Prince George's County has 13,000 fewer residential housing units on the drawing board than previously reported, according to new data. The information was included in a new report for Commission 2000--the county task force trying to figure out the best way to manage future growth.
The new figures show that the next big phase of development will be in the central and southern parts of the county in the next few years, and give a more accurate picture of what will be built.
The findings are significant because the County Council had relied on the incorrect data over the past two years when it adopted development fees on new housing construction and passed a moratorium on residential construction in areas where schools were severely crowded.
The county actually has about 27,450 units in the so-called development pipeline compared with the nearly 40,000 that planners initially reported. The information was included in a report by a subcommittee studying the pipeline for Commission 2000.
The number of planned units was important to the debate over whether enough public facilities--parks, schools and other basic needs--were being planned. The data showed where new growth was anticipated and what effect it would have on school enrollment.
No major problems have been linked to the inaccurate data, but a member of Commission 2000 was troubled by the findings.
Donna Hathaway Beck, a member of the subcommittee studying the development pipeline, said she is concerned that the council acted on legislation that was based on faulty information.
"This process, if nothing else, exposes the fact that a lot of these people don't know what they are doing," Beck said. "They are flying by the seat of their pants."
County Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro) acknowledged that the council did not appear to have correct information when it adopted the new land-use policies.
"I really think to some extent we were shortchanged on information regarding the pipeline," Estepp said. "It would have been nice to have accurate numbers."
Tom Tyson, a coordinator for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said planners used new computer mapping programs to revise the figures.
In 1997, county planners estimated the number of recorded lots at 27,000. But that number was revised to about 21,000 after the paper deeds were matched with maps of the county. In some cases, lots were proposed for development on areas that are now protected by wetlands and other environmental regulations.
The number of new projects proposed and approved for development also has decreased, according to the revised data. In the mid-1990s, the county approved about 4,000 new projects a year. Last year, that number dropped to about 1,000 units.
"We were able to . . . make better estimates of which lots were buildable and which lots were not buildable, and that resulted in a reduction," Tyson said.
Estepp said the council still would have adopted controls on new development but probably would not have felt such an urgency to do so.
"Frankly, there was a panic that pervaded the council, that we had this situation that was not being dealt with," he said. "The pipeline is still a major issue, but it would have been nice to have accurate numbers."
The nine-member subcommittee also found that most of the development is planned for the central and southern regions of the county.
Of the 27,450 units approved for development, 9,815 are proposed for the southern part of the county, which includes the Upper Marlboro and Fort Washington areas. The central part of the county, which includes Mitchellville and Bowie, has 8,770 units approved for development.
The northern part of the county, which includes Laurel and Greenbelt, has 2,034 units approved. The inner-Beltway area, which includes Capitol Heights and Seat Pleasant, has 4,357 units.
"An exorbitant number of those are in the wrong location," Beck said. "It seems like revitalization is more of a theory than something that is beginning to happen. The number of units in south county is just horrifying."
In each of the areas, more single-family homes have been approved than town houses or apartment units, according to the report, which was presented last week at a scheduled meeting of Commission 2000.
The County Council created the 53-member Commission 2000 in 1998 to study land-use issues and to develop recommendations for growth management policies.
The panel, composed of civic leaders, developers, business leaders and elected officials, will meet again Sept. 21 at the Newton White Mansion in Mitchellville. Meetings are open to the public.
On the commercial side, the pipeline subcommittee found that the county has 5,744 acres of commercial and industrial property approved for development. Much of that--2,735 acres--is planned for the central part of the county.
The subcommittee also issued policy recommendations for dealing with the pipeline.
Gary Allen, former Bowie mayor and chairman of the subcommittee, said the group found that about 80 percent of the projects planned in the county take about six years to move through the development review process.
He noted that the review process includes about 200 steps and employs about 4,000 people.
The group recommended that residential or industrial lots more than six years old must have infrastructure bonding in place for 20 lots or 25 percent of the project. If they do not, the project would be subject to new adequate public facilities tests before building permits would be issued.
The project would have to be fully bonded within the next six years.
That kind of bonding requirement is common in other Maryland jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery, Carroll and Charles counties.
Commission 2000, which is chaired by former council member Stephen J. Del Giudice, is scheduled to begin debate on the recommendations late this month.