Category Archives: Elected Offcials

Stand up for the Bay: Reject HB 1125

As stormwater runs across lawns, driveways, streets and parking lots, it picks up pollutants and debris, including sediment, fertilizer, pesticides, motor oil, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, yard and pet waste. Dan Smith of the Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek provides a recap and raises important questions regarding the MD House’s changes to an important 2007 law intended to tighten stormwater regulations statewide. In 2007, the Maryland Home Builders supported the stormwater legislation, but–after three years and with the implementation date looming–they’ve reconsidered and really want some changes. The bill described below grandfathers in an unknown number of development projects –exempting them from upcoming stronger stormwater management standards. Please write your delegates and senator, copying the members of the AELR Committee and your county council member NOW to share your opinion about  yet another delay in addressing our area’s environmental health. Attend Tuesday’s hearing or submit written testimony.

How, when and where to address the most severe water pollution problem for this region and the Chesapeake Bay–untreated stormwater runoff–is at stake. The process that led to the passage last Friday, March 26 of HB 1125, the Holmes Bill, was hardly a reasoned compromise and the outcome will damage the environment.

Developers to General Assembly: We know what we should do and can do, we just don’t want to do it.
Expert colleagues tell me that every provision included in HB 1125–and the parallel  Emergency Regulations that now await a Tuesday hearing and vote in a joint legislative committee–is a setback from the regulations now scheduled to take effect on May 4th. We are just ONE MONTH away from the effective date of the 2007 state law and without an open public hearing and an extremely limited and truncated process, the Environmental Matters Committee gave into the demands of a vocal subset of developers who will never voluntarily implement green building and development practices. The result will be the continued degradation of our waterways and the Bay, and decades of new pollution for every project that is built to the old standards. The practices we are talking about here are not rocket science; some were even pioneered here and have been scaled up big time in communities across the country.

This is akin to deciding to require new building codes to earthquake proof the schools, hospitals, and homes in a quake prone area, only to at the last minute expand the categories of projects that will be exempt from those regulations — or that half decent development attorneys can easily argue their way out of.

The Bailouts Continue Here
Why was anything needed to relieve this sector of the development community and their bankers and attorneys and their old school engineers from the obligation to do their part, as leaders of the private development process, to integrate best practices into their operations which affect us all? This community has had ample time, opportunity and resources during the boom years to become involved in the three-year long regulatory process, and to put green development projects into the pipeline that would meet the standards of the pending regs. If they cannot do this, they should not build. Will the cost to redesign such projects be of such harm to the state economy, or lead to a Republican groundswell in November, that we lower the bar for Bay cleanup? Are these developers just too big to fail? Isn’t this the perfect time and opportunity for them to be reworking their projects to meet the needs and our communities when the economy improves enough to build again? Other sectors are tightening their belts and adjusting to the new reality of the times. Why do these guys get a pass?

The Bay is Dying. The Feds are Moving One Way. Maryland the other.
Given the grave and deteriorating condition of the Bay, a new commitment from this White House, a new regional coalition to pull major new funding into Bay cleanup efforts, and a coming Earth Day announcement from our Congressional delegation that will describe in detail the thousands of projects (at hundreds of millions of dollars) needed just to begin cleaning the Anacostia by retrofitting outmoded practices (like those to be permitted to continue here), it is a real setback that so many in Annapolis are buying the argument that the law passed in 2007 is too stringent. There have been THREE YEARS of meetings, hearings, proposed rules, comments and more comments resulting in the already compromised rules that will go into effect unless this legislature takes action to weaken them in the next two weeks.

Please, just leave the old regs alone. Oppose the Emergency Regs.
To have any chance of restoring our streams and having them contribute to livable communities, we need quality development and redevelopment that controls both water quality and volume. Experts who have studied the new bill and regs conclude that they will 1) allow any and all projects in the easily designated Priority Funding Areas to get waivers from volume control requirements for existing paved areas, and 2) add 5 categories of redevelopment projects eligible for waivers from environmental site design. One category is so broad as to include any project necessary to accommodate growth consistent with the comprehensive plan” for the area. Is there any development attorney who can’t drive a truck through that one?

Make work for development attorneys, not green engineers.

Shifting decades old practices of the planning and development communities is not easy or trivial. It will take time, it has taken time. It will not occur without steadfast, steer-the-course political leadership. The more you let developers chip away at the standards, the longer this important change will take. Let the old guard step aside and bring on the new, energetic and innovative designers and practices of the 21st Century. Catch the fever. Be the change. What innovative biotech or hi-tech company wants to relocate to a development that is years behind best practices? What kind of attraction is that to employees?

For further evidence, here is  a side-by-side comparison of the various pending and proposed regs and legislation. This is much more accurate than the version distributed by proponents of HB1125 at the committee hearing last week to which NO critic was allowed to testify, including a former US Senator, US Rep., and Governor who were all against the bill, and so remain, along with an overwhelming number of community activists and environmentalists.

Lowering the bar honors a bad bill.

I completely agree that the original Holmes Bill was outrageous and should have been defeated. How then did it come to justify and become the vehicle for this weakening of the law? There is no environmental, progressive or smart growth organization that I am aware of in the Anacostia Watershed or in Prince George’s County that agrees with or supports the position you defend.

We ask the public and elected officials to listen and question our case on Tuesday, April 6 at 4 pm for the FIRST and only opportunity we will have to ask the Assembly to let the process unfold without new legislative intervention. We thank Sen. Paul Pinsky and Del. Anne Healey, co-chairs of the Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review Joint Committee, for calling this hearing. Unfortunately, due to lack of full and open discussion to date and the incredible momentum behind the poor information that is circulating, this is an uphill battle for us. We know that even if the AELR Committee rejects the rollback Emergency Regs, that we’ll have to challenge them again two days later in the Senate in the form of HB1125.–Dan Smith, Co-Chair, Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek

Visit here for more information on the importance of stormwater management in our area. Then write your elected officials.

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Filed under Elected Offcials, Environment, Public Input, Sustainability

Update: County Council Meets Planning Board Chair Nominee Byrd

From the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, Inc. comes a wrap-up of the County Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development (PZED) Committee’s conversation with David J. Byrd. If you have not been following this, catch up here, here and here. Please share your opinion with all council members and copy the Clerk of the Council.

Note: this report is impressionistic, is not comprehensive, and is not verbatim, but it is reflective of the substance of the interview. Seven Members of the County Council interviewed David J. Byrd on March 3. After ninety minutes of pointed questions and wishy-washy answers, it was clear to this reporter that Byrd is not qualified for the job he already has, nevermind being promoted to head one of the most important agencies in the county.

Byrd was pressed repeatedly about failures in the county agencies he oversees, notably the revenue authority, the housing authority, public works and transportation, and the economic development corporation. Byrd never acknowledged any personal sense of responsibility, nor did he accept any blame for failures in those agencies. All the problems and shortcomings were attributed to ineffective subordinates and/or to forces beyond his control.

Councilman Dernoga pressed the issue, noting that Byrd was the invisible man who rarely came to a Council committee meeting, rarely conferred with Members of Council on issues regarding any of the agencies Byrd oversees; where have you been for three years? Byrd said that all the Council Members had to do was contact him. He showed no recognition whatsoever that he is staff and it is his responsibility to brief and work with the Council regarding those agencies, not the other way around.

When pressed about his oversight of the agencies, Byrd said that he met with the heads of the agencies the third Friday of every month in the morning. No mention was made of what he does with himself the other days of the month.

PZED Committee Chairman Dean pressed Byrd on BRAC, noting that Camp Springs, Westphalia and Laurel were all losers. Byrd was responsible for BRAC; why did we lose? Byrd was defensive, said: BRAC was oversold; people had unrealistic expectations; it was not his fault; it was the fault of Annapolis. No recognition of any responsibility on his part.

Councilman Olson asked about the M-NCPPC budget: how would Byrd handle financial hard times ahead? Byrd said: employee furloughs, budget cuts, no cost-of-living adjustments, no raises, and getting employees voluntarily to work part-time. M-NCPPC also could save money by doing energy retrofits; he did not address where the money would come from to cover the up-front costs of retrofitting.

When asked about gang activity and how to use idle school and parks and recreation facilities after school, Byrd said we needed those kinds of projects and he would staff them with Park & Planning personnel. He did not seem to notice the disconnect between his answers to the questions about finances and making do with less in times of scarcity, and with the monies required to fund such programs.

Councilman Olson also asked about economic development: how did Byrd plan to balance the interests of competing constituencies like the business community, environmentalists, historic preservation, civic activists, ordinary citizens? Byrd repeated the question in various ways, but never answered it. Indeed, many questions on many issues got restated but went unanswered. Continue reading

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Filed under Elected Offcials, Environment, Planning Board, Public Input

How much do we trust M-NCPPC?

This will be a critical question in the next month or two as our County Council considers a significant change in the planning process that would limit public input on many projects.

Next week the Maryland National Park & Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) is expected to present the County Council with an important 160-page package of Mixed-Use Zone legislation granting M-NCPPC staff the right to administratively approve mixed-use projects. The fast-track timeline calls for this to be passed in July.

Currently, the Planning Board approves projects subject to review by the County Council, acting as District Council. Council members–our elected representatives–wield a good deal of power in the planning process in Prince George’s County…something that has an up side and a down side (more on that later).

The M-NCPPC proposes giving developers incentives to create true mixed-use development with a sense of place. The intent is to create a new mixed-use zoning category utilizing what is called a form-based code. Approval of a specific site plan would be an administrative matter handled by planning staff–without public input because there would be no Planning Board or District Council review.

The form-based code Mixed-use Zone legislation has many worthwhile elements that can facilitate smart growth and transit-oriented development; other elements leave something to be desired. And whether it is appropriate for Prince George’s County is something we will explore later. But the legislation’s genesis is the real worry.

While the Mixed-use Zone legislation has been two years in the making, the public has only recently, and somewhat ineptly or disingenuously, been invited into the process. Three poorly publicized meetings occurred in the 9 days preceding the Planning Board’s vote, the last was the evening of May 13–the Planning Board voted on May 14. The mayors and councils of municipalities have not been briefed. Some might perceive this as M-NCPPC rushing through, with little input from residents, municipalities, civic associations and environmental groups, legislation that transfers power from our elected representatives to merit employees.

Additionally, this legislation is proposed by a planning agency that has failed to master the basics. They regularly produce staff reports late, provide inadequate notice of hearings, make half-hearted attempts at public outreach and are not responsive to public input or requests. The agency is often disconnected from the communities and taxpayers they serve.

For many residents, M-NCPPC is simply not an agency that has earned their trust. When you look around the county, the organization’s product has been less than stellar. Dotting all their Is and crossing all their Ts on such routine matters is essential prior to expanding the agency’s powers.

While form-based code may be an excellent tool in high-density areas and has been successful in other jurisdictions, notably on Arlington’s Columbia Pike, this legislation is an attempt to resolve problems that are largely attributable to Prince George’s County’s planning priorities, process and follow-through. Until our legislators, M-NCPPC and the county address these larger systemic problems, we need to think long and hard about ceding more authority to the planning staff at the Maryland National Park & Planning Commission.

In the next days we expect to provide more information on the details of the legislation, form-based code and questions you should be asking of council members. In the meantime we hope you will set aside 30 minutes and look around the Mixed-use Zone site, reviewing the presentations and definitions. If you are concerned, like we are, that this legislation is premature and requires careful exmaination, please let your council member know now.

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Filed under Developers, Elected Offcials, Planning Board, Public Input

Infrastructure & Good Neighbors

“Infrastructure,” says Goldhagen, summing it all up, “is where architecture and politics merge.”

So architectural historian Sarah Goldhagen wraps up a recent and provocative interview with the Boston Globe that is essential reading if you care about infrastructure. And, we know you do.

Goldhagen says to think of it as a detective story. A bridge collapses in Minnesota. A steam pipe explodes in New York. Water in some cities is found to contain lead…Schools have boarded-up windows but don’t have books…It’s like an Agatha Christie mystery.

But this is much scarier than anything Christie wrote. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, our nation’s infrastructure is barely making the grade, and is mediocre at best.

What, exactly, is infrastructure? For Goldhagen, it’s everything we build that is meant to serve the public: highways, streets, bridges, tunnels, sidewalks, transit systems, utilities of all kinds, parks, soccer fields, even public schools and colleges.

She says we need to think of it all as one integrated whole, and then ask who’s taking care of it. No one, it turns out.

That last sentence is why the Route 1 Growth working group came together. Infrastructure is not sexy, it costs a lot and is, if things are working well, invisible. But it is critical to our quality of life.

We are way behind the curve, probably about ten years and that may be a conservative estimate–and that’s before the 7,600 new residential units. Let’s look at schools. The need is identified, put into the funding cycle (or not), then a site needs to be identified and purchased, the plans prepared, and the project bid and constructed. Roads and transit are similar. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities and Towns, Elected Offcials, Infrastructure, Public Transit, Retail, Roads

Listen Up

anm8e2d3838157781f9.gifThe standing room only Route 1 Development Forum hosted by Council Members Campos, Dernoga and Olson began a conversation that is long overdue in our area, gathering our elected representatives with planners, school and state highway officials in one room to talk with their constituents about growth. Unsurprisingly, schools and traffic surfaced as the community’s main concerns.

M-NCPPC Planner Coordinator Chad Williams quickly ran down the numbers for the 7-miles of the Route 1 corridor: 61,630 well-educated people in 20,790 dwelling units spread across stable neighborhoods. While unemployment is lower than the county average, the poverty level is above average. According to M-NCPPC, due to the University of Maryland, the area’s demographic skews younger and in some cases, poorer, than the county average.

Filed and in the development pipeline, 7,600 more units, with perhaps a total of 15,000 dwelling units including residential or mixed use projects still in the early planning stages (Cafritz, East Campus, etc.). Over 7 million square feet of retail and office space is built, under construction or planned.

While some student housing will be excluded from the school surcharge meant to fund new schools, PGCPS uses this student yield formula: multiply .44 by the number of residential units. Using the conservative number of 7,600 units, we get a yield of 3,344 new students in an already overcrowded region.

During the presentation and audience Q & A, the State Highway Administration SHA) and Prince George’s County Public Schools representatives indicated what a huge disconnect there is between our planners’ priorities and the community’s. The SHA rep suggested that traffic might be best alleviated by support for the I-95/UMD Connector, a remark that went over like a lead balloon. County and state traffic planners acknowledged that with upgrades proposed for Route 1 between Eastern Avenue and the Beltway take place, no new capacity will be gained for the corridor.

The planned improvements do not include the entire Route 1 corridor or where major new developments are under consideration, e.g., between Riverdale Park/Hyattsville and College Park. Failed intersections such as Route 1 and 410 also will not be addressed. Continue reading

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Filed under Community, Elected Offcials, Events, Growth, Public Input, Schools, Traffic