In 2018, the Prince George’s County Council voted to overhaul the 50-year-old county code, primarily to focus on development in transit-linked areas and to reduce sprawl where possible.
Now, several zoning bills have been introduced by Council members Mel Franklin and Calvin Hawkins that would have a large impact on Prince George’s and potentially preempt the new zoning ordinance in some areas.
County Bills (CB) 69, 77, 78, 91 and 92 were all introduced as the current Council prepares for the new Council with four new council members, Wanika Fisher, D2; Ingrid Harrison, D4; Wala Blegay, D6; and Krystal Oriadha, D7; and former Councilmember Eric Olson, D2, replacing five current members.
CB-69, 77, and 78 would all loosen zoning regulations. CB-69 would grant mixed-use, transit-oriented development to follow commercial zoning regulations. CB-77 would grandfather certain properties into the county’s pre-2018 zoning ordinance. CB-78 would allow properties that are split among multiple zoning designations to follow the regulations for the highest density zone. CB-91 was pulled by Councilman Hawkins, “as the public conversation was going in the wrong direction.”
CB-92 counts as the most consequential of all the legislation introduced. The Planning Board’s interpretation is that CB-92 would “eliminate the District Council election to review development review applications under the Zoning Ordinance.”
Hawkins said he introduced CB-92 to “require the District Council to have a supermajority vote to adopt text amendments to local zoning laws and to allow a 60-day notification to residents/businesses within a two-half mile radius of the proposed development that would benefit from CB-90.”
CB-92 received a favorable vote in Committee on September 15 with affirmative votes from Hawkins, Franklin and Council member Syndey Harrison and dissenting votes from Council members Todd Turner and Danielle Glaros.
However, the legislation has faced many detractors. During a recent TV interview, Council member Tom Dernoga said, “this process has been shortened so that the current Council could make decisions that would primarily benefit developers.”
Blegay sent out a mass email after CB-91 was pulled and also called for supporters to oppose CB-92, as did both Progressive Maryland and Oriadha.
On Sept. 20, the Bowie City Council voted to recommend against all of the zoning bills, partially on the basis that “the City Council is very concerned that every one of these bills appear to undermine the recently approved Zoning Ordinance Rewrite”.
Kamita Gray, an activist in Brandywine who heads the BTB Coalition, described the legislation as “deliberate, well-crafted unethical legislation that will dictate broad changes impacting the quality of communities and economic development for generations to come.”
The coalition she represents pointed to parallels between this legislation and redistricting that was struck down by the Court of Appeals for flagrant gerrymandering and are particularly opposed to tossing the Envision process by which the new county zoning ordinance was crafted.
The bills that passed out of committee now move into the third reader stage and will soon be voted on by the entire Council.