New Prince George's County zoning regulations could make it easier for commercial development near residential neighborhoods along Route 1 in College Park, said Chad Williams, project manager of the zoning rewrite team, at a meeting Monday.
Under the new plan, regulations limiting construction of buildings more than three stories tall within 150 feet of a residential dwelling or vacant lot, or four stories tall within 200 feet, would not apply within College Park. These regulations were outlined in an initial draft of the zoning rewrite.
"None of the developments in College Park that have been realized in the past 15 years would have been allowed under these regulations as initially proposed," Williams said. "Not a one."
The team is now seeking community input before a draft of the ordinance is presented to the Prince George's County District Council in January.
The newest plan also doubled a previous draft's limits on residential density so that developments like The View and The Varsity could operate legally.
Before, officials had to make amendments to zoning law to allow this type of construction. Amendments weren't applied uniformly across the county. Now, officials are trying to streamline the process by writing a new code altogether.
In order to make the communities along the Route 1 corridor stronger economically, the zoning ordinance was in need of standardization, Williams said. The successful redevelopments along the Route 1 corridor happened in spite of the old zoning ordinance's regulations, not because of them, he added.
"You have the strongest market in the county," Williams said. "We have a very high priority for much of the [Route 1] corridor."
Prince George's County Council Vice Chair Dannielle Glaros said the three municipalities along Route 1 under her jurisdiction are covered by four different zoning plans, each with different design standards. This has made the Route 1 corridor not as responsive to market opportunities as the county or residents would like, Williams said.
Planned development zones and a newly-created "transit-oriented activity center base" zone, which provides developers with more flexibility in exchange for including more amenities in development proposals, were extended to cover all of Route 1 in the new plan.
Some residents at the meeting felt the new ordinance did not do enough to protect residential dwellings from redevelopment along the corridor.
Una Palmer, a North Brentwood resident, said she had no say in the developments that occurred in her neighborhood, including the recent addition of several houses that no current residents can afford. This is a form of gentrification of the county's first incorporated black community, she said.
"That is not fair to us, and our legacy and our history in this country," Palmer said.
It is also "extremely challenging" to remove an existing legal business that has operated under the original zoning ordinance, Williams said.
Sheila Butler, the Cottage City town commission mayor, said the county should change the ordinance so that run-down businesses can't be grandfathered in.
"How do you get them to change this grandfathering when you can get some better respectable business in your community versus looking at junk shops every time you go up and down the street?" Butler said.