Testimony: Annual Permit Allocation – Comments and suggested amendments

October 16, 2023

Hon. Jolene Ivey
Chair, Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee
Prince George’s County Council
1301 McCormick Drive, Wayne K. Curry Administration Building
Largo, MD 20774

RE: CR-083-2023 Annual Permit Allocation – Comments and suggested amendments

Dear Chair Ivey: 

Please accept this letter on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG). CSG is the leading non-profit organization in the Washington, D.C. region, including suburban Maryland, 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 agree with the broad goals intended in this legislation – to guide growth to mixed use, medium to high density development in Regional Transit Districts and Local Centers, and inside the Beltway, and to generally limit growth outside the Beltway. 

We believe we can do this while building more housing in the right places to address the overall need for housing, and to help make housing more affordable. Our land use policies and infrastructure investments need to incentivize and encourage private investment to build more homes that are connected to existing services, transit, employment centers, and other essential destinations. We also need to remove the many barriers that discourage this kind of investment. 

Focusing growth connected to existing transit and other services also helps conserve public financial resources so that these services are adequate and well-maintained. Achieving sufficient housing in the right places reduces reliance on costly vehicle ownership, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), CO2 emissions, and gives everyone more affordable and reliable transportation options. 

We agree with the overall intention to limit growth outside the Beltway. However, we do not believe that a building permit allocation limit is the appropriate way to achieve the twin goals of incentivizing growth inside the Beltway, especially around Regional Transit Districts and Local Centers, and discouraging growth outside the Beltway. 

Building permits vs. extensions & future project approvals

Rather than limiting building permits of already approved projects, we recommend limiting extensions of approved projects, and curtailing future approvals of subdivisions and site plans in areas where we do not want to support growth. Sharply limiting the allocation of building permits for approved projects could be contested legally, but we leave that to legal experts. Introducing a new limitation of annual allocation of building permits for approved projects could harm the county’s reputation as a predictable place to invest and build quality development. 

We ask the Council to work with the Planning Board to recommend the best approach to appropriately limiting ongoing extensions of approved but unbuilt projects, and future approvals in locations lacking proximity to transit and other services. 

Inside the Beltway centers, and areas inside the Beltway with existing public services

We recommend that inside the Beltway areas (inclusive of all TSA 1 areas) continue to be governed by current zoning and planning laws and regulations, rather than included in a new annual growth allocation process. This sends the positive signal that this is where the county wants to see private investment.

We believe the proposed limits of permits for designated centers harms the predictability of building in designated centers. This discourages private investment from going where we want it to go. 

Limiting approvals with a new annual allocation process for development inside the Beltway, but outside centers, is also counterproductive because most parts of inside the Beltway are appropriate for urban infill development, if at lower levels of intensity. While we want to attract most growth to centers, other areas inside the Beltway are served by existing public services, including bus service, and are proximate to Metro and key destinations like employment centers (including the federal core), and other higher density destinations. Thus growth in these areas lowers driving (vehicle miles traveled or VMT) and increases access to regional destinations. We can examine the zoning for these areas to see if any adjustments are needed to current zoning and plans. But this consideration can be done without overlaying an additional annual process of limiting permits or approvals.

Other specific comments

We recommend revising the whereas clauses related to vehicle level of service (LOS). We recommend discontinuing LOS as a measure, at least inside the Beltway, and at centers in Priority Area 1. Instead, we recommend adopting a VMT per household or per capita measure to evaluate new housing and mixed use developments. We propose amendment language below. 

Regarding the paragraph “Priority Area 1,” we also recommend changing the provision for “any part of which is within one mile of I-95, or I-95/I-495 Capital Beltway” to: “any part of which is contiguous to I-495.” This change maintains inclusion of the greater Largo TSA 1 area, and the Landover Gateway Local Center but excludes Konterra and Westphalia. Konterra and Westphalia are both well outside the Beltway and should not be lumped in with TSA 1 or Priority Area 1. We have consistently asked for a reconsideration of Konterra and Westphalia as priority centers. 

Proposed amendments

Amendment 1: 

Ask the Planning Board to address how subdivision and site plan approvals, instead of building permits, can be limited in line with Plan 2035 goals. Also, request that the Planning Board to advise on how ongoing extensions of approvals that would otherwise expire can be limited.

Amendment 2:

Priority Area 1: All of the area within Transportation Service Area 1 (TSA 1) that is currently served by local bus service, sewer, water and other public services, including any Regional Transit District or Local Center any part of which is within TSA 1, and including any Regional Transit District or Local Center any part of which is [within one mile of I-95, or] contiguous to [I-95/]I-495 Capital Beltway – 2,100 dwelling units shall be excluded from the residential units approvals/building permit Annual Permit Allocation process.

Amendment 3:

Whereas Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) has been used by Prince George’s County as one of the “Indicators of Success” in evaluating implementation of Plan 2035; measuring estimated VMT generated by a new development assesses the overall impact on the transportation system and climate emissions – VMT factors in car trip distances on the road network rather than just localized effects of each trip; traditional Level of Service (LOS) measures, without other measures, can inadvertently penalize development in compact walkable areas with shorter driving distances; current Transportation Review Guidelines differentiate among LOS thresholds for certain types of locations at a very broad level (tier, centers/corridors, TOD zoning districts), which helps account for location proximity and multi-modal travel benefits to some degree; however, other factors that affect resulting VMT and transportation impacts beyond the immediate vicinity of new development are still not captured in existing County LOS metrics; thus, to fully account for the accessibility and multi-modal transportation benefits of development in locations near transit and activity centers within the Capital Beltway and closer

to the region’s core, new transportation development impact evaluation tools are needed; these could include VMT, Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress (LTS), and other multi-modal measures; other local governments across the country have been studying and implementing transportation impact measures that go beyond traditional LOS measures, including the State of California’s requirement for use of VMT impact analysis.  

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the County Council of Prince George’s County, Maryland, sitting as the District Council for that part of Maryland-Washington Regional District in Prince George’s County Maryland, that Prince George’s County and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will evaluate a VMT impact measure for new development, which would include study of exemptions such as small developments below a certain size, developments in low-VMT areas (e.g., near frequent transit, located inside the Capital Beltway in job and activity centers), or special uses like dedicated affordable housing. New developments with VMT impacts above a certain threshold would be required to implement mitigation measures, including project changes, parking, transit, commute, shared mobility, and design features that would reduce VMT and increase travel by non-auto modes to acceptable levels.   

Amendment 4:

Priority Area 2: Exempt all publicly-subsidized and covenanted affordable housing projects.

Rationale: This enables a modest amount of affordable housing construction in these areas which may have Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program designations as Communities of Opportunity and Qualified Census Tracts. Also, affordable housing ownership should also be exempted. This can be achieved by exempting covenanted affordable properties. A broader geography for affordable housing also advances fair housing goals. 

Amendment 5: 

Prince George’s County shall completely reassess the CIP in order to prioritize multi-modal road, transit, and other public infrastructure investments that will attract development to Priority Area 1 (inside the Capital Beltway) designated centers.

Thank you for your consideration. 


Cheryl Cort
Policy Director

Prince George’s County: Density of population and jobs, 2021

Map by D.W. Rowlands