Prince George’s zoning code rewrite could make the county greener and less car-dependent

Prince George’s County is in the process of rewriting its zoning ordinance to improve how land in the county can be developed, and the changes could mean a less car-dependent and more environmentally-friendly future for the county.

The current zoning ordinance is more than 50 years old (older than the Metrorail and the old Capital Centre). For years, citizen activists, community groups, land developers, business owners, planning staff, and elected officials have agreed that it does not effectively guide the type of growth and development that the county envisions and deserves.

After years of work, officials are rewriting the code in hopes of creating regulations that are logical, intuitive, more environmentally-minded, and that help streamline the development process and boost community participation. Their proposed ordinance is now online.

Parts of Prince George’s County, such as Edmonston, have a rural vibe.  Image by Payton Chung licensed under Creative Commons.

The rewrite proposes major changes that boost environmentally-friendly building and slash parking

Many of the changes to the zoning code would be significant, and could take the county in a positive new direction. Here are a few key changes:

Green building standards: The proposed ordinance would require that developments of at ten dwelling units or more (or 10,000 square feet) would include a minimum level of environmentally-friendly building features.

For flexibility, developers can choose the types of green building improvements to include in their development from a menu of features. These include alternative energy such as solar panels, water conservation elements like rain barrels and low impact low-flow plumbing fixtures, and even urban agriculture features such as on-site composting or community garden space.

Reduced parking minimums: Another improvement from the current code is updated parking minimums. The current code’s parking minimums reflect an older practice of assuming everyone arrives to their destination by automobile, and that the best way to manage parking demand is to provide an oversupply of parking spaces.

The proposed ordinance recognizes that transportation modes are different throughout the county, and now there are fewer required parking spaces for developments in denser neighborhoods within the beltway.

For some projects that are adjacent to Metrorail stations, there are no required parking minimums, meaning the developer is able to choose the amount of parking that works best for the proposed development.

Pre-application neighborhood meetings: This would require developers of large projects to meet with members of the public and inform them of their development plans even before an application is submitted to the Planning Department.

This would not only give the public more information about potential development up front, but would also give the developer an opportunity to address concerns from the public before development plans are finalized.

US 1 and Knox Rd intersection in College Park, PG County. Image by thisisbossi licensed under Creative Commons.

Here’s why the current zoning rules don’t fit Prince George’s County of 2017

Prince George’s zoning code was initially designed for managing rural and suburban development, but today the county has diversified to include dense urban neighborhoods, suburban subdivisions, and rural areas.

In the past several decades, piecemeal updates and amendments to the code have been made to address specific issues or specific areas. The result is a 1,200-page, overly complex code with varying processes, inconsistent standards, regulations within regulations, and a non-intuitive structure.

This complexity is discouraging and time-consuming to navigate. It’s unnecessarily hard for the public to get a sense of the rules for development, for new and potential investors to understand how to build in the county, and for professionals to review projects and design to the code.

Zoning impacts everyone, even on the most local level. Because of this, the Planning Department has spent the past three years holding events, speaking with the community groups and elected officials, reviewing best practices, and refining regulations to draft a proposed ordinance. They hope to encourage the building of walkable communities, to leverage existing resources effectively, and to engage with the public.

The proposed ordinance is still a draft and has not yet been adopted by the County Council, nor endorsed by the Prince George’s County Planning Board. Both the Council and the Prince George’s County Planning Department are soliciting comments and suggestions from the public until mid-December.

If you’d like to weigh in on the changes, you can add your comments directly on the project website, or you can contact your county councilmember. You can also find out more at one of the upcoming Countywide Listening Sessions on October 24th, 25th, or 26th.

 

As featured in Greater Greater Washington 

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