Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Communities push for development authority

Greenbelt, College Park officials want greater role in decision-making process

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Greenbelt and College Park officials are supporting a proposal before the County Council that would give municipalities more planning authority.

The proposal, presented by Bowie officials in January, would let municipalities review the final stages of a development project, certify non-conforming uses and make changes to special exception for a site plan, said David Deutsch, Bowie’s city manager. While it would not allow for full zoning authority, the proposal would increase municipality involvement and would allow them to have a greater role in the decision-making process, he said. Participation would be voluntary.

In 2005, the General Assembly passed a bill that gave all Maryland County Councils authorization to give municipalities more planning authority. However, no action was taken in Prince George’s County.

‘‘As the law is now, municipalities don’t have much say in whether a development is built or not in the city,” Greenbelt City Councilwoman Leta Mach said. ‘‘We do make recommendations to the District Council for development projects, but that’s like saying, ‘Please do this or do that for us.’”

The County Council acts as the District Council when it discusses zoning and land use matters.

Tameka Bumbry, a legislative aide to County Councilwoman Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie, said Bowie’s proposal is being reviewed by the County Council’s Planning Zoning & Economic Development Committee.

Currently, Greenbelt has no zoning authority. It can only give recommendations to the District Council.

Since 1960, Laurel has been the only municipality in the county to have its own zoning authority.

Laurel City Council President Frederick Smalls (Ward 2) said its six-member planning commission reviews and either approves or denies a developer’s application.

‘‘The benefits to having zoning authority are obvious,” Smalls said. ‘‘The city has total control of development that comes into the city. If a development project that’s before the Planning Commission is not desirable or meets our regulation standards, the project dies there.”

He said the county remains part of the development process because the developer has to abide by the county’s stormwater and water and sewer regulations.

Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis said the need for more municipal development authority is increasing with expanding development in Greenbelt, College Park and Hyattsville. There are several projects under way in those areas, including Greenbelt Station and the Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station in Hyattsville. Both of those are mixed-use projects with residential, retail and office space.

Although these developments are already under way, Greenbelt officials want more involvement in future development.

‘‘Being able to make more decisions could ease the county’s load in what they have to review,” Davis said. ‘‘We could deal with the smaller developments.”

Mach said with zoning authority, municipalities could better shape their future.

‘‘We want to own our destiny and have more of a say in it,” Mach said.

E-mail Marcus Ngbea at mngbea@gazette.net.