Category: Zoning update

We Won! Prince George’s to move ahead with long overdue zoning rewrite

We Won! Prince George’s to move ahead with long overdue zoning rewrite

Great news: the Maryland General Assembly voted to pass HB 980, and enable Prince George’s County to implement its new zoning regulations!

HB 980 amends an existing state ethics law unique to Prince George’s. Like other jurisdictions, the County needed to repeal and replace its entire zoning map to implement its new zoning regulations. But this action ran into a potential conflict with its unique zoning ethics law that does not apply to any other jurisdiction. 

To address this, the Prince George’s House Delegation introduced HB 980 and helped advance the bill from the House to the state Senate. In the Senate, under the leadership of Senator Paul Pinsky, the bill was amended to address concerns and ensure broad support. The legislation was retitled: Prince George’s County – Public Ethics – Application Payments and Transfer and Zone Intensification Requests. Most significantly, the amended bill offers an extra safeguard by prohibiting the County Council from approving zoning intensification (to build more on a site) requests that differ substantially from the zoning category already adopted in 2019.

In addition to Senator Pinsky, we are also grateful to Senator Malcolm Augustine, Delegate Erek Barron, and Delegate Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk for their thoughtful engagement to create this successful outcome. 

The zoning rewrite is important because it helps the County better guide transit-oriented development and create more walk- and bike-friendly designs. This not only benefits Prince George’s but all of Maryland by focusing more of the region’s growth around transit stations and close-in communities. More transit-oriented development reduces how much people in our growing region need to drive, and gives us more opportunities to walk, bicycle and ride transit for more of our trips. This all reduces greenhouse gas emissions and pressure to build on greenfields. A modern zoning code also means thriving places and a stronger economy. 

We are grateful to al those who took taking action to ensure Prince George’s can use the tools it needs to guide a more sustainable and prosperous future. 

Take Action: Don’t let the MD General Assembly kill Prince George’s zoning rewrite

Take Action: Don’t let the MD General Assembly kill Prince George’s zoning rewrite

No matter where you live in Maryland, join us in supporting Prince George’s County. Montgomery County and the City of Baltimore recently updated their zoning codes but the General Assembly could in effect block Prince George’s from doing so.

The Prince George’s House delegation is sponsoring a bill (HB 980), on behalf of County Executive Alsobrooks, the County Council and the Planning Commission. This bill will allow the County to finalize and vote to approve the Countywide Zoning Map Amendment. This singular action is needed to repeal and replace the county’s outdated zoning code. The bill is advancing through the Maryland General Assembly but needs to get all its final votes by the end of the session on April 12, 2021.

Take action now: email your Maryland legislators!

Here’s the issue:

Prince George’s County has worked for six years and spent millions of dollars to painstakingly modernize its outdated zoning code to better support transit-oriented development, and walk- and bike-friendly communities. The zoning rewrite also makes it easier to understand; and sets time-limits on development approvals which today can last forever. But a state ethics law, which only applies to Prince George’s County, would prevent councilmembers who have received a campaign donation from any affected property owner in the County (approximately 300,000 different properties and 250,000 different owners) from voting on the Countywide Zoning Map Amendment that implements the new zoning. No other jurisdiction in the state has this very restrictive law.

The proposed legislation is limited to enabling the County Council to vote for the Countywide Zoning Map Amendment – the total repeal and replacement of old zones with the new, updated zones. The County Council and Planning Commission have established, by local legislation and approvals, a decision process that will take public feedback, evaluate all properties and make recommendations on designations to place all properties in the County into one of the new zones most equivalent to its existing zone (i.e. Residential, Commercial, Industrial or Mixed-Use zones). 

It does not affect any other zoning decision and this does not apply to everyday, individual zoning and development review matters that come before the Council currently or in the future.

Email your state legislators today!

Without this legislation, Prince George’s will be stuck with outdated zoning, frustrating efforts to make zoning more understandable and preventing the county from shaping a more sustainable and competitive future.

The fate of years of work to bring Prince George’s zoning into the modern era hangs in the balance. Please email today!

Thanks for all you do,

Cheryl Cort

Policy Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth

P.S. Click here to view our testimony and get more of the details.

CSG Testimony in Support of Heritage at Old Town

Testimony to Alexandria City Council in Support of the Heritage at Old Town 

Rezoning #2020-00006 

Development Special Use Permit #2020-10032 

Transportation Management Plan Special Use Permit 2020-00084 

February 20, 2020 

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director 

Good afternoon, Mayor and Council. Thank you for serving our city during these challenging times.  

My name is Stewart Schwartz and I am the Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth,  the leading organization in the D.C. region advocating walkable, inclusive, transit-oriented  communities as the most sustainable and equitable way to grow and provide opportunities for all. We are a 24-year-old non-profit with partnerships that span the conservation, affordable housing,  social equity, transit, bike/ped, and business sectors. In 2017, we received the Metropolitan  Washington Council of Governments (COG) Regional Partnership Award. 

We urge you to approve the Heritage at Old Town.  

Alexandria has lost over 90% of its affordable housing over the past two decades. We face a  housing affordability crisis in Alexandria and neighboring jurisdictions. Multiple studies demonstrate  that we need both more supply and more long-term committed affordable units. This project  provides both. Supply is critical to avoid displacement, and a range of tools are needed including  leveraging land value and density to ensure we create more affordable units. 

We work in multiple jurisdictions in the DC region and we can confirm that the City of Alexandria  does its homework. The result here from city and community input is a project that provides the  housing we need in a well-designed development, with much improved streetscape, pedestrian connectivity, and park spaces. Alexandria offers a very walkable, mixed-use environment with  excellent transit – planned to be even better with the redesigned bus network which will provide  frequent all-day, seven day per week service. Far more traffic would be generated through  Alexandria if our communities pushed all development out to auto-dependent locations. 

The project will buffer the neighborhood from the wide, noisy Route 1 entry to Old Town, and has  been designed to step down to the adjacent rowhouses. For nearly 25 years I lived near Braddock  Metro in a four-story condo building across from single-family homes, next to townhomes and 7  and 9 story condo buildings, and within sight of much taller buildings. Public housing was just a  block away. The neighborhood is wonderful, however, it has lost diversity — because when those buildings were built the city did not have the strategies in place to ensure a mix of housing  affordability. That’s why the new RMF zoning applied here is such an important tool. It enables 197  units of deeply affordable housing by a private developer without a public subsidy, allowing the city  to direct its affordable housing funds to other projects, creating additional housing. This level of  long-term and deep level of affordability without subsidy is extremely rare and a big benefit of the project. 

The pandemic has illustrated just who are our most essential workers and the extreme stress they  are under due to high housing prices. The racial equity crisis has demonstrated how poorly we have  served people of color in our community and nation. It is time to ensure a more inclusive  community for the long-term. We urge you to approve the Heritage at Old Town. 

Thank you.

CSG Testimony to County Council in support of ZTA 20-07 and Bill 52-20

February 8, 2021 

Montgomery County Council 

Stella Werner Council Office Building 

100 Maryland Ave 

Rockville, MD 20850 

Zoning Text Amendment 20-07, R-60 Zone – Uses and Standards (Support) and Bill 52-20, Landlord-Tenant Relations – Protection Against Rent Gouging Near Transit  (Support with Amendments) 

Testimony for February 11, 2021 

Jane Lyons, Maryland Advocacy Manager 

Council President Hucker and councilmembers, thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony  on both ZTA 20-07 and Bill 52-20. My name is Jane Lyons and these comments are on behalf of the  Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization in the D.C. region advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the  DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all. 

Montgomery County has a housing crisis, a crisis that stretches from those with the lowest incomes  to even those of upper-moderate incomes. There are too many people who spend over half their  income to keep a roof over their and their loved ones’ heads, and fear that next year’s rent increase  will force them to find a new home. There are also too many people who feel that they cannot  comfortably age-in-place in the communities they’ve called home for decades and too many young  families who find it impossible to put down roots. 

Montgomery County is a great place to live, which is why so many people want to be here, but we do  not have enough housing to meet the high and growing demand, especially in walkable, transit oriented neighborhoods. Wealthier households are able to out-bid others, pushing teachers,  healthcare workers, and other essential workers to farther and farther out, undermining our economy  and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. 

There is no easy answer to solve our housing challenges, but the two proposals before you this  evening are a step in the right direction. Neither proposal is perfect, but both are the beginning of  critical conversations about making sure the county’s housing opportunities are more inclusive,  sustainable, and affordable. 

First, ZTA 20-07: From various studies, reports, and plans over the past several years, missing  middle housing typologies such as duplexes and townhomes have emerged again and again as a 

Coalition for Smarter Growth 202-675-0016 

key tool that we continue to constrict. Building duplexes, triplexes, and small apartment buildings  near transit needs to be much less onerous. To do this, they need to be allowed by-right with  appropriate requirements, although those requirements must ensure that middle housing types are  actually feasible to construct.  

We would also like to see this initiative expanded to include both R-60 and R-90 zones near Metro,  Purple Line, and along major transit corridors. However, targeting zoning reform only around transit  does not undo the legacy of inequitable land use policies and segregation. We encourage zoning  initiatives such as this to also enable a diversity of housing options in areas of high incomes and job  clusters. To that end, we also urge you to consider creative approaches for incentivizing affordability  in middle housing developments. 

Secondly, Bill 52-20: We support legislation to restrict rent gouging, but such legislation must be  carefully crafted to make sure that rent controls do not result in a reduction in new housing or  disinvestment in existing housing. To achieve a more balanced policy, we propose the following  amendments: 

1. Set the rate of allowed increase to three percent plus the rate of inflation. The voluntary rent  guidelines, while useful, are essentially just the rate of inflation – the most restrictive type of  rent control policy. The cost of labor, construction, and climate change mitigation/adaptation  measures are often rising faster than the rate of inflation. 

2. Apply the provision countywide so that all renters are protected and transit-oriented  development is not disincentivized. 

3. Increase the exemption period for new buildings to 15 years. Properties need to produce the  highest rate of return for the first 10-17 years in order to pay off construction loans. Without  an expanded exemption period, new construction is unlikely. 

4. Consider different treatment for small multi-family buildings (10 to 50 units) and exempt  buildings less than 10 units. Smaller buildings often have a more difficult time with capital  maintenance because financing costs are typically higher due to a lack of economies of  scale. 

5. Exempt already rent regulated units until that regulation expires. For example, overlaying  another rent regulation on top of existing ones could discourage Low Income Housing Tax  Credit (LIHTC) investments, resulting in lost lower-priced units. 

In conclusion, we urge you to take up the complementary issues of rent stabilization and missing  middle housing to help Montgomery County become more affordable, equitable, and sustainable. Thank you for your consideration.

CSG in the News: Prince George’s Zoning Rewrite Stalls Over Unique Ethics Rule

CSG in the News: Prince George’s Zoning Rewrite Stalls Over Unique Ethics Rule

UPDATE 4/12/2021: The revised bill, HB 980, passed both the Maryland House of Delegates and the Senate. Thanks to all those who took action! The final bill was amended (changes we supported) to address concerns and ensure broad support. View final bill here.

“First on FOX 5: Prince George’s County has spent millions of dollars over six years on a massive countywide rezoning plan. Leaders say it’s crucial to make the county more competitive and business friendly, but after all that time and money, the process has hit a hurdle.” View FOX 5 story here.

CSG testified in support of the state bill because adjusting the County’s unique ethics rules for the Countywide Zoning Map amendment will be the final step in implementing the years-long update to the zoning code. Adopting the modern, updated zoning regulations is a once in a generation opportunity. Montgomery County and Baltimore City do not have this ethics rule, unique to Prince George’s, and have already adopted their next-generation zoning regulations.

View CSG’s testimony in support of completing the Countywide rezoning here. View our action alert here. The proposed legislation can be viewed here and final bill is here.

Photo Credit: C. Cort

CSG Testimony in Support of PG 416-21: Finish the Countywide Rezoning

CSG Testimony in Support of PG 416-21: Finish the Countywide Rezoning

RE: Testimony in Support for PG 416-21: Prince George’s County – Public Ethics – Definition of Application

At the Virtual Delegation Bill Hearing on Local/Bi-County Legislation By The Prince George’s County House Delegation, February 2, 20201

By Cheryl Cort, Policy Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth

Dear Members of the Delegation:

Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization working locally in the Washington, DC metropolitan region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Our mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish.

We are pleased to provide testimony in support of PG 416-21. This bill provides a legislative adjustment needed to complete the Prince George’s County Zoning and Subdivision rewrite. A uniquely Prince George’s County ethics law has tripped up the Countywide Zoning Map Amendment (CMA), which is the last step in the zoning rewrite process. This ethics law doesn’t exist anywhere else in the state including in Montgomery County or Baltimore City which has already updated their zoning regulations.

The County’s zoning rewrite was adopted by the Prince George’s County Council in December 2018. After the late 2018 adoption, the Countywide Zoning Map Amendment (CMA) process was initiated. The CMA is the final stage where the rewritten zoning regulations are implemented by applying the new or updated zones to the County’s zoning map.

Over the course of a number of years, we worked with stakeholders and community activists to engage in the public process to update the county’s outmoded zoning and subdivision regulations. We have advocated for the adoption of the modernized regulations through various public fora, and hearings by the County Council.

We made this a priority because this zoning rewrite is a significant advance for the county. The zoning rewrite and CMA are worth the effort because they replace the county’s current obsolete and cumbersome zoning regulations which are holding back the county. Here are some of the ways the zoning and subdivision process will improve:

  • Design and building form standards: the document establishes transit-oriented zones at the local and regional scales to support the goals of walkable urbanism, creating walkable, and bikable areas that are well-connected to transit;
  • Parking standards for urban and transit-oriented areas: the zoning rewrite reduces excessive minimum parking requirements in transit-oriented centers in order to support more multimodal designs and uses.
  • Street designs: the revisions require interconnected streets, shorter blocks, and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. It implements newly adopted urban street design standards that support walk and bike friendly streets.  
  • Transportation demand management: the regulations also establish progressive traffic reduction measures that emphasize encouraging more people to ride transit if available, bicycle, share rides and walk.
  • Ease of use: The zoning and subdivision regulations are presented in a more readable format providing tables and graphic illustrations to better understand and visualize the standards.
  • Ending perpetual approvals: The zoning rules establish limits on approvals after a number of years. Today, approvals are allowed to live on forever, despite significant changes that may occur after initially projected conditions. While some of the provisions seem overly generous, setting the proposed limits would be a big step forward for the county.

The proposed legislation is clear — this is specific to the CMA, not for everyday zoning and development review matters that come before the Council. For all these reasons, we urge the delegation to adopt the bill to accommodate the Council’s role and responsibility in adopting the CMA. We believe implementation of the zoning and subdivision rewrite is a tremendous improvement for the county and the community. It is a once in a generation opportunity.

Thank you for your consideration.

A big step toward ending Montgomery’s housing moratorium!

Yesterday, the Planning Board voted to update the county’s draft growth policy (aka the Subdivision Staging Policy), which seeks to time public infrastructure like schools and transportation with population growth. Among other changes, the Planning Board draft would eliminate the counterproductive housing moratorium throughout most of the county, while adjusting fees and taxes to ensure adequate funding to meet increases in school demand.

This decision is thanks, in large part, to you! CSG’s supporters sent over 50 letters to the Planning Board, and our supporters and allies showed up strong at the Planning Board’s public hearing. Check out CSG’s public testimony for more background.

This isn’t the end though — the County Council has the last say. They will review the Planning Board’s recommendations and vote on a new growth policy by November. We’ll keep you updated on actions you can take!

Until then, please consider making a donation to sustain our work advocating for more housing in Montgomery County!

Other changes proposed by the Planning Board:

  • Developers would be required to pay Utilization Premium Payments when a school’s projected utilization three years into the future exceeds 120 percent
  • Impact taxes would be lowered from 120 percent of the cost of a seat to 100 percent, and further lowered to 60 percent in certain areas with high-capacity transit and employment centers
  • Recordation taxes at the time of home sales, would be progressively increased to the to provide additional funding for school construction and affordable housing
  • Any development located in an Opportunity Zone would be exempt from impact taxes
  • Multiple updates to transportation tests would prioritize walking and biking as transportation modes and improve safety
  • And more! If you’re interested, you can find the most up-to-date information here.

Again, thank you to all those who sent in letters or testified! In September, we’ll update you on the Council’s review and hearing schedule so you can join us again in supporting this progressive update to the county’s growth policy.