GREENBELT – Going from 1,000 printed pages to real-time, interactive voting technology, Prince George’s County is updating not just its zoning ordinance, but the way residents interact with it, especially during the rewrite process. The county council joined with the Prince George’s County Planning Department at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt to present a […]
GREENBELT – Going from 1,000 printed pages to real-time, interactive voting technology, Prince George’s County is updating not just its zoning ordinance, but the way residents interact with it, especially during the rewrite process.
The county council joined with the Prince George’s County Planning Department at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt to present a town hall meeting on July 12 in an effort to educate residents about the proposed ordinance and the rewrite process, as well as get their input on the regulations before they are finalized.
“For this process to work, we will need your candid feedback along the way, specifically about the changes that have been proposed in each module. We need your insight on what works well, what needs to be changed, and what requires elimination,” said Council Chair Derrick Davis.
Before the public comment period, planning department staff, led by Chief of the Countywide Planning Division Derick Berlage, briefly explained why the ordinance is being redone and some of the proposed changes.
The overall goal is to create an ordinance that is easier for the public to understand, easier for developers to navigate, and is more in-line with the county’s 21st century priorities, Berlage said. The ordinance will go from more than 1,000 pages long with 74 zones to about 40 zones, and will feature graphics and images for increased comprehensibility.
The planning department has contracted with Clarion Associates to design the ordinance, and Berlage said they have developed a set of five goals for the new zoning rules to meet, including ease of understanding, protecting community and natural resources, providing tools for development and ensuring the development coming to the county is quality development.
“You, and we and the county council, should measure the work product from that consultant, decide whether it is right for us or not, based on whether or not the consultant addresses all five goals,” he said.
One of the new tools proposed by Clarion is the Neighborhood Compatibility Standards, which would apply when a developer proposes building something next to a single-family residential neighborhood that isn’t another such neighborhood. It would regulate distance from the neighborhood, building heights, noise standards and other factors.
“The new zoning ordinance also needs to protect things that shouldn’t change, like your neighborhood. We don’t want new development that happens in the county to compromise the quality of life in the neighborhood you live in,” Berlage said.
During their testimony, residents cited those standards as one of the positives about the ordinance drafts.
Abby Kiesa, a homeowner in Riverdale for seven years, said the requirement for the developer to do community outreach makes sense.
“That would have reduced a lot of friction in Riverdale had developers started to do that. So if that can happen that would be amazing,” she said.
Other residents presented their ideas for tweaks or additions to the new ordinance.
Bill Orleans of Greenbelt said he felt the transit-oriented development in New Carrollton is not transit-oriented enough, with its single-pad sites.
“I would like to think that, at least after this ordinance is adopted, as we envision more usefully-developed transit-oriented development near our Metro stations, that we would discourage the building of individual buildings on its own pad site with all that parking and instead see that we have continuous buildings where the parking is necessary underground,” he said.
Andrea Hawvermale, a Montgomery County resident who works with various community associations in Prince George’s, said parking is a problem in many areas with high-density apartment buildings, like College Park, and worried the new ordinance’s restrictions on impervious surfaces would worsen the issue.
“There are certain areas of the county that already, the percentage of impervious surface – or let’s just call it parking for right now – for all the high-rises is already too low in some areas. There’s just way too many people getting creative and parking in the neighborhoods,” she said. “It concerns me that there’s a blanket percentage that’s going to be lowered throughout the county.”
Several residents also expressed their interest in raising chickens and in home beekeeping and explained how the current zoning ordinance restricts their ability to pursue these hobbies.
“The current standard limits beekeeping to agricultural zones,” said Jeff Forbes, president of Bowie/Upper Marlboro Beekeepers Association (BUMBA). “Few BUMBA members have such a large amount of land. The proposed land use regulations would continue to prohibit beekeeping in residential zones. This proposed prohibition runs counter to the current practice on reducing restrictions and encouraging beekeeping.”
He said beekeeping is helpful for both food crops and backyard gardens and serves an important environmental role, especially given the massive declines in honeybee populations across the United States. Forbes said neighboring jurisdictions have no zoning restrictions on apiarists.
“Honeybees can be good neighbors in residential areas. BUMBA strongly encourages Prince George’s County to adopt Montgomery County’s model,” he said.
Council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros said she had recently begun hearing about this issue from her constituents as well.
“We have a bunch of beekeepers throughout my district. I was a little surprised to hear that beekeeping today is limited,” she said.
Chad Williams, project manager in the Countywide Planning Division, explained that revisions to certain agriculture definitions had the side effect of severely limiting areas where bees can be kept, restricting them to lower-density zones in rural areas.
He and Berlage said the issue is on their radar as well.
“We’ve heard that message and we will definitely go back to the consultants to find out what the other options are,” Berlage said.