Category Archives: Planning Board

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

Route 1 Sector Plan Update Meeting & More

Fun new meetings on our Events page, most immediately a July 8 gathering on the Rt. 1 Plan. Rethink College Park provide a nice bit of data-driven context for this plan by tallying all the residential units and commercial square footage in the development pipeline at the moment. A recent note from Chad Williams at M-NCPPC updated citizens on the Route 1 Sector Plan. In case you did not receive it…

“I just wanted to let you know that due to circumstances beyond our control we will be unable to make our target date of tomorrow afternoon for distribution of copies of the Preliminary Central US 1 Corridor Sector Plan and Proposed Sectional Map Amendment document.

However, I do want to reassure you that you will still have plenty of time to read and review this document prior to the Joint Public Hearing that is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 15, 2009 in the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro. The legally mandated timeframe for review of preliminary plans is 30 days, which would mean copies must be available no later than August 15. We will continue to make every effort to provide copies as early in July as feasible to provide extra time for your review and to prepare comments on the plan for the public hearing record.

In the meantime, the meeting that has been scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 8 at the Gildenhorn Recital Hall in the Clarice Smith Center will still occur. The purpose of this meeting is to present an overview of the recommendations of the preliminary sector plan to provide some background as you begin your reading and review.

I will send another message to this group once copies are available for pick-up and online.”

Other notes from our inbox included these tidbits:

Green Infrastructure Plan Legislation In 2005, the County Council approved the first-ever Green Infrastructure Plan for the county. The legislation to implement the plan has recently been transmitted to the County Council for review. Details on the plan and legislation can be found at Environmental Projects.

Review of County Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Regulations The Planning Department has recently hired a consultant to propose amendments to the county’s existing regulations to better implement the General Plan. More details on this new project can be found at Development Review.

Envision Prince George’s Lives And you thought all that visioning stuff might have died a quiet death. “The Prince George’s County Planning Department is pleased to announce the selection of AmericaSpeaks—a nationally recognized nonprofit organization specializing in public engagement on community and policy issues to support Envision Prince George’s! We are excited that the organization pioneered concepts in community engagement and has an exemplary record of doing so with both the strategic expertise and the energy that is needed to make this initiative a success and sustain our efforts.”

A new  newsletter includes the dates of community planning events and updates from the Department and information on upcoming Envision workshops and events…eventually they will think to put these on the event calendar.

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Filed under Growth, Planning, Planning Board, Public Input, Public Transit, Route 1 Corridor, Route 1 Sector Plan, Transportation

Activists’ Guide to Surviving the Planning Board

A cooperative group of communities and citizens constitute the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, Inc. and they work across community boundaries on quality of life and planning issues. They have recently updated and distributed their null Activists’ Guide. With upcoming meetings  and the slew of plans in the pipeline at Park and Planning, this may be helpful to some.

The Guide remains a work-in-progress. IHHAAC seeks to assure accuracy and completeness. If you see any material which is not correct or is misleading, please advise us so that the next revision can include such changes. Similarly, if there is information which you would like to see added to expand this Guide, please share that information with us. We have no pride of authorship; the Guide is the work of many hands whose contributions are much appreciated.

Feel free to share this material widely. You also may post it anyplace you feel would be advantageous for the citizens of Prince George’s County.

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Filed under Community, Developers, Environment, Growth, Planning Board, Public Input, Sustainability, Uncategorized

Public Input 101–FAIL

The new Mixed-Use Zone legislation’s progress has slowed down somewhat and M-NCPPC has heard from enough people about the lack of public input, that hey, they decided to do more! During the last week of school and on a Monday night, yippee! Hopefully you have received this postcard inviting you to a meeting next Monday, June 15 7-9 pm. It’s also on the M-NCPPC site’s google-y calendar. However, the project’s schedule does not include this meeting nor a press release been issued or posted. No email to the gazillions of addresses they have collected.

This sort of half-hearted, last minute effort is why people remain skeptical of a wide range of Park & Planning efforts. Their outreach attempts are perceived as less than sincere and undercut promising initiatives. The M-NCPPC public affairs department should provide early guidance to planning staff in these matters and adjust outreach efforts–and work flow–as necessary. Council staff learned of this Monday. First-class postcards landed Tuesday. Six days notice is really not defensible–30 days is the minimum.

Municipalities’ involvement in this process has been sketchy at best, so a meeting has also been added for mayors and council members. But, gee whiz, all those impacted towns could have included this meeting in newsletters, cable access announcements, town council meetings and let their residents know.

The new Mixed Use Zone proposed is a version of Form-Based Code. This type of code is not inherently bad by any means; however, it has usually been used in specific neighborhoods, towns or cities–rather than county-wide. Typically, it involves an extensive community visioning process, charrette and hopefully results in a community-driven form-based code.

The county’s desire to simplify our development review process is understandable. But the big concern is that the public input process, the key to a successful buy-in from the impacted communities, appears to have been faulty from the start.

Note that our current conventional zoning process is not set aside, but exists in tandem with this new Mixed Use Zone based on Form-Based Code. This could create conflicts. There will be three or four types of mixed-use zones in place: the new Route 1 Sector Plan will use SmartCode (an open source form-based code planning system by one of its leading proponents), the proposed Mixed-Use Zone, the Mixed-Use Town Centers and “Town Center in a Box” packages for developments like Konterra.

Let’s really simplify and philosophically unite the huge and odd compendium of county code. Theoretically, you do this through a community visioning process, kind of like the stalled EnVision Prince George’s. Let’s take time to get it right. We agree with the points made recently by the Sierra Club:

Prince Georgians deserve cutting edge development where we can work, live, and shop, especially near Metro stops. But the design will be satisfactory only if we the people still have a say in what goes where. Yet reading of M-NCPPC’s draft bill raises many questions, such as:
-The newly greased approval pipeline removes the opportunity for residents to express their opinion on the shape of mega-developments.
-The bill transfers the review and approval of site plans from our elected representatives and the Planning Board to planning staff.
-This new MUZ legislation does not encourage or mandate that these large developments be located at or near transit centers, where they would be most successful. Potentially all 26 designated centers and 7 corridors would be eligible for fast-tracked, large developments—whether they are appropriate for the surrounding communities or not. See the General Plan on the concept of mixed use.
-Significant modifications to the site plan can be granted by the Planning Director after site plan approval. Once a site plan is approved (without public input or review by elected officials), deviations of up to 10% for building height, architectural materials, and parking spaces can be granted—again by planning staff.

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Filed under Cities and Towns, Community, Growth, Planning, 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

Bring Joe’s Electric Bus to Route 1

At a meeting in June of 2007, a group of Route 1 area residents had a chance to talk frankly with SHA Administrator Neil Pederson about transportation issues, congestion, capacity, possible improvements and Route 1. During the meeting, Riverdale Park resident Joe Kelly popped out with a great idea that’s been talked about since with public officials, now we need you to add your voice to the chorus.

Here’s the concept: Joe’s Electric Bus would run regular loops on Route 1 for a nominal fee, just as DC’s Circulator does. It should serve the Route 1 communities, Arts District, Gateway and area Metro/Purple Line stops from Eastern Ave. to the Beltway, perhaps running loops north from 410 and south from 410. Joe thought this would be convenient, environmentally friendly and a perfect opportunity for an innovative business person (or forward-thinking government). Somehow the picture of a purple bus with bright, psychedelic lettering gained currency and this imaginary bus was christened Joe’s Electric Bus.

Meanwhile, Prince George’s County has been working on a draft Transportation Master Plan that strongly recommends the developed tier implement a strong “urban-style” bus system. Although several points highlighted as possible connections in a July presentation fall in the Rt. 1 area, there are very few specifics available online currently. This Thursday, the Planning Board will take up a staff request to print the preliminary plan–it would be great to have Joe’s Electric Bus included.

So click the Email Lady to send a note to Planning Board Chairman Sam Parker and your county council person urging them to include a Route 1 looped bus route in the plan. Then get your friends & neighbors on the bus, OK?

More on the Preliminary Countywide Master Plan of Transportation
Presentations
Open House Comments
Timetable

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Filed under Infrastructure, Planning Board, Public Input, Public Transit, Route 1 Corridor, Transportation

Countywide Visioning Process Launches

Envision Prince George's

Friday brought the second one-day economic outlook forum called “Envision Prince George’s” sponsored by the Prince George’s County Planning Department of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), along with the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and Prince George’s County government. And while the morning was interesting and worthwhile, the afternoon presentations were the real deal.

Dr. Stephen Fuller, Director of the Center for Regional Analysis and professor of public policy at George Mason University gave a frank and unvarnished assessment of the strengths of the county and pulled no punches as he discussed where we were and where we needed to be to compete regionally for jobs. He spoke persuasively about past land use decisions and current opportunities. Richard Florida, professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City, followed with a fairly general talk. But on the heels of Fuller’s brief, it had a little more impact.

Planning Board Chairman Samuel J. Parker, Jr. stole the show though with his announcement that the Planning Board would launch a visioning process, with an opportunity for significant public input. This process, while long overdue, will allow community input to shape our area’s future development.

Envision Prince George’s has four major goals:

  • Educate a broad cross-section of community stakeholders about the collaborative visioning process and need for their participation.
  • Engage individuals and groups across the county in a facilitated process to solicit their input into the vision for the county’s future.
  • Articulate their desired outcomes as a shared vision for quality of life in the county.
  • Translate that vision into subsequent goals and implementation strategies that help shape agency work programs and guide county policies. (Emphasis added)

The final product will be a community development framework that can inform decision-making, for example, in land use development, planning, and community services that are in alignment with future vision of the county as described by its committed and engaged citizenry.

Many jurisdictions across the country have forward-thinking plans, one of them is just across the Potomac. In 1960, Arlington County, Virginia adopted a comprehensive plan with five basic elements. Politicians have come and gone, but the comprehensive plan has continued to provide a unifying framework for Arlington’s growth. It has been updated, but basic principles remain intact and the county is now the transit-oriented development model for the rest of the nation.

Let’s hope that the same sort of coherent and community-driven plan, along with an updated zoning ordinance, can come out of Prince George’s visioning process. Kudos to Mr. Parker and his colleagues for kicking this off. Visit the project site and sign up now to help shape your county.

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Filed under Community, Events, Infrastructure, Planning, Planning Board, Public Input, Route 1 Corridor