UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County’s environment is losing one of its strongest advocates with the departure of Commissioner John Shoaff from the planning board. Shoaff was appointed to the board in 2011 and re-appointed in 2014 and is known for his environmental focus. “We have been so very, very fortunate to have him on […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County’s environment is losing one of its strongest advocates with the departure of Commissioner John Shoaff from the planning board.
Shoaff was appointed to the board in 2011 and re-appointed in 2014 and is known for his environmental focus.
“We have been so very, very fortunate to have him on the planning board,” said Chair Elizabeth Hewlett. “Each of us has different expertise that we bring to the table, and Commissioner Shoaff’s expertise has been absolutely invaluable. He has pushed us to work harder to pursue more environmental, more sustainable development.”
Shoaff is leaving the board because he is moving out of the county to take on a new role at his day job with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Previously chief of the liaison branch of the EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics Environmental Assistance Division, Shoaff will become the leader of the policy support group for the EPA’s air quality program.
“This is a tremendously difficult decision and thing that I’m doing in terms of moving,” Shoaff told the board. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity to serve alongside you and call you colleagues and friends. I think it goes to the tone you (Hewlett) set with this board. It’s really kind of a family.”
Shoaff has a juris doctorate from the University of Maryland School of Law and a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Notre Dame. Before his appointment to the planning board, he worked on air quality issues in California and on development issues in his neighborhood of University Park, serving as a member of the East Campus Redevelopment Community Review Steering Committee. He also worked on getting traffic calming measures instituted for the safety of fellow residents.
His board colleagues agreed that they consider Shoaff a friend who will be dearly missed.
“It’s definitely bittersweet because not only are we commission colleagues but I’d like to think we’ve developed a very nice friendship as well,” said Commissioner A. Shaunise Washington.
Hewlett said she appreciated Shoaff’s humor.
“This man is so quick-witted. He is so funny. He’s got the one-liners like that. It’s just hilarious,” she said.
But the board and the county staff they work with also said they admire Shoaff for his knowledge and experience in environmental matters.
Vice Chair Dorothy Bailey said, “I really respect your knowledge. Every time there’s an environmental issue I look down waiting for you to ask the question that I can’t even think of.”
Shoaff’s diligence in pursuing environmentally-friendly development has influenced the entire planning department to follow suit, according to Director Fern Piret.
“To some extent, Commissioner Shoaff’s tenure has been a little bit of a challenge to the department. You certainly have all of us on our toes now,” she said. “Our environmental section has tuned up a little more than it was before your tenure, and that’s a good thing. We’re a little more aware of the recommendations that we make.”
Piret herself also retired from the planning department this month after 27 years as director and 40 years of total service to the county.
“She has been an icon in this county,” Hewlett said of Piret. “We have a much better, much more diverse community thanks to her expertise, thanks to her willingness to go the extra mile.”
Staff said the knowledge gained during Shoaff’s tenure will have equal longevity. Ronnie Gathers, director of the department of parks and recreation, said Shoaff’s work on the audit committee has led the department to change some aspects of how it operates.
“You’ve done it from a position of giving words of improvement in terms of how we can do our business better,” he said. “You will be truly missed as a commissioner. I thought you brought a very elevated level of support and oversight.”
Hewlett said Shoaff’s presence and questioning has resulted in the county’s development projects meeting higher environmental standards.
“His questioning has caused some of our applicants to say ‘you know, I can do that. I can do better,’” she said. “Some of that takes place right here at the podium and some of that has taken place between the applicants and their team because they have seen prior examples of Commissioner Shoaff exacting the highest quality of environmental development that is possible Prince George’s County.”
Commissioner Manuel Geraldo said Shoaff also advocated for changes to the development process county-wide to make it more inclusive of community participation.
Shoaff said during his time on the board, he tried to look at a plan from all sides when making a decision.
“I’ve been trying to stand in the shoes of a neighbor or homebuyer or a developer on what they’re bringing to the county and trying to objectively review that as much as possible and try to bring the best that we can bring,” he said.
Planning Board members are appointed by the county executive and approved by the county council, so the earliest Shoaff’s replacement could take the position would be September after the council returns from recess.