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Prince George’s Mulls Revamp of Outdated Zoning Laws

Commercial properties in proximity to residential neighborhoods in Prince George’s County shouldn’t tower above them.

Implementing environment-friendly standards would allow contractors to erect electric-vehicle charging stations and possibly decrease gas-guzzling vehicles.

These are just two of the many proposals officials with Clarion Associates will discuss during a public session Thursday, June 9 at the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center in Laurel.

The county hired Clarion, a Denver-based land-use and real estate consulting firm, to make recommendations and revise zoning and subdivision regulations more than 50 years old.

According to a project description at zoningpgc.pgplanning.com, “the current zoning ordinance is more than 1,200 pages, inconsistent and difficult to use.”

“The current ordinance has been cited as an impediment to Prince George’s County,” said Chad Williams, a master planner in the county’s planning department. “We need a modern zoning ordinance that’s written in plain language.”

Two other sessions took place June 7 and 8 for residents to offer comments and hear about the proposal officials said will make it easier to comprehend and outline the county’s zoning districts.

For instance, the current zoning rules allows a developer to build a 12-story structure adjacent to single-family homes. Clarion recommends commercial structures are constructed at a similar height as those in a nearby residential neighborhood.

Also, the zoning ordinance doesn’t address for businesses who seek to construct solar panels, green roofs and electric-vehicle charging stations. Williams said developers would need special permission through a detailed site plan, or amending a current proposal that could take months to get approved.

“The new proposal would allow them to do this by right,” he said. “We want to be one of the leaders in sustainable environment, but we also think the zoning rewrite is essential to our economic future. We could attract more businesses to come to Prince George’s County.”

Other parts of the plan address proposed new standards such as building a walking trail or some other form of pedestrian outlet that connects from a cul-de-sac and public sidewalk along a street.

Another new requirement focuses on traffic-calming measures on certain residential streets, or ways to slow down drivers. The ideas include: adding stop signs or mini-roundabouts at intersections; incorporating bicycle lanes; and constructing elevated pedestrian street crossings.

In January, officials discussed cutting the current zoning districts from 73 to 21.

The zones would be designated into eight categories. The proposed districts and its permitted uses include:

• Agricultural residential – Homes with at least 2 acres and farms

• Single-family residential: Attached – duplexes, triplexes and townhouses

• Neighborhood commercial – Neighborhood shopping/services

• Light industrial – Office parks.

Among the ideas officials tout are creating transit-oriented developments with businesses and apartments and condominiums near Metro stations.

With the exception of bringing the MGM Casino to National Harbor and housing the FBI headquarters in Greenbelt or Landover, rewriting the county’s zoning ordinance is a top priority, said county Councilwoman Deni Taveras (D-District 2) of Adelphi.

“In order to get things into control, we have to bring our codes up to date,” she said. “We have to consistently put in footnotes. That’s not how you do adequate zoning. We want to make these codes easier to understand and make it easier for people to do what they would like with their property.”

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