CHILLUM – Residents of the unincorporated areas of Northern Prince George’s County are feel their calls to the county have gone largely unanswered. County Councilwoman Deni Taveras, who started a new campaign to eliminate blight in her district and renew the community’s relationship with the county, hoped to solve some of those issues last week […]
CHILLUM – Residents of the unincorporated areas of Northern Prince George’s County are feel their calls to the county have gone largely unanswered.
County Councilwoman Deni Taveras, who started a new campaign to eliminate blight in her district and renew the community’s relationship with the county, hoped to solve some of those issues last week by bringing the county office to the people.
Taveras held a meeting at the Rollingcrest-Chillum Community Center on Jan. 18 where she invited the community to interact with the county department of permitting, inspection and enforcement (DPIE) and learn from representatives of the county 311 call center.
“This is part of my initiative to advance community and economic development in District 2. The priorities I heard from residents and what I can focus on in my office, this is what we’ve been working on: connecting communities, building relationships across county agencies, businesses, non-profits, churches, residents to facilitate collaborative revitalization effort,” Taveras said.
The community showed out in force for the meeting, filling the gym at the community center while bringing a long list of concerns.
Some complained about noise, others the litter and dumping in their community. A large number came to complain about parking violations, houses with a large number of cars, and houses they think are being used to house multiple families without proper permits.
To help with those matters, Gary Cunningham, the deputy director for DPIE, gave an overview of how his office works and what the actual regulations in the county are.
Cunningham went over several repeated complaints he has heard from residents in the area and what is and is not allowed according to his office and county code.
For example, Cunningham detailed what types of commercial vehicles can be parked in residential zones, noting that typically, “church vans” and similar-sized vehicles are not a code violation. He also emphasized that residents can do some maintenance on their vehicles on their property, such as an oil change, but cannot run a maintenance business out of their home.
As far as rentals are concerned, Cunningham said in order to rent a house or basement out, residents must have a permit and those permits can be checked if a violation is suspected – especially in cases when a house is illegally partitioned.
Cunningham also touched on why some residents may see delays in their requests and why some cases take a while to be resolved. DPIE is in charge of the permitting and inspecting every building in the county. That includes 296,000 properties, 20,000 condo units, 10,000 single-family home rentals and 35,000 apartment complexes.
“Obviously it’s a very big task and I can’t do it with the staff I have,” he said, noting that the size of the staff dedicated to the task has not grown since 1960.
Cunningham also said the way county code is written makes it difficult to crack down on illegal rentals because it states that no more than five unrelated people can reside in a single home, but the county must prove the tenants are not related.
“We must be able to say that these five people are unrelated. The problem is I can’t demand anybody’s birth certificate. I can’t force them to tell me who’s related or to take a blood test,” he said.
Follow-ups on cases have also been an ongoing issue for DPIE, but Cunningham believes those issues will soon be in the past thanks in part to a new records management system through the 311 program that the department is now able to use in partnership with county police.
“We were able to get a module that we now use as our records management system. So now we can track the cases from the time they come in to the time they are assigned to the inspector, the time the inspector does his initial inspection, what has actually taken place, whether or not it is going before the board and what been done with it,” he said.
With the new DPIE-specific program, residents can receive a reference number for their complaints to check up on the progress. The 311 system, which is now four years old, also allows for numerous ways to report concerns, said Jennifer Hawkins, the call center’s senior manager.
Residents can use the call-in service, the online service or even download a phone application to take pictures and geo-locate the complaint.
“You have an easy to remember number, 311, where you can just give our call center a call and (have) whatever service you need assistance with submitted to the appropriate agency,” Hawkins said.
Despite issues, Taveras said she has seen a lot of progress in District 2 over the past few years. She highlighted the completed and approved Prince George’s Plaza Transit District Development Plan, growing economic centers such as those proposed at both Hyattsville Metro stations and her newly launched Pride program, which has facilitated trash collection and volunteer opportunities.
Still, she said, the district has a long way to go in fighting blight and bringing the unincorporated communities together, and she hopes meetings such as the one with DPIE and 311 will go a long way toward rebuilding the community’s relationship with the county.
“We have to consciously come together across race. We have to come together across ethnicity, language and national origin. We have to build bridges between the long-time residents and the ‘newcomers,’” Taveras said. “We need to continue to come together as residents, as community leaders, as county agencies and representatives, to ensure we maintain and improve our quality of life. We all deserve to have safe, clean and attractive neighborhoods.”
To that regard, Taveras announced she will schedule quarterly meetings between DPIE and the District 2 residents.