Officials discuss Joint Base Andrews zoning changes
Plan looks to find balance in base operations, protect surrounding community
The Prince George’s County Council and planning department board held a joint public hearing Tuesday at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro on the proposed Military Installation Overlay Zoning Map Amendment (MIOZMA) pursuant to Part 10C of the county’s zoning ordinance.
The Military Installation Overlay Zone (MIOZ) was created in November of last year, after the county’s zoning ordinance was amended via Council Bill 42-2105, to address regulations concerning the use and development of land within three overlapping geographies — height limit, noise contours and safety zones — in the vicinity of Joint Base Andrews, according to the planning department’s website.
In a recent technical report, Planning Board Chairwoman Elizabeth M. Hewlett noted in her foreword that the proposed MIOZMA will apply the MIOZ to the approximately 38-square-mile section of the county most impacted by flight operations at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility. It will not only reclas- sify several properties in the Forestville area to new underlying zoning classifications that increase their ability to be developed under this overlay zone, but will also amend the Marlboro Pike and Southern Green Line Development District Overlay Zones to ensure compatibility between these overlay zones, Hewlett said.
“It simply is a zone that provides use restrictions, development regulations, site plan provisions and permitting requirements in a geographical area,” said Planning Department Project Manager John Wooden. “The boundaries of that area, which will be impacted by the zone, are fixed dimensions on the zoning map. It includes boundaries of an area called the safety zones, it includes an area of noise contours and it has a number of height-surface areas that proposes height limits in the vicinity of [JBA].”
After all the development that has been allowed, the MIOZMA is being proposed now because the risks of air operations have been obvious to
area residents since JBA opened in 1943. This legislation will help minimize future encroachments as the Base Realignment and Closure Commission has sought to close bases, or at the least, relocate critical operations to bases where encroachments are kept at a minimum. If this were to occur at Joint Base Andrews, it could have significant impacts on national security and to the county’s economy, according to the planning department’s website.
Wooden said safety zones are major concern, especially with there being an airport in central Prince George’s County.
The safety zones are areas of the highest risk for an aircraft accident. Aircraft may crash into each other with potential debris impact on the ground, they may crash into occupied or unoccupied buildings or they may crash into the ground. These areas include Accident Potential Zones (APZ) 1 and 2 and the clear zone, the area extending 3,000 feet from the end of each runway, according to a MIOZ technical report.
“Roughly 50 percent of accidents on military installations would occur between the runway and the first 3,000 feet of the runway,” Wooden said.
Wooden said another concern is noise contours where flight operations at JBA can reach or exceed 74 decibels.
“There are a number of uses that should not be placed in an area,” he said.
According to the report, highnoise areas represent about 0.35 percent of the total land area in the county outside of JBA. Uses are prohibited on vulnerable populations including child day care centers, schools, playgrounds, before- and after-school recreational programs, community swimming pools, outdoor play areas and all other active outdoor recreational uses.
Height-surface areas, which represent about 6.61 percent of the county’s total land area, include developable air space where buildings, structures, and man-made landforms may be constructed and into which vegetation like trees may grow. Anything that penetrates the imaginary surfaces interferes with and presents a safety risk to flight operations, the report noted.
Plus, many zones and uses within the MIOZ have no height restrictions including most uses in commercial and industrial zones. As the telecommunications industry evolves, towers are being constructed at much higher heights than originally envisioned by the county’s zoning ordinance. The current height limits for communications towers or poles are not appropriate, as they are now, in areas close to JBA. Landfill and recycling operations can also create man-made mountains that protrude into the height surfaces, especially in industrial locations east and southeast of the base, according to the report.
By comprehensively identifying the maximum height to which structures or landfill may grow, the MIOZ creates a safety net that accounts for properties where the use may change and where the existing zoning regulations did not account for height, Wooden said.
“It should be noted that most structures will be regulated by the maximum height permitted in your underlying zone,” he said.
The proposed MIOZMA, according to the report, is an exercise of the district council’s authority to protect the public health, safety, and welfare through its zoning powers. It is not intended to facilitate rezoning of property; rather, the MIOZMA is intended to reclassify the zoning of properties within a clearly defined impact area, as well as to ensure that the zoning of property does not inadvertently or expressly encourage or require development that is incompatible with air operations at Joint Base Andrews.
JBA 11th Mission Support Group Commander Col. William Kale testified in support of the proposed MIOZMA before the council and the planning board.
“For more than 70 years, Andrews Air Force Base, now Joint Base Andrews, has supported our country’s military mission here in Prince George’s County. We value our relationship with Prince George’s County and are committed to the county’s success,” Kale said.
Since 2009, JBA participated as an ex-officio member in the joint land use study implementation committee. Kale said the committee which developed the MIOZ legislation has remained committed to three important objectives — the viability of JBA’s future missions, the strategic importance of the base’s national security and the health, safety and welfare of both citizens and airmen who operate on and around JBA.
“The [MIOZ] legislation and the [proposed] map amendment balances these objectives and represents a significant compromise by the Air Force and stakeholders here in Prince George’s County,” Kale said. “Joint Base Andrews averages approximately 25 in-flight emergencies a year. All of these have potential for a crash with catastrophic effects.”
For Kale, he said implementing the MIOZMA will effectively strengthen the air field’s safety zones, restrict incompatible land uses, reduce exposure to safety hazards and protect the health, safety and welfare of over 600 properties located in the clear zones and APZ 1.
For civilian and local resident John Cooper, he is not so supportive of the new legislation. He requested intensifying the zone classification to either I-1 or C-M for his property which he said has been “severely impacted in a negative way.”
“I’ve been trying to sell the property for years. I need to get out,” Cooper said. “The property is pretty much unsellable right now and there’s no bank that will touch it because of the overlay zone and the zoning.”
Cooper said he’s owned the property for more than 50 years, but he’s having a hard time recovering from the negative impact JBA has brought on it.
“It is severely impacting my family, it’s devastating me financially, it’s impacting my health,” he said. “I’m begging for help. I haven’t had any relief. I need someone to help me.”
Although the district council ratified the MIOZ last year, it cannot be applied to properties in the impact area until the MIOZMA is approved. The planning board expects an approval sometime in October 2016.