Metro stations, our innovation corridor. It is not Historic Greenbelt that needs to grow,” Williams said. “Historic Greenbelt is a unique, special place, not just in Prince George’s County but within the country. They teach it in planning school. They bring us out here in planning school.”

But residents remain concerned that, if the rewrite is adopted and the existing Residential Planned Community Zone in Greenbelt is eliminated as planned, the delay between that and an NCO being approved by the county council would leave an opening for developers to push through projects that wouldn’t otherwise be allowed.

County Councilman Todd Turner, who attended the meeting, said that passing the rewrite will be a very tough task and including an NCO for Greenbelt but not other communities would make it still harder.

“I think the concern was raised from our staff perspective. If you look at the code now in any of our development overlay zones, we don’t designate areas in the statute. That’s not the process that we use. We go through an application process,” he said. “Every one of those municipalities should have the same opportunity to apply for that NCO Zone. If we designate only one by the statue, then that’s not fair to every other community.”

However, Greenbelt planning staff have already been working with their county colleagues on a draft NCO specific to Greenbelt. City Planning Director Terri Hruby said she and her staff sent suggestions to the consultant developing the new ordinance, but have yet to see the draft NCO being circulated based on those suggestions.

The city council voted to add language to the final letter to the council asking for that draft to be made public.

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