GREENBELT – Although they didn’t speak in rhyme, Greenbelt residents definitely channeled Dr. Suess’ “The Lorax” character in speaking for the trees in their city. Several residents testified before the Prince George’s County Council during that body’s zoning rewrite town hall meeting to indicate their opposition to a proposed 25-story luxury apartment building near the […]
GREENBELT – Although they didn’t speak in rhyme, Greenbelt residents definitely channeled Dr. Suess’ “The Lorax” character in speaking for the trees in their city.
Several residents testified before the Prince George’s County Council during that body’s zoning rewrite town hall meeting to indicate their opposition to a proposed 25-story luxury apartment building near the Greenbelt Metro station. They expressed concerns with the proposal, and also their fears that the rewrite could be used to circumvent normal rezoning processes.
Brian Almquist of the Greenbelt Advocates for Environmental and Social Justice explained that the Greenbelt City Council had had a work session on April 4 with David Hillman of Southern Management, owner of Lakeside North, about an idea Hillman had to build a luxury high rise apartment building on an adjacent parcel also owned by Hillman. The parcel is currently densely wooded, and some community members stand opposed to this loss of trees.
Sue Stern held a “Keep it Wooded” sign throughout the meeting, and used it to punctuate her testimony.
“Please maintain the historic protection of the wooded area surrounding Greenbelt as the Metro area is developed,” she said.
Paul Downs had the same message.
“What I value in historical, old Greenbelt is its sense of continuity, that things were decided a long time ago, and we like it. And this 25-story luxury high rise would take down the elder trees of our green space. I cannot imagine anything more contrary to what Greenbelt is about, and our history and who we are,” he said.
Almquist said residents had come to the town hall meeting because they were concerned that given the timing, the developer might try to use the zoning rewrite to rezone the wooded parcel to allow for the high rise to be built.
“We fear, in the example, that Southern Management may be seeking to bypass the normal rezoning process altogether by obtaining special treatment, perhaps under the ongoing zoning ordinance rewrite,” he said.
He said he wanted reassurances that the zoning rewrite process would not be used to rezone individual properties. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning staff has repeatedly maintained it will not.
But Derick Berlage, chief of the countywide planning division, said some county parcels would, in fact, be rezoned. While for most of the county, the rezoning is only technical – meaning the name of the zone will change but the permitted uses will remain the same – certain parts of the county would see actual rezoning after the new ordinance introduces new zones that do not currently exist.
“There will be some rezoning that will be necessary. About 10 percent of the county – and it’s mostly around transit stations, mixed use areas and commercial areas – the county council will need to decide which of the new zones to apply, and that will be a rezoning,” he said.
The council is projected to address these rezonings in October 2017, Berlage said.
Councilman Todd Turner, who represents Greenbelt, acknowledged the information was potentially different from what he and others had heard before.
Turner did say, however, that the scope of the proposed development would mean it would have to go through the typical zone rewrite process, which includes public outreach, citizen comments and more transparency.
“I would still believe it’s in the best interest to go through that process which is part of our current code right now,” he said. “Based on the conversations that I’ve had, I’d say that’s such a project we’d have to go through our normal zoning process.
“I think, from what I understand, (the developer’s) interest is depending on what happens with the Greenbelt Metro and if the FBI goes there. I think the whole thing is more speculative at this point.”
Greenbelt Mayor Emmett Jordan also stressed that the proposal is still in the earliest stages. It was only discussed with the city council during one briefing.
“I don’t think I want to get pulled into a conflict more than it already is,” he said. “People come with ideas about different things and it’s (the) council’s job to listen. We try to be able to talk and dialogue. I don’t want to be in a position to reject ideas before they’re fully formed.”
Jordan said even if this particular project, at 25 stories, might be “a non-starter,” he believes the Metro station area does need to be developed as the city and the region grows.
“It’s a dead zone there,” he said.
Citizens like Almquist and the others should be commended for their passion, Jordan acknowledged.
And the citizens say they are not done fighting for the forest. Almquist asked Berlage and the other staffers at the town hall about the possibility of putting a neighborhood conservation overlay on historic Greenbelt as another way to help maintain the character and features of the community.
“That’s an excellent suggestion. We’re working toward seeing that that happens,” Berlage said.