Friday, March 21, 2014

Prince George’s Lawmakers Urged to Fix General Plan

Photo by MDGovpics on Flickr
(Updated March 29, 2014)

County planners have been working over the past year to revamp Prince George’s countywide comprehensive plan for future growth, known as Plan Prince George’s 2035 (“Plan 2035”). Since they released the preliminary plan draft last September, planners have received an earful—and a filing cabinet full—of public comments from concerned county citizens, who believe the plan is too encumbered by sprawl and gives scant attention to long-ignored, yet transit-rich, inner-Beltway communities. Now that the plan is before the County Council for review, calls to remedy several identified flaws in the plan are growing even louder.

Calls Increase to Fix Plan 2035 (#FixPlan2035)

Over the past several weeks, over 100 county residents have signed a petition urging county leaders to revise the plan to focus more on smart growth, transit-oriented development, and neighborhood revitalization inside the Beltway, and to turn away from the county’s traditional path of embracing massive suburban sprawl development far away from transit.

A number of state and local public officials have lent their support to the petition effort, including State Senator Joanne C. Benson, Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene W. Grant, Capitol Heights Mayor Kito James, and Forest Heights Mayor Jacqueline Goodall. They were joined by several county civic leaders, including Douglas Edwards and Arthur Turner of the Coalition of Central Prince George’s County Civic Associations; William Cavitt of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council; and Mike Hethmon of the Friends of Croom. Additionally, citizens from all nine of the county’s council districts have thrown their support behind the petition.

Despite the broad range of public support for reforms, the county Planning Board turned a blind eye toward the petition, failing to acknowledge its existence and not entertaining any discussion on its merits. On March 6, the board adopted and forwarded a revised version of Plan 2035 to the County Council for consideration and possible further amendment.

On March 20, as a follow-up to the petition effort, petition organizer Bradley Heard, a Capitol Heights lawyer and smart growth advocate, filed a 15-page set of proposed amendments with the County Council, urging lawmakers to revise the plan in line with the petitioners’ requests. Broadly speaking, the proposed amendments seek to do the following:
  • Revise the county’s growth policy map so that it syncs more closely with guidance provided by the Maryland Department of Planning and incorporates the targeted growth and revitalization areas previously recognized by the county and state as Sustainable Communities, Enterprise Zones, and Targeted Areas;
  • Develop a “Strategic Investment Policy” that details how the county will prioritize its infrastructure investments to catalyze development around regional and local transit centers (including assigning a high priority to Prince George’s Plaza Metro, New Carrollton Metro, and Largo Town Center Metro, where the county wants to establish “Downtowns”);
  • Simplify and clarify the descriptions of the different types of transit centers existing in the county (e.g., “Regional,” “Local,” and “Neighborhood”) and provide growth and density targets for each; and
  • Encourage mix-used transit-oriented development at all Metro, MARC, and future light rail stations, not just the 8 stations identified as “Regional” centers, and ensure that all stations are planned and zoned for densities that are supportive of rail transit.

The council will be reviewing Plan 2035 with county planners during informal, unrecorded "work sessions" that occur during the middle of the business day. While these sessions are technically open to the public, few citizens are actually aware of or able to attend and participate in these sessions. Petition organizers have urged the council to hold evening and weekend sessions to allow for greater public participation.

Under the current schedule, the council must either act to reject or accept the plan (with or without amendments) by May 6.

How would the proposed amendments improve Plan 2035?

Here’s a quick example of how the proposed amendments would address some of the more schizophrenic and unhelpful elements of the adopted version of Plan 2035. The plan's revised Land Use section has a subheading that states, “Too Many Centers Undermine Economic Growth.” Planners base that claim on the current low projections for future transit-oriented growth that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) has predicted for Prince George’s County, based on the county's current non-transit-oriented growth trajectory. Plan 2035 acknowledges that there is “robust regional demand for transit-accessible development”; but since MWCOG thinks so little of it will come to the county, the plan concludes that we should only plan to build out 7 of our “regional” Metro stations (Greenbelt, College Park, PG Plaza, New Carrollton, Largo, Branch Ave, and Suitland), plus National Harbor.

The other 8 Metro stations…and the 6 other MARC stations…and the 6 other future Purple Line stations…and the 4 other future Southern Maryland Transit Corridor light rail stations that aren’t part of the “regional” category are relegated to the status of “local” centers and lumped in with massive non-transit-oriented future greenfield suburban sprawl projects like Westphalia and Konterra. Housing densities at the “local” Metro, MARC, and light rail stations are capped at levels that are not conducive to support rail transit (i.e., below 30 dwelling units per acre), and employers are discouraged from locating there. Meanwhile, housing densities at the greenfield sprawl sites are allowed to reach up to 40 dwelling units per acre, and those sites are projected to have hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space.

Our proposed amendments take a different approach. We view all of our transit stations as valuable assets, not as albatrosses that “undermine economic growth.” Therefore, the amendments increase the density targets at these stations to levels that are supportive of transit and encourage appropriately scaled mixed-use development (including jobs) to come to all transit stations. They also provide that a reasonable portion of the county's annual capital improvement expenditures will directed to these stations. While all these non-“regional” stations may not develop instantaneously, there’s no need to stifle development in those locations by capping density and not investing in them.

More importantly, given that our existing and planned transit stations and our other inner-Beltway growth areas and existing suburban sites like Bowie will provide virtually unlimited growth capacity for the county for the foreseeable future, the proposed amendments eliminate the sprawl category of “Town Centers” and do not promote additional greenfield development sites away from transit.

If these are the types of changes you support, please sign the petition and also separately call or email your council member to support the proposed amendments.

NOTE: If the above PDF Portfolio link to the proposed amendments will not open with your version of Adobe Reader, try these separate links to the cover letter and the attachment containing the proposed amendments.


  1. PDF portfolio (proposed amendments) does not open in Adobe Reader Version XI (11.0.06)

    1. Thanks for the heads-up. I will try to upload and provide links to the two individual files later this evening.

    2. @ Nick: Individual PDF links are now posted above, at the end of the article.