Prince George’s tries to make TOD easier

Prince George’s County wants to encourage growth in the right places by speeding up the approval process for transit-oriented development. The county council unanimously passed a bill last week that just might do it.

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Developers have often said they don’t want to do business in Prince George’s because of its lengthy and unpredictable development review process. Bill CB 20 creates a fast-track development review process for projects within ½ mile of the county’s 15 Metro stations and the Bowie MARC station.

Projects are eligible for the speedier process if the Planning Board finds they meet best practices for urban design, like mixing housing with retail and making engaging streetscapes.

The bill aims to increase transit ridership, reduce auto dependency, and encourage walking for more trips. It’s one of several recommendations county planners say could draw more investment to the county’s Metro station areas.

Concerned about attracting unwanted commercial uses, the bill contains a long list of uses that are not eligible for the expedited review, including adult entertainment, liquor stores, pawn shops, strip malls, and drive-throughs.

An earlier version of the bill would have eliminated most requirements for public meetings or site plan review. This could have potentially rushed low-quality projects to approval without giving the Planning Board and the public enough time to review proposed projects.

Not surprisingly, many people opposed it, and the County Council tabled the bill last year before putting together a roundtable to discuss ways to improve incentives for transit-oriented development. The current bill combines 2 overlapping versions councilmembers Eric Olson and Mel Franklin submitted earlier this year.

The bill’s most important feature is streamlining the review process. It prevents the County Council from arbitrarily dragging out the process, a power they’ve abused in the past that creates uncertainty and discourages developers from working in the county. Developers say that the unpredictability of approvals in Prince George’s County often makes it not worth the time and money spent there.

While the current bill shortens the review process, it still gives the Planning Board and members of the public enough time to offer feedback. If the Planning Board approves a proposal, the County Council has a few days to decide whether or not to review it as well. Project applicants or residents can also use this time to appeal the board’s decision.

Bill CB 20 is just one of many actions Prince George’s County has taken to encourage investment at Metro stations. Recently, county officials have also reduced the impact fees developers pay to support schools and public safety. Economic analysts say excessive fees discourage investment altogether, meaning the county won’t even receive the fees it seeks to collect.

Another element of ensuring development goes at Prince George’s Metro stations is having a good countywide plan. There is a town meeting this Saturday, 10 am-1 pm at the University of Maryland, to work on a plan for the county’s growth over the next 20+ years. You can help push for a plan that works in concert with this legislation to encourage TOD at Metro station sites.

Photo Courtesy of Elvert Barnes on flickr.

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