Effort to streamline process for transit development in Prince George’s raises concerns -- Gazette.Net







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Prince George’s County officials have proposed new measures designed to promote development around the county’s 15 Metro stations, though some residents said the measures don’t adequately address the dearth of quality development and give developers too much leeway.

County Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro introduced a bill Sept. 25, along with cosponsors Derrick Davis (D-Dist. 6) of Mitchellville and Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison (D-Dist. 5) of Springdale, that would provide a “fast track” for developers looking to build in areas within a half-mile radius of county transit stations.

“We talk a lot about wanting to focus on our 15 Metro stations, but we have yet to see the private sector focus on its investment on redevelopment of those areas,” Franklin said. “...If we’re serious about smart growth, we have to make the market incentives and dynamics to make that happen.”

The bill, which is scheduled for a hearing Oct. 17 before the council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, would allow communities to opt into an expedited development process for sites within a half mile of a Metro station.

This faster process would send proposals directly to permitting after being approved for subdivision, bypassing the Prince George’s County Planning Board’s site plan approval process, which includes the approval of both conceptual and detailed site plans.

But the legislation, as introduced, would provide “no oversight” on developers’ plans for sites near Metro stations, said Bill Cavitt, president of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, a community group that often weighs in on land-use and development issues. He argued for a “genuine exchange of ideas” on how best to attract developers, which, he added, a council bill hearing cannot truly provide.

“I don’t think a hearing format could accomplish what we have in mind,” said Cavitt, who instead is advocating for a process that includes stronger resident participation.

Cavitt said the current proposal could put too much power into the hands of developers.

“It’s a pretty heavy-handed instrument,” Cavitt said. “It’s like they said, ‘Oh well, we’ll just allow developers to do anything they damn well please.’”

Capitol Heights attorney and community activist Bradley Heard said the bill was “a little rushed,” especially given that there are more inclusive ways to expedite transit-oriented development projects, like the county’s “urban centers and corridor nodes” legislation passed in 2010, which sets development quality standards but has been described as having a cumbersome approval process. The new bill relies on the quality standards from the 2010 law, but provides a more streamlined approval process, according to Franklin.

Heard said the current law provides better safeguards for the community.

“It would basically do all of the things everyone said needs to be done, while providing the public some protections, like notice of development proceedings and appeal rights,” Heard said. “...We just need to implement it.”

But Franklin said the bill’s amendments, which require communities to endorse the fast-track program for a particular transit station through the public comment phase of the sector or master plan process, which guides future development in a region of the county, ensures residents’ involvement in the decision-making process.

“[The sector or master plan process] contains the longest amount of time to gather community input,” Franklin said. “That makes them most ideal for the consideration of whether a community wants to opt into the expedited process.”

M.H. Jim Estepp, president of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, said that the bills are “a step in the right direction” in attracting developers to the county, and to transit sites in particular.

“In many cases, steps are taken [during the process], but then have to be repeated later,” Estepp said. “Anything we can do to cut out the duplication and the built-in lethargy would be welcome.”