We call upon the Prince George’s County Council – sitting as the District Council – to follow the law and to uphold the integrity of its planning process regarding the review of Conceptual Site Plan CSP-20007 for the Clay Property. Our understanding is that the Council will continue a discussion of this matter very soon, during the first week of October.
Specifically, we write in response to the September 20, 2021, District Council hearing on this Site Plan, which, if approved, would develop the Clay Property situated in the City of Hyattsville, to permit a density that is three times greater than the current zoning allows. The Site Plan, as currently configured, would require a zoning change – which, if agreed to by the District Council, would not be consistent with the approved 2016 Prince George’s Plaza Transit District Development Plan (TDDP) and the underlying land use and density requirements specified for the area/property at issue. Our comments are directed at specific statements made during the discussion of this agenda item, CSP-20007.
We feel compelled to write to you because we closely listened to the words of the People’s Zoning Counsel, Mr. Stan Brown, and his responses to Council Member questions asked of him at the September 20 hearing regarding CSP-20007. Specifically, we draw your attention to the exchange he had with one Council Member, who admittedly looking for clarification, addressed the Council with: “I think I heard Mr. Brown say something like, by law we can’t rezone this, but maybe we could ignore the law.”
Immediately, and without hesitation, Mr. Brown responded with the following words (emphasis in bold is ours): “No, I’m saying that you cannot rezone it. But if you ignore what I suggest the law is, then the case still should be denied. In other words, if the Council approves it has jurisdiction and authority to change the underlying zone …uhh even under the criteria we have set in the ordinance, I don’t think this application meets those criteria.”
In addition, the People’s Counsel was clear about the legality of the issue when he summarized the presentations of both attorney’s present: the attorney for the applicant, owner of the Clay Property seeking approval of the plan (which approval would reverse a July 22, 2021, Prince George’s County Planning Board recommendation) and the attorney for the citizen protestants opposing approval of CSP-20007. Directed to the Council and to the applicant, the words of the People’s Counsel are plain:
“So, if we just ignore that for a moment, and say that they’re requesting a density that well exceeds the underlying zone, then that’s not permissible. And the applicant has made no argument, cited no case law that would allow them to (1) change the underlying zone. There is no change. There is no mistake. This is a floating zone. There are no other criteria in which we can approve a new zone. So, therefore, how are you requesting a change in density? You have not requested to change the underlying usage. You have requested to change the zoning where the underlying usage may not exceed the cap of the density in the plan.”
The People’s Counsel goes on to say: “And, therefore, I think it is a matter of the law, the case probably should be denied. …however, if we ignore the law for a moment, concerning density, there is probably substantial evidence in the record to support the Planning Board’s conclusion that the request does not comport – whether we use the terms conformance, consistency, comport, satisfy, all those phrases, that part of the argument made by the applicant, which is the bulk of their argument, I think, is moot.” People’s Counsel Brown has made clear what he believes the law says.
As involved citizens and residents of Prince George’s County who have followed this development proposal for years, we believe it is incumbent upon the District Council to uphold the law and keep faith with the approved 2016 TDDP, whose very existence is a direct result of a vote by the elected members of the Prince George’s County Council. By keeping faith with the approved TDDP, the District Council will preserve and maintain public confidence and trust. To do otherwise, we believe, will only further public mistrust and lack of confidence in our public officials.
The Prince George’s County Planning Board on July 22, 2021, recommended the District Council not approve CSP-20007. The Board cited myriad reasons, including non-conformity with Plan 2035 and with the approved Prince George’s County TDDP/TDOZ. The Board cited issues of zoning and land use as well as environmental, conservation, and preservation issues.
We urge the District Council to follow the recommendation of their Planning Board. We urge the District Council to demonstrate a respect for the provisions of the TDDP that they themselves approved. We urge the District Council to keep its promises. To us, it is a matter of the law and maintaining the integrity of the process -- a process that should ensure faithful and consistent implementation of TDDP provisions. We do not believe it is unreasonable to expect the members of the Prince George’s County Council to follow the law.