The Prince George's County Council has sent a message to fast food restaurants that want to settle along its suburban strips: Have it your way somewhere else.
The council voted 6 to 3 yesterday to slow the proliferation of fast food establishments by requiring those businesses to obtain zoning waivers before opening in small shopping centers.
"In Prince George's County, we have more fast food restaurants than good restaurants," said council member Frank Casula. "There are 40 of them if you look at Rte. 1 from Hyattsville to Laurel."
The measure reflects growing attention by county officials and others to improving an image that has suffered in past comparisons to its neighboring jurisdictions. For years, the county was known for its uncontrolled, low-cost development, but it recently has attracted several large, more expensive residential and commercial projects.
The fast food measure, which Casula introduced, requires the restaurants to obtain from county planning officials a zoning exception if they are planning to operate in shopping centers that contain fewer than six businesses and occupy less than 50,000 square feet.
There are 106 shopping centers in the county, 23 of which will be affected by the measure, according to a report prepared by county planning officials. Many of the centers are more than 40 years old, inside the Beltway and partly vacant.
"This bill is going to hurt more than it's going to help," said council member Sue V. Mills, who voted against the measure with Hilda Pemberton and Jo Ann T. Bell. "It's much worse to have shopping centers vacated . . . than to have a fast food restaurant."
Edward Gibbs, an attorney for McDonald's restaurants, unsuccessfully sought to have the square-footage limit lowered to 40,000, which he said would cut in half the number of shopping centers affected by the law.
"This obviously will affect our business operations," he said after the vote.
The measure will hit particularly hard the redevelopment efforts under way inside the Capital Beltway, said John Lally, an attorney for a shopping center on Walker Mill Road.
"This puts another stumbling block, another process, in the way of . . . redevelopment," he said.
Lally said that while development efforts have concentrated on the largely suburban and undeveloped areas outside the Beltway, developers now are exploring the refurbishing of shopping centers closer to the District.
A year ago, the District of Columbia Zoning Commission imposed regulations limiting the location of fast-food restaurants in an effort to protect the residential nature of the city's neighborhoods.