HYATTSVILLE – As the county moves forward with its zoning ordinance rewrite, councilwoman Deni Taveras wants to make sure residents are informed and can make their concerns heard during the process.
Councilwoman Deni Taveras welcomed residents from all across District 2 for a community meeting about the zoning rewrite held Feb. 23 at the Prince George’s Plaza Community Center. Planning department staff were also on hand to present information about the draft modules of the ordinance and answer residents’ questions, many of which dealt with concerns about crowded streets, from large numbers of cars parked at single-family homes, and crowded communities, from new development springing up.
“I think that right now, people are just really trying to ensure that they understand what’s going on,” Taveras said. “I hear that there is a lot of concern regarding overcrowding, and we’re going to have to figure out a way to address that, either through separate legislation or the zoning rewrite. We’re going to have to figure out a more family-neutral definition for family and occupancy.”
She said, for her, the zoning rewrite represents an opportunity to revitalize communities in District 2, especially the Northern Gateway areas such as Chillum, Lewisdale and Avondale that are not seeing development like the Gateway Arts District and the area around Prince George’s Plaza are now.
“There’s a lot of potential for community revitalization when we look across District 2, and we want to make sure that initiative is supported by the zoning rewrite. We don’t want to go backwards,” she said.
However, some residents say they have issues with the existing communities that should be addressed before new projects are built. Density considerations were the focus of many residents’ comments, as well as public safety, code enforcement and walkability.
“Instead of focusing on fixing what we already have, they want to build new things,” said Lewisdale resident Andrew Carter. “I would prefer them to focus on the neighborhoods, the communities here so we can spend our money somewhere versus bringing in more people to spend more money.”
The zoning ordinance rewrite does contain provisions that District 2 residents could support. Chad Williams, project manager with the county planning department, said the new regulations include requirements for more sidewalks, a new open space set-aside to ensure parks, stormwater management amenities and other open space are included with development, increased community outreach about upcoming development projects and a “Health in All Policies” approach to development to encourage bike- and pedestrian-friendliness.
The new standards, as drafted, also include Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design elements.
“We’re talking the percentage of windows and doors that are required, so people can see in and see out, which is a passive crime limiting measure and also tends to lead to more attractive buildings,” Williams said.
Clarion Associates, the contractor tasked with formulating the draft and recommending best practices, also recommended that some approvals be granted by administrators within the planning department rather than go before the Planning Board or District Council. Some residents say that concerns them.
“How do we know that some developer just isn’t going to talk to the right administrative person to get something passed?” Carter said. “I’d prefer it to be a council decision on any new developments because the council knows what’s going on in the area, versus some administrative person looking at a map.”
Another new addition to the ordinance is a section called Neighborhood Compatibility Standards. Williams said the goal is to make sure residential zones maintain their character in the face of new development projects nearby. It requires lower building heights next to residential areas and more screening of loading bays, light fixtures and other features from the residential area.
However, he said some projects in District 2 present difficulties complying with those new standards.
“We do have some issues with those recommendations as they are today, particularly along US 1, particularly in College Park, where we have a lot of economic potential going on. And if we apply those neighborhood compatibility standards to those areas we just wouldn’t realize the potential,” Williams said. “So we have to be sensitive for Baltimore Avenue and for the Metro station locations to try to figure out a compromise.”
Parking on Route 1 was another concern brought up by residents at the meeting, but one the zoning ordinance couldn’t address since the road is owned by the state. Other concerns Williams said were outside the scope of the rewrite included Pepco land acquisitions- since the utility is exempt from county zoning standards- and the definition of a family unit.
Williams also said that after community feedback, accessory dwelling unit and backyard chicken provisions had been removed entirely from the rewrite and would have to be addressed separately because they are such complex issues.
“Both topics are, they have so many points of discussion involved and many supporters on both sides of the issue that they could by themselves dominate the rezoning discussion,” he said.
Taveras provided a survey for meeting attendees to fill out to share their concerns about things not addressed in the zoning ordinance rewrite.
The county council will take up the zoning rewrite later this year and make any changes they feel are necessary. The new ordinance would take effect in 2018.