Prince George’s development plans would face new reviews under proposed bills
By Ovetta Wiggins,
Some development projects in Prince George’s County would have to be reviewed by the police and health departments under two separate bills proposed by lawmakers.
County Council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) wants to implement a program, known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), that would require the county Planning Board to refer specific design plans to the police department. The department would be allowed to make suggestions about public safety before the board approves an application for multifamily dwellings, townhouses or mixed-used developments.
Meanwhile, the council’s chairman, Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie), has proposed a more ambitious measure that would require that all site plans, sectional map amendments and proposed master plans be referred to the county Health Department to “identify health impacts or implications of proposed development in a community.”
“As we look to make our county healthier and make our residents more productive, we need to make sure we have an eye toward those issues when we look at development,” Turner said. For example, she said, she wants the Health Department’s input on whether developments are as walkable as they can be.
“It’s not to slow development,” she said.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has not taken an official position on either bill.
But because promoting economic development is a major endeavor of his administration, some questions are being raised about whether the new reviews would harm Baker’s effort to streamline the development process.
Franklin does not think his plan will stymie economic development.
“The issue is making sure development is being designed in a way to reduce crime,” Franklin said of his proposal.
Franklin envisions the police department offering suggestions that could improve residents’ safety, such as the height of shrubbery and the sufficiency of lighting.
Franklin’s bill will be discussed in committee Wednesday, and Turner’s legislation was forwarded to a committee for later discussion.
Crime-prevention design programs have been implemented in towns throughout the country in recent decades.
Several jurisdictions in the Washington area have similar crime-prevention programs, including Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince William counties.
Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said CPTED has been in place there since the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Under the program, the Howard planning agency refers site plans to the community policing division when the agency sees possible public-safety threats.
“We have found that there are many things that we can do to reduce risks that can lead to more serious crimes,” McMahon said. “This is about being proactive. . . . You never know what could have happened.”
In Prince George’s, the agency most affected by Franklin’s measure has opted not to comment on the bill.
“It is so early in the legislative process,” said county police spokeswoman Julie Parker. “The role of the Prince George’s County police department is not fully defined, so we are going to hold off on making comments for now.”
The legislation has some backing.
Steve Adams, a supervisor of urban design for the Planning Board, said the board supports the measure requiring police to review the plans. He said officers could review five to 30 plans a month.
The planning staff recommended the measure, saying that it would “result in projects that create safe living and working environments for the citizens of the county.”
Adams said the Planning Board refers plans to other agencies for input, including the transportation and fire departments, the Departments of Environmental Resources, and the State Highway Administration.
After initial concerns that the bill would create an extra step in the review process, the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association decided not to oppose the measure, because the recommendations would be made in the subdivision review committee process. Originally, builders thought the review would take place separately, not while the Planning Board was reviewing the plan.
“Our concern was. . . [that it would] simply add another step that would slow down the process,” said F. Hamer Campbell, the association’s vice president for government affairs. “If it is simply an attempt to ensure various agencies improve their coordination on reviews, that would be acceptable.”
The building association had not had a chance Tuesday to review Turner’s proposal.