Prince George's County Planning Department

Background

Existing zoning tools and techniques in use by the county are inadequate to fully implement and achieve the vision and recommendations of the 2002 General Plan and current master and small area plans (including sector plans and M-U-TC development plans). Current tools and techniques often have too much (or too little) flexibility inherent to the zone. The result is often single-use, horizontal development rather than the vertical mix of uses desired by the county.

Current zoning techniques intended to foster a mix of uses and transit- and pedestrian-oriented design in Prince George’s County typically require the development and application of an overlay zone, essentially its own separate ordinance. These “mini-ordinances” result in confusion and complexity in the application of development regulations, which compounds with the approval of each new set of standards and guidelines codified in an overlay zone. Over 19 separate and unique regulatory plans have been approved for portions of Prince George’s County, each of which establishes a different set of regulations from those espoused in the county Zoning Ordinance.

Current overlay zones and other techniques require the creation of a development concept plan or individual conditions of approval that are unique to each application. The creation, approval, and administration of the current techniques create a significant drain on staff time and resources. The complexity involved in these tools makes them difficult to understand and administer, and the increasing dependence upon these tools fosters confusion and misunderstanding. This also leads to significantly longer review times for new development.

Design regulations in the county consist of mandatory, legally enforceable “standards,” and more flexible, advisory “recommendations” or “guidelines” aimed to achieve a certain character of development for an area but which are not legally enforceable. (To read an analysis of how this flexibility can lead to lower quality development, please see the consultant’s
Zoning and Design Analysis.) One of the difficulties encountered is how best to achieve the desired character of development without strictly regulating every aspect of design and development. Furthermore, there are few incentives for developers to meet the design guidelines intended to achieve the community vision for how an area should develop.

Interviews with the developer community suggest that there is strong desire for certainty in the development review process, particularly with regard to development regulations. Finding a balance between consistent development standards that produce high-quality development and the risk of over-regulation and inconsistent interpretation of standards is a key objective of this project.