OXON HILL—As the county prepares to rewrite its zoning ordinance code, county officials are opening their ears to Prince George’s County community members in order to make the code more user-friendly and productive. “It is important for the county to take a 50-year-old zoning ordinance and bring it to the 21st century,” said Chad Williams, […]
OXON HILL—As the county prepares to rewrite its zoning ordinance code, county officials are opening their ears to Prince George’s County community members in order to make the code more user-friendly and productive.
“It is important for the county to take a 50-year-old zoning ordinance and bring it to the 21st century,” said Chad Williams, project manager for the planning board. “We’re going to take things from some of the best zoning practices from around the country and put it into the zoning ordinance. Some of this will be very different to us, and we want your input.”
According to Craig Richardson, director of Clarion Associates, a consultant hired by planning board to assist with the rewrite, the zoning code is not as user-friendly as it should be and is too far out of.
Richardson said the most essential part of the process is evaluating the code and making recommendations for it, and the citizen’s input will be essential in aiding Clarion through the process of making recommendations.
“When you don’t go through a comprehensive update in 50 years, this is what happens. It is probably more than we typically see,” Richardson said. “This is a big undertaking. It’s a three-year process and we are at the end of the first year of the process. It’s big.”
Clarion has met with focus groups and home ownership groups throughout the process of creating their recommendation report, Richardson said, and decided they needed to focus on four factors: making regulations more user friendly; implementing key goals and policies that fit Plan Prince George’s 2035; simplifying and consolidating zones; and modernizing the zoning regulations.
According Don Elliot, associate director of Clarion Associates, even after the zoning code is implemented the planning board will be more disciplined about getting notices out and listening to citizen input when zoning changes are about to be applied into a community.
“One thing we may do is require neighborhood meetings before any change is implemented,” Elliot said. “It’s increasingly becoming a requirement and it is important that you have that feedback from the community. A lot of the frustration early on has come from a failure to communicate things.”
Ronald Williams, a Prince George’s County resident working for the Washington, D.C. Department of General Services, agreed with Elliot and said it has been frustrating finding out things about his community after they happen. Having a discussion beforehand is important, he said.
“We deal with public schools and government buildings (at the Department of General Services) and the part that you have about the pre-conferences is very important,” Williams said. “It will expedite the time and the projects when going through the zoning process.”
Williams also shared concerns about what would happen to homes during the rezoning process. There will be significant changes to the zoning layout with the simplification of the ordinance and the zones within it, Williams said, so single family homes may be impacted.
Elliot said though there will be significant simplification around the county, the single family home zones are not scheduled for much of a makeover, if at all.
“If you live in a house on a lot in Prince George’s County, I want you to come to every meeting. You should be paying attention but you should not be losing sleep for it, because no one has told us to change those lots,” Elliot said.
Leonard Gore, Jr., Suitland resident and member of the Southern Green Line Coalition, a group dedicated to developing the communities along the southern portion of the green line metro rail, said he is concerned the planning board and the code is focusing on Prince George’s Plan 2035 instead of focusing on things that needed to be done “yesterday.”
“This is all well and good, but as a citizen of Prince George’s County, 2035 is 20 years away. There is a lot that has to be done yesterday and like five years ago,” Gore said. “We have a lot of businesses that are pretty much struggling. Businesses that are not thriving and that are really worn out and old and tired. So the question is how does this zoning help with what we have now?”
Gore said the county has approved the development of a lot of liquor stores and pawn shops in the areas around the green line metro rail, but he does not want businesses that are not thriving there anymore.
“In areas that are already developed and areas that need to be revitalized, one of the things we are going to do is this. Let’s remove the obstacles in the zoning ordinance today to the type of redevelopment you want to see,” Richardson said. “You talked about what you did not want to see, but there are plenty of things you would like to see. We’re going to try to make a new code that helps solve the problem.”
The zoning is not going to totally eliminate the problem Gore highlighted, Richardson said, but it could go a long way in changing the surrounding environment. The private market has to react and respond to these areas when they feel there is efficient capital in them.
Gore said some of the old buildings need to be torn down, but Elliot said the zoning code cannot demand that the District Council commit money to making that happen. But, Elliot said, they will do their best with zoning to create opportunities for the private market to invest in different areas.
“We can’t make those things go away, but what we can do is open the zoning up for developers and investors to look into that opportunity,” Elliot said.