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County Restricts Residential Growth

Subdivisions Limited In Rural Pr. George's

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2005; Page B01

The Prince George's County Council approved a bill yesterday that slows residential growth in the county's most undeveloped region by imposing a one-year ban on new applications for subdivision plans.

The measure was one of three approved by the council that will affect new development in the county's growing, but still largely rural, southern and eastern region, which includes communities such as Croom, Accokeek and sections of Upper Marlboro.

David Harrington wants "some slowdown" in development. (File Photo)

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Building has accelerated in the area. According to the county planning department, about 2,800 acres were subdivided for construction between 2001 and 2004. In the first half of 2004, more than 900 acres were subdivided.

"We need to have some slowdown while we're developing a clearer sense of what we want the rural tier to look like," said council member David Harrington (D-Bladensburg), one of the bill's sponsors.

The legislative package was approved by a 7 to 2 vote, with council members Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) and William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville) opposed. It is part of a concerted effort by the council to put the brakes on building while it comes up with an overall growth policy.

Late last year, the council took the unusual step of allowing new residential construction in the county only if the police and fire departments meet certain staffing and emergency response time standards.

Harrington said he and other members of the council want to look closely at policies in jurisdictions such as Montgomery and Howard counties.

One possibility, he said, would be the use of transferable development rights.

Under such a system, a builder with land zoned for five-acre lots, for example, would be allowed to build on only a portion of the property and transfer the right to build at a higher density to property somewhere else.

"With a sound transfer development rights policy, we can protect open space and wetlands and provide incentive for developers to increase . . . density within areas where the general plan was meant to have density," Harrington said. He said he would like to steer builders to projects that would revitalize the county's older communities.

Another possibility for the rural tier, suggested by developer William Chesley, would be clustering houses on smaller lots to preserve open space.

If, for example, a developer had 1,000 acres zoned for houses with two-acre lots -- allowing 500 houses on the property -- clustering would increase the density, permitting the developer to build 700 houses on one-acre lots.

Environmentalists, zoning attorneys, civic leaders and property owners took turns yesterday commending and criticizing the council during the public hearing before the vote.

"We don't know the impact, and that's concern for us," said William Shipp, vice president of the Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association. "We're not in favor of any legislation that would create a temporary moratorium."

This is not the first time the council has tried to curb the pace of growth in the county's rural areas.

In 2003 the council considered a bill that would have restricted the number of new houses in rural areas to no more than 1 percent of the annual number of houses projected to be built countywide. That would have meant limiting the rural tier to about 20 housing units.

Builders denounced the bill as a virtual moratorium on growth. Harrington, who had sponsored the measure, pulled it from the agenda.

Last year, the council debated a one-year cap on residential building permits. The bill was heard in committee and later amended to its current form.

In addition to the one-year ban on applications for new subdivisions, the bills approved yesterday impose building standards on new houses and a four-month time frame for using a building permit.

Houses must have front and side facades made of brick, contain at least 3,000 square feet of floor space (exclusive of garage and unfinished basement), have at least a two-car garage and have fences no higher than four feet.

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