LANDOVER – After years of preparation, Prince George’s County’s revised draft of the Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Regulations is ready for review.
During a meeting at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex on Oct. 26, representatives from Clarion Associates, the consultant team that assisted with the rewrite, and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) discussed the proposed changes with local residents.
“Modernizing the county’s zoning ordinances has been a nearly two decade process, with our most recent iteration starting nearly four years ago,” said Brittney Drakeford, senior planner at M-NCPPC.
The most recent countywide rewrite of the zoning ordinance began in January 2014. Since then, the county has completed three zoning modules: zones and use regulations, development standards, and procedures.
Donald Elliot, a director with Clarion Associates, said there are two reasons for the zoning overhaul: the county’s new plan – Prince George’s 2035 – and the need for better retail developments in the area.
“The old rules don’t line up with the new vision,” he said.
Elliot said they included the findings from these modules and the input from public comments in the new draft.
“We have knitted together modules one, two and three, and tried to answer and include as many of the hundreds and hundreds of comments and reflected changes that we got,” Elliot said.
Some of the changes to this draft include the reintroduction of legacy zones, residential and commercial requirements for mixed-use developments, public facility certificates of adequacy, and additional community meetings with developers,
This draft reintroduces several zones that were deleted in their previous draft, including the Legacy Comprehensive Design Zone, Legacy Mixed Zone-Transportation Oriented Zone, and Legacy Mixed-Use Town Center Zone. Elliot said he believes people would benefit from the new zones, but put these zones back in because the county council said some people were nervous and weren’t sure they would be better off with the new ones.
Elliot said these legacy zones are back in the code for “the sake of discussion,” but he believes people will “wake up and say, ‘you know what? I think we’re better under the new code.’”
Furthermore, the draft includes a provision to prevent certain mixed-use development zones from becoming totally residential or totally commercial.
Elliot said the county council is worried intended mixed-use development sites might turn completely residential. To mitigate that possibility, the new code draft stipulates that after five years of building, 18 percent of mixed-use developments within a quarter-mile walking distance must be non-residential. This regulation works the other way, as well. To prevent the developments from being all retail, at least 18 percent must be residential after five years.
This rule applies to Town Activity Center Planned Development, Local Transit-Oriented Planned Development, and Regional Transit-Oriented Planned Development Zones.
Under Prince George’s current zoning regulations, public facility certificates of adequacy never expire.
“Nobody intended that to happen,” Elliot said. “It can’t be that the evaluation – okay, there’s enough traffic capacity for your project, you don’t have to contribute – goes forever, even when more people move to Prince George’s County.”
Under the proposed changes, these certificates would last for 12 years, with the possibility of one six-year extension. Furthermore, those who currently have certificates will have the 12-year expiration date as well.
Another change is that developers will have to have a pre-meeting with the local community before they file an application for a project.
In response to a question about what weight these meetings would be given to development plans, Chad Williams, a project manager with the county planning department, said that the county council cannot weight it, since that could be considered planning by plebiscite. He said, though, that the meetings would lead to a “more collaborative outcome.”
Elliot also mentioned that the changes they made to beekeeping regulations in this draft will be reversed in the final zoning code. In this draft, beekeeping would be limited to two hives for every 15,000 square feet of property.
“We’ve been told (by members of the beekeeping community) in very clear terms that the provisions we put in there are not appropriate for Prince George’s County, and they need to be reconsidered,” he said. “We understand, and we have said publicly, and I’ll say it again tonight, you’re right, we’re wrong, we put them together, we thought they were appropriate, they’re not appropriate, wherever we got those standards do not apply to the bees and the bee industry in Prince George’s County. So those will not be carried forward.”
The audience, which included several beekeepers, applauded this statement.
In 2018, the county council will be presented with a legislative review draft of the new zoning code. The council will review and amend it before passage.
Elliot says he and others at Clarion Associates hope the new zoning laws will be adopted in 2018, but they’re not rushing the process.
“We have made it so that they can do this under the current council term of office rather than having to re-educate the new council about it later on,” he said. “They haven’t committed, they’re not going to sign a blank check.”
Public comments on the drafts will be accepted until Dec. 15.