With solid steps, one of Prince George’s County’s most ambitious endeavors to update the more than 50-year-old zoning laws steadily moves toward reality.
The County Council, which sits as District Council when reviewing land use and zoning matters, and the county’s planning board, will hold two public hearings Sept. 13 and 14.
The council must approve a “countywide map amendment” to formally incorporate new zoning districts which could happen as soon as November.
“This is sort of the big last step,” said Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition of Smarter Growth based in Northwest, who supports the new zoning code. “This is more of a technical exercise. The process is now to identify any mistakes and errors that are found and get them corrected.”
County officials began the zoning rewrite in 2014 and approved a new ordinance in October 2018 to make the obsolete language easier to understand, eliminate dozens of zoning districts and make the process much smoother.
The zoning process continued in 2019 that included which of the new zoning districts would replace the old ones.
For instance, the zones decreased from 73 to 43. In addition, consolidated the uses from 1,200 to 250.
Eight previous designations for commercial properties are now combined into one as “commercial, general and office.”
The zoning area at the University of Maryland Capital Region Medical Center in Largo will be labeled “regional transit-oriented, high intensity.” The $534 million hospital built near the Largo Town Center Metro station opened in June.
Council prepared to hold public meetings in March 2020 for formal approval of the zoning map, but COVID-19 struck.
Another public meeting got canceled eight months later in November, which triggered county leaders to seek state approval to an exception to the ethics law that prohibits council members to vote on proposed zoning plans if they received any campaign contributions from a property owner.
In April, state lawmakers approved the exemption that would allow Prince George’s council members to vote on the countywide map. A landowner must submit a business entity affidavit to the county and check “yes” or “no” whether it made a direct or indirect “payment/contribution” to a member’s treasurer or political action committee “during the 36 months before an application was filed or during the pendency of the application.”
According to the legislation, it would dissolve by December 2022.
Those who opposed the state bill such as Greg Smith said it would allow developers to “intensify,” or upgrade a piece of property to allow for more density. In addition, he said a landowner could sidestep more intense public review on a zoning proposal.
“A developer can walk in the room on the day of a hearing and ask the District Council at the hearing to rezone their land, or even after the hearing,” said Smith, who is on the boards of Sustainable Hyattsville and Community Outreach. “There’s nothing that says the developer can’t within 15 days of the hearing, or current close of the record, apply to have land rezoned as long as [he/she] files an ethics affidavit.”
A record of a public hearing between the county’s District Council and planning board would remain open for 15 days, according to the county’s zoning ordinance.
Cort admits a property owner may seek to upgrade zoning on a piece of property, but “that is explicitly prohibited under the state law….”
A portion of the law reads: “Except on a demonstration of error in the public record after a public hearing, the Prince George’s County Planning Board may not recommend, and the District Council may not approve, any request made by or on behalf of any person for zone intensification that differs substantially from the applicable zoning category or classification…”
For more information on the county’s zoning and to speak during public hearings, go to https://bit.ly/2XS7xZq.

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Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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