In its first voting session, the newly elected Prince George’s County Council introduced measures to repeal five zoning decisions critical to major development projects that had been enacted by the previous council. As reported by Maryland Matters:
The actions, which critics said bypassed traditional procedures, occurred during a sometimes-tense, two-hour session. They were repeatedly condemned by a handful of council members who had approved the measures, several of which were adopted just prior to the November elections, when the veteran lawmakers and their allies tended to hold the gavel.
Those critics on the council accused the panel’s new chair and his five allies of needless haste, and they said the group’s actions will deter private sector investment in the county. Councilmember Mel Franklin (D) said recently elected lawmakers, many of whom campaigned on the need for improved housing and retail, were taking steps that could wind up thwarting those goals.
“You’re going to hurt a number a number of developments that are bringing high-quality amenities to our county,” he said. “You are going to create significant uncertainty in the business community… It looks like you’re saying Prince George’s County is closed for business.”
The zoning decisions – along with other legislative actions – could affect a number of development projects, including the redevelopment of Freeway Airport – a 129-acre property with frontage on state route 50 in Bowie. The Prince George’s District Council adopted a zoning text amendment allowing townhouses and single-family detached houses on the property. That legislative action was later appealed and overturned by the Maryland Court of Special appeals.
That court ruling, however, raised new questions about zoning and development decisions. Industry and government land use attorneys believe the court made several errors in its ruling, including allowing a legislative act to be directly appealable to the court and incorrectly applying the concept of zoning uniformity. The ruling may invalidate conditional uses, special exceptions and other critical zoning tools. It potentially opens legislative actions to appeal by community groups and presents a confusing new interpretation of what it means to achieve “uniformity” in zoning. NAIOP Maryland filed an Amicus Curiae petition requesting that the Maryland Court of Appeals review the lower court ruling. The petition was accepted and briefs on the case are to be submitted by the end of December.
Meanwhile, Prince George’s County state delegates Mary Lehman and Joseline Pena-Melnyk have introduced state legislation [MC/PG 107-23] that would remove limitations on the right of community associations and individuals to appeal planning and zoning decisions made by the district council of Prince George’s County. The bill would remove the requirement that a person or entity must be aggrieved by the decision (harmed in a way different than the general public) in order to appeal zoning text or map amendments, and exposes the adoption of the comprehensive zoning map and general development plans to appeal. While removing limitations on the rights of community groups and individuals to appeal, the bill would restrict the ability of an applicant to appeal by requiring that the applicant show they are aggrieved by the decision prior to being granted standing to appeal.