The special study for the new mixed-use zone effort has resulted in a legislative proposal for four new mixed-use zones that will implement the policy recommendations of the 2002 General Plan and recent master plans for select centers and corridor nodes. The primary focus of the project is on the essential elements of form and design necessary to foster a sense of place. These new zones will constitute the regulatory standards for development, such as building siting and placement, urban landscaping and streetscape standards, and appropriate parking ratios and regulations. Incentives to encourage the successful application of these recommendations will also be explored.
The overall goal of the new regulations is to establish the form of the structure and create a sense of place. Most design and architectural considerations provide embellishments to the structure and are secondary to issues of form. However, it is the physical form of the building on the site, public realm, and connectivity provided by the street and streetscape that contribute to the sense of the place and the comfort level of the residents and visitors.
In select centers and corridor nodes, the new zones will be applied through the creation of a regulating plan that will establish the detailed guidelines for land use, urban design, and development. In most cases, the regulating plan will be created during the master or sector plan process, with the new zones codifying the standards developed through detailed planning analysis and public input. Property owners with control of a minimum of 20 acres in existing centers and corridor nodes will also be able to request application of the new zone to their land. These property owners will be required to conduct a public outreach program and charrette as part of their application to ensure community and stakeholder involvement.
Implementing the new mixed-use zones will result in a significant change to the way planning and development occurs in areas of the county where it is applied. Major decisions about building form (including height, general use, setback, required parking, etc.), street and streetscape improvements, the location of urban parks and plazas, and more will be made at the time of the creation of the regulating plan. This will be a highly collaborative process involving community members, property owners, developers, planning and other agency staff, and elected decision makers. Approval of the regulating plan will enable the application of the new zones and codify more specific standards for development than the county has used before. Minor deviations from the standards may be approved by the Zoning Hearing Examiner. Development proposals that do not comply with the vision and a regulating plan will not be approved. (In some cases, they can be appealed to a higher authority, but generally, a major deviation will be denied or require a new regulating plan and community involvement effort.) The new mixed-use zones will set a minimum level for quality development in these areas and, with it, a process that will ensure greater certainty about what can be built, with less time and money spent in the approval process once development is ready to proceed.
Simplicity of understanding and ease of applicability throughout the development review process are essential elements of this new zone. The new zones will be integrated into the existing Zoning Ordinance for Prince George's County without creating additional complexity in the development review process. These zones will incorporate illustrations and design sketches as necessary to supplement text and fully explain the requirements and standards. In addition, the new zones will not require the use of an overlay zoning technique, such as a development district. The new zones will not discourage or eliminate the ability for property owners to make minor alterations to their property and will not subject these minor alterations to the same procedures and requirements as new development.