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Council Discusses Proposed County Zoning Laws

pg zoning rewrite
At tomorrow’s Council meeting, the City Council will consider approving a letter be sent to the Prince George’s County Planning Department with the City’s comments on Module 1 of the Prince George’s County Zoning Ordinance Rewrite that addresses zones and zone regulations, use regulations and interpretations and definitions.  The letter applauds the County for undertaking the arduous process of rewriting the Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Regulations.  The current zoning code is outdated and cumbersome and the proposed new format and many of the recommendations contained in Module 1 reflect best practices that are welcomed.  The letter includes some concerns, however, about the shift to more by-right development and how that will impact public and municipal participation in the development review process

At last week’s worksession, the City Council discussed the new zoning laws that may affect College Park. The comments include:

1. For communities inside the beltway, replacing the existing Open Space (OS) zone with an Agricultural Land (AL) zone that provides for agriculture and forestry as well as single-family lots greater than 5 acres isn’t a good fit. College Park has both O-S and Reserved Open Space (R-O-S) property but the distinctions between them on the ground aren’t really clear. The City suggests that two different Public Land (PL) zones might be more appropriate: a PL-P zone with the primary purpose of preserving and protecting environmental features and a PL-R zone for parks and recreational facilities.

2. The UMD campus is zoned Rural Residential (R-R) but obviously does not fit this description. Even though UMD is exempt from zoning and permit requirements, there should be another zoning category applied to campus to more accurately reflect the intensity of its use. For example, an Urban Campus (UC) zone that recognizes a high- density, mixed-use campus environment would better describe the land use conditions.

3. The City supports the minor changes to the regulations under the proposed Single-Family Residential-6.7 (SFR -6.7) zone that will replace the existing One-Family Detached (R55) zone. College Park has many properties that are “grandfathered” in this zone. Since the grandfather provisions footnoted in the regulations today will be replaced with new “Transitional Provisions” that have not been drafted, it will be important for the City to review and comment on these provisions.

4. The Multiple-Family, Medium- Density Residential (R-18) zone is found in College Park, particularly in the Old Town neighborhood, but many of these properties are nonconforming. Rather than transition to the Multifamily Residential-20 (MFR-20) zone which retains the same density of up to 20 dwelling units per acre, the City recommends consideration of the Multifamily Residential-12 (MFR-12) zone. This zone would more realistically reflect an appropriate density based on lot size.

5. The City is concerned about the elimination of the Development District and Transit District 0verlay Zones (DDOZ and TDOZ) as well as the Mixed-Use-Infill (M-U-I) and Mixed-Use-Transportation (M-X-T) zones that have been instrumental in promoting redevelopment along the Route 1 corridor and in the College Park Metro Area. It will be difficult to translate the character and urban design standards developed in the specific plans for these areas to more generic base zones. The Route 1 Development District Plan (DDP) and the College Park/Riverdale Park Transit District Development Plan (TDDP) were developed fairly recently with extensive citizen involvement and support. It is important to retain the site-specific nuance captured in these plans as well as the flexibility that has been key to attracting new development. This is particularly true if the Planned Development (PD) zones are not part of the initial map amendment.

The City recommends a possible compromise that retains these plans intact until such time as a new Master Plan for the area is developed. The base zone could be called Mixed-Use-Development (M-U-D) in order to correspond with the MU-PD zone. The byright standards would be those contained in the respective plans. Modifications from the standards would be allowed through the PD process.

6. The standards in the Regional Transit-Oriented (RTO) Center Base Zones that make a distinction between the core (within a ¼ mile of a transit station) and edge (within a ½ mile of a transit station) may be too restrictive. It is important that actual site conditions be considered when applying these standards. It would be a mistake to create a situation where the new base zones appear to be downzoning and work against redevelopment efforts.

7. The proposed new Campus Activity Center Planned Development (CAC-PD) zone is almost identical to the Local Transit-Oriented Planned Development (LTO-PD) zone so is probably unnecessary.

8. The Boarding or Rooming House use is carried forward from the current ordinance and the definition is unchanged. This use has been problematic in College Park and is not used as originally intended. The City recommends that this use be eliminated. If it cannot be eliminated, the definition should be changed to clarify that the dwelling shall be owner-occupied or “operated by a responsible individual” [taken from definition of Group Residential Facility]. The number of guests and guest rooms (bedrooms) needs to be clearly stated to remove any ambiguity. It might also be appropriate to require that a special exception be obtained in order to address the impact to the character of the neighborhood prior to approval.

9. Urban agriculture should be defined as it is a growing trend. Food production should be encouraged as an accessory use on rooftops and permitted in all yards in single-family zones.

10. The definition of a fast-food restaurant under Eating and Drinking Establishments that includes how food items are paid for and what they are served on seems outdated and is not an important land-use distinction. It is recommended that the fast food category be deleted and a new category of drive-through restaurant be created. Drive-through restaurants should not be permitted in the MFR-20 and MFR-48 zones as they are defined as primarily multifamily zones with supportive, walkable retail.

11. Medical Cannabis is a permitted use in the State of Maryland and should be included in the code as a new use with use-specific standards for growing, processing, and dispensing. A dispensary is typically considered a retail activity but might also be placed in the Health Care Uses category.

12. Various types of group living arrangements are defined and permitted in the code such as convent or monastery, assisted living facility, group residential facilities for populations with special needs, fraternity and sorority house, etc. The City suggests that there may be an opportunity to define a new use for students who lease single-family homes in neighborhoods near a college or university and to further regulate this use in terms of occupancy, parking and other standards. This use could be called “University Group Home.”

13. Add “Bike-Share Station” as a permitted accessory use under Transportation Uses in all zones.

14. Add “Dog Park” as a permitted accessory use to Parks and Greenways under the Open Space Use category.

15. The definition of Home Garden and Home-Based Agriculture are very similar and might be combined. The City recommends that gardens be allowed in the front yard and that regulations for garden fences be developed.

16. Add “Library, Personal” as a new accessory use permitted in all zones. This use is sometimes known as a “Little Free Library” and is a “take-a-book, return-a-book” exchange that is becoming increasingly common in neighborhoods. It should be considered similar to a freestanding mailbox in terms of being an allowable encroachment into required yards.

17. Both “Hookah Bars and Electronic Cigarette Stores” are becoming more popular and have some unique characteristics that might warrant them to be addressed in use-specific standards. Consider adding these as new uses in the code.

18. The City is still discussing the merits of allowing accessory dwelling units and home housing for poultry in single-family zones. We intend to provide more input on these uses at a later date.

 

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