For the first time in over 60 years, Prince George’s County has a comprehensive new zoning ordinance, updated subdivision regulations, and a revised landscape manual. As a Land Use and Zoning law firm in the county, we have been fielding a lot of questions about what the changes could mean to residents and businesses. In this article, we take a look at some of the key changes that were made and what the impact could be on your development plans.
Changes to the Zoning Ordinance
The purpose of zoning ordinances is to control the development of land and to make sure that incompatible uses are not next to one another. For example, zoning can prevent a factory from opening up in a residential neighborhood. Prince George’s County has been governed by a zoning ordinance that was passed in 1959. While the original zones served their purpose, they do not allow for multiple uses that are more in line with contemporary living.
The county’s goals in revising the existing zoning ordinance were to streamline approval processes, modernize zones and development standards, incentivize revitalization and economic development, and protect stable residential neighborhoods. Some of the major changes enacted include:
- Consolidating zones and uses. The previous code created confusion by including far too many zones and uses. The new code reduces the number of zones from 73 to 43 and cuts uses from 1,200 to 250. Zones now have distinct purposes, which allows for greater flexibility and encourages economic development. There is a new focus on multi-use zones.
- Increasing public involvement in zoning and development. The new code retains previous opportunities for the public to get involved, including public hearings and notices, but adds mandatory pre-application neighborhood meetings for large projects, enhances the notification process, and simplifies regulations so that everyone can understand them.
- Improving quality of development. Bringing development standards into the 21st century was a major factor in the new zoning ordinance. The county hopes that adding new standards that require open spaces, adequate lighting, green building, and efficient design will significantly increase the quality of the development allowed moving forward. In addition, compatibility standards have been added to minimize the impact of new development on existing neighborhoods and farms.
While the new code is more organized, logical, and concise than the previous code, it can still be difficult to understand which changes apply to existing properties and which only apply to new development. Our Land Use and Zoning team can help you make sense of the new code, whether you are a new or existing business.
Explanation of Prince George’s County Base Zones
The new zoning ordinance lays out six general classifications of zones in the county.
- Rural and Agricultural. The three zones within this classification are intended to support agriculture and forestry, protect natural resources, and conserve open spaces. Each zone has certain regulations and restrictions that reflect the goals for the property: Reserved Open Space zones maintain environmental lands; Agriculture and Preservation zones include farms and forests; and Agricultural-Residential zones allow for large-lot single-family homes and limited nonresidential uses, such as animal care.
- Single-Family Residential. These zones allow for single-family homes, urban farming, farmer’s markets, and cultural facilities but prohibit commercial and industrial uses. Under this classification are five sub-categories that dictate the number of homes allowed on a given amount of land.
- Multi-Family Residential. Apartments and condominiums are permitted within these zones, which also allow for certain types of commercial properties, including grocery stores, pharmacies, shared commercial kitchens, recreational facilities, and art galleries. There are three zones under this base zone, with each specifying the number of dwelling units allowed per acre of land.
- Nonresidential. There are five types of nonresidential zones in PCG, including Commercial Neighborhood (“Main Street” shopping and dining), Commercial General and Office (retail, business, and civic endeavors), Commercial Service (medical and other professional offices), Industrial Employment (warehouse, research & development), and Industrial Heavy (manufacturing).
- Transit-Oriented and Activity Center. These multi-use zones are in urban areas and range from the walkable and bikeable neighborhood and town Activity Centers to the denser Regional Transit Centers located near major transit stations. The latter zones are the principal targets for future planned growth and economic development in the county.
- Other. The four other base zones are legacy zones serving unique properties within the county that were developed under rules that no longer exist. These zones were created to ensure a smooth transition between obsolete zones and the new ordinance.
The new, streamlined system of zones was designed to simplify the previous code and allow for flexibility and innovative land use. However, it can still be difficult to determine where your mixed-use development plans fit in. When you consult with principal attorney Traci Scudder at Scudder Legal, you can be sure your project will be compliant with the new zoning regulations.
PGC’s Landscape Manual Updates
After a comprehensive update in 2010 that addressed many climate change issues, the county landscape manual was revised in this round to align with the new zoning ordinances. There are landscape restrictions and requirements for each of the base zones. Some of these are new regulations, but many have been on the books since 2010. Some new landscape additions include:
- An increase in shade tree and planting unit requirements
- New requirements for shrubs and understory plantings
- Provisions for more contemporary planting design and site sustainability
- Specific requirements for Transit-Oriented and Activity Center zones
- Descriptions of high-quality landscape recommendations to support walkable urbanism
Suffice it to say that any new site plan will have to meet the landscape requirements for the zone in which it is located. This could include planting requirements along a building’s frontage and the addition of street trees.
Allow Scudder Legal to Answer Your Zoning Questions
Scudder Legal is committed to providing top-notch legal services with a personalized touch that you can only get from a small firm that specializes in a niche practice area. Having practiced zoning law in Prince George’s County for over 15 years, Ms. Scudder can identify and resolve any zoning and land use issues you might be facing, including those related to the new ordinance. Fill out the contact form on this page or call our office at 240-273-3294 to get started.