County re­vis­ing 50-year-old zon­ing or­di­nance

Looks to re­ceive ex­pert as­sis­tance from Clar­ion As­so­ciates on re­write

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

Fo­cus­ing on the county’s fu­ture by up­dat­ing its 50-year old zon­ing or­di­nance to help cre­ate more modern poli­cies, the Prince Ge­orge’s County Coun­cil hosted a joint town hall meet­ing with the Prince Ge­orge’s County Plan­ning Depart­ment on July 12 to in­form res­i­dents of a zon­ing or­di­nance and sub­di­vi­sion re­write.

The meet­ing, held at Eleanor Roo­sevelt High School in Green­belt, fea­tured pre­sen­ta­tions from plan­ning depart­ment of­fi­cials in­clud­ing Coun­ty­wide Plan­ning Divi­sion Chief Derick Ber­lage, Project Manger Chad Wil­liams and Project Com­mu­nity Out­reach Spe­cial­ist Brit­tney Drake­ford. Res­i­dents were also given an op­por­tu­nity to share their tes­ti­mony at the end.

“Up­dat­ing the county’s zon­ing poli­cies is among the most im­por­tant un­der­tak­ings of the coun­cil and its role as the county’s land use au­thor­ity,” Coun­cil Chair­man Der­rick L. Davis (D) said as he gave his in­tro­duc­tory re­marks. “It will en­hance the abil­ity of this

im­por­tant eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment tool to stim­u­late growth in our county.”

Ac­cord­ing to the coun­cil’s web­site, the Prince Ge­orge’s County Zon­ing Or­di­nance is part of the county code. It de­scribes the var­i­ous zones, lists the uses per­mit­ted in each zone, spec­i­fies den­si­ties and sets forth the pro­ce­dures to change the zones. The or­di­nance es­tab­lishes stan­dards for the lo­ca­tion of struc­tures, build­ing heights, set­back and other area re­quire­ments. Zon­ing cat­e­gories al­low res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial or in­dus­trial uses at vary­ing den­si­ties or in­ten­si­ties. Some of the more re­cently adopted zones per­mit a mix of com­pat­i­ble land uses which are sub­ject to cer­tain stan­dards.

The cur­rent code is sig­nif­i­cantly out­dated and overly com­plex with more than 1,200 pages, mak­ing the land-de­vel­op­ment process ex­pen­sive, time con­sum­ing and un­pre­dictable. Ad­di­tion­ally, the cur­rent code is not re­flec­tive of the vi­sion for fu­ture growth in the county. By up­dat­ing the zon­ing or­di­nance, plan­ning depart­ment of­fi­cials hope to cre­ate an in­tu­itive and modern set of de­vel­op­ment reg­u­la­tions that sup­port the county’s vi­sion for qual­ity growth and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment while im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life for res­i­dents, the plan­ning depart­ment’s web­site noted.

Since the county launched the Zon­ing Or­di­nance and Sub­di­vi­sion Reg­u­la­tions Re­write in 2014, Davis said the Mary­land-Na­tional Cap­i­tal Park and Plan­ning Com­mis­sion staff has been work­ing closely with the coun­cil mem­bers to stream­line the zon­ing code, some­thing the res­i­dents de­serve, he said.

“Re­view­ing and up­dat­ing this code is a sub­stan­tial project, con­ducted in part­ner­ship with the plan­ning depart­ment, the busi­ness com­mu­nity and most im­por­tantly, you, our cit­i­zens who elected the coun­cil to this task,” said Davis. “Mod­ern­iz­ing the code will pro­mote growth, sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties and eco­nomic vi­tal­ity in Prince Ge­orge’s County.”

The zon­ing or­di­nance up­date should have a pos­i­tive im­pact on all in­di­vid­u­als who live, work or play in Prince Ge­orge’s County. The re­write of the zon­ing code will en­cour­age more com­mu­nity in­put and stream­line pro­cesses. As a re­sult, this will lead to a more pre­dictable ex­pe­ri­ence for de­vel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to plan­ning depart­ment of­fi­cials.

“In Prince Ge­orge’s County, be­fore we zone land, we have to have a plan for ev­ery neigh­bor­hood and for ev­ery re­gion in the county to make sure that our zon­ing law is go­ing to get us the kind of de­vel­op­ment that we want to see,” Ber­lage said. “The most im­por­tant land use plan that we have is the [Plan Prince Ge­orge’s 2035].”

Plan 2035, adopted by the coun­cil two years ago, is the blue­print for where and how the county grows over the next 20 years. The plan es­tab­lishes goals, poli­cies, strate­gies and a new growth vi­sion that will help di­rect new de­vel­op­ment to ex­ist­ing tran­sit-ori­ented cen­ters, fo­cus pub­lic in­vest­ment on the county’s eco­nomic en­gines, cap­i­tal­ize on and main­tain its in­fra­struc­ture, strengthen its es­tab­lished com­mu­ni­ties and proac­tively pre­serve its nat­u­ral, his­toric and cul­tural re­sources. The plan iden­ti­fies up­dat­ing the zon­ing and sub­di­vi­sion or­di­nance as the num­ber one pri­or­ity, ac­cord­ing to the plan­ning depart­ment’s web­site.

“Ninety to 95 per­cent of what’s go­ing to be built un­der these plans will be built by the pri­vate sec­tor. So how do we get the pri­vate sec­tor to build what we want? That’s what zon­ing and sub­di­vi­sion are for,” Ber­lage said.

Be­cause the county’s cur­rent or­di­nance is an im­ped­i­ment to eco­nomic growth, Ber­lage said poli­cies need to be up­dated in or­der to cre­ate jobs and in­crease non­res­i­den­tial tax base.

“While we have very high in­comes in this county, what we don’t have is a large enough com­mer­cial tax base,” he said. “That’s why it’s so im­por­tant that we have a zon­ing or­di­nance that will at­tract good com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment to the places we want it.”

Ber­lage said the plan­ning depart­ment has cho­sen Clar­ion As­so­ciates as its con­sul­tant for ex­pert as­sis­tance in rewrit­ing the or­di­nance. The project goals in­clude hav­ing an or­di­nance ev­ery­one can un­der­stand; al­low­ing cit­i­zens to know what, when and how; pro­tect­ing the things the county doesn’t want to change; pro­vid­ing tools for de­vel­op­ment in growth ar­eas; and hav­ing qual­ity de­vel­op­ment that pro­tects the county’s en­vi­ron­men­tal and his­tor­i­cal re­sources and neigh­bor­hoods.

“We don’t want new de­vel­op­ment that hap­pens in the county to com­pro­mise the qual­ity of life of the neigh­bor­hood you live in,” Ber­lage said. “Clar­ion has rec­om­mended what they call neigh­bor­hood com­pat­i­bil­ity stan­dards. These stan­dards kick in any­time a de­vel­oper is propos­ing to build some­thing next to a sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hood ... other than an­other sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hood. So if it’s apart­ments or town­houses or of­fice de­vel­op­ment or a mixed-used de­vel­op­ment, these stan­dards au­to­mat­i­cally kick in. They gov­ern things like the dis­tance from the neigh­bor­hood, the height of the new con­struc­tion, noise stan­dards [and] land­scap­ing stan­dards. They put the pro­tec­tion of the neigh­bor­hood first.”

Clar­ion As­so­ciates also made other rec­om­men­da­tions which in­clude large re­tail de­vel­op­ment stan­dards, pro­tec­tion stan­dards for farm­land and open space, re- vised fence and wall stan­dards, re­vised sig­nage stan­dards, ac­cord­ing to Ber­lage’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

“Set­ting the min­i­mal level of qual­ity that we’re go­ing to im­pose on de­vel­op­ment is re­ally hard. It’s a bal­anc­ing test be­cause if we set the stan­dard too low, then de­vel­op­ers will build things that are not as nice as we other­wise could have got­ten and we don’t want that,” Ber­lage said. “But if we set the stan­dard too high, we get no de­vel­op­ment. … We’ve got to set it in the right sweet spot.”

For Mont­gomery County res­i­dent John Haver­mail, a con­struc­tion worker who has built in both coun­ties, he said the zon­ing re­write is a tremen­dous un­der­tak­ing but needs to be done.

“You’ve got tar­geted growth ar­eas but the tool­box that you want to use doesn’t have the right tools in it to al­low you to ac­com­plish this,” Haver­mail said.

“Clar­ion [As­so­ciates] and the zon­ing re­write team have done an ex­cep­tional job an­tic­i­pat­ing the need to re­vi­tal­ize spe­cific ar­eas where the uses no longer serve cit­i­zens of Prince Ge­orge’s County,” said Peter Gold­smith, a for­mer county project man­ager for NVR Inc., who is now an as­so­ciate with Li­nowes and Blocher LLP. “It will be im­por­tant to con­sider main­tain­ing flex­i­bil­ity in these zones where re­vi­tal­iza­tion will be crit­i­cal to the vi­tal­ity of com­mu­ni­ties.”

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