Prince George's council rejects zoning change, new storm water rules

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 8:51 PM

In its final legislative session, the Prince George's County Council killed a bill Tuesday that would have allowed a developer to change the zoning on property in Fort Washington and rejected new storm water management regulations for the county.

About two dozen residents presented petitions with hundreds of signatures opposing the zoning change. The legislation would have permitted developer William Chesley of Fort Washington Acres Partnership to build up to 360 townhouses or condominiums and commercial buildings on vacant land zoned for 72 single-family homes. They argued that the additional residential units would increase traffic and strain schools and public services.

Council member Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) asked the council to reject the bill he had introduced after acknowledging that the community had not been sufficiently notified of the proposed zoning change. The council followed suit, voting 9-0 against the measure.

"My office should have been more effective in getting the community more involved," Knotts said. He said he introduced the bill as a way to expand Fort Washington Medical Center. Chesley offered to provide the hospital with four acres of land if the legislation was approved.

After two hours of public debate and two breaks to discuss in private the storm water bill, the council voted 6-3 against it. The bill would put Prince George's storm water management standards on par with Montgomery County's. Council Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel) and council members Eric Olson (D-College Park) and Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie) voted for the measure.

Supporters of the measure, including numerous municipal leaders, said the bill would improve the environment. Developers argued that it would stymie redevelopment.

"All of the compromise was by the environmentalists, none by the development community," Dernoga, who introduced the bill, said after the vote.

Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville) recommended that the bill be resubmitted to committee, a move that essentially killed the legislation.

Council member Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale) said she struggled with the bill because she thought "the truth . . . has been stretched."

"I don't believe development will stop, and I don't believe the earth will die if we come back in January," she said.

Edmonston Mayor Adam Ortiz, who supported the legislation, said he was disappointed by the decision to leave the issue to the incoming council.

"The decision is overdue," he said. "Certainly we want a bill that people are comfortable with, but prolonging the decision leaves unfinished business for the next council."

In other action, developer Ken Michael and Lansdowne Development Group received approval to substitute townhouses for apartments in the project known as Karington in Bowie. Representatives of the developers have said the zoning change will increase the value of the project and promote home ownership.

The bill was originally criticized by residents, who said the measure was drafted specifically to benefit Michael and Lansdowne. Turner, who introduced the legislation, said previously that any worries about increased density were unwarranted.

The council approved the bill 8-0, without debate. Harrison was absent.

The council killed a bill that would change the definition of accessory uses in the county's zoning ordinance. About 200 people packed the council chamber to oppose the legislation. Many were ministers from local churches and students from an Islamic school in College Park.

Arthur Horne, an attorney for churches and a Muslim center, said the bill would have caused churches to go through new layers of approval to build day-care centers and gymnasiums.

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