For the second time in as many years, the Prince George's County Council appears to be backing away from legislation that would slow the pace of development in the southern and eastern portions of the county.
Council member David Harrington (D-Bladensburg), a sponsor of the bills that would cap residential building permits in Prince George's rural tier, delayed formal introduction of the measures yesterday after what he said were numerous calls from builders, home buyers and property owners.
Harrington said the postponement will allow the council's Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee to address concerns raised by people worried that the restrictions would prevent them from building their homes. Harrington said the council will probably introduce the bills Dec. 7.
"We've had calls from people saying, 'I just closed on my property, will I be able to build my house?' We don't want hurt those people."
The original legislation called for a one-year cap on residential development in the southern tier, barring the county from issuing more than 25 building permits for new homes. That represents roughly 1 percent of the permits issued countywide each year, about 2,500. The measures also would create new standards for setbacks, facades and other design elements that would, in essence, allow not only fewer but larger and pricier homes.
During the one-year period, lawmakers said they would put together a comprehensive growth plan for the rural tier.
Council member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel), chairman of the planning committee and a co-sponsor of the bills, said taking extra time was prudent.
"We just felt we were rushing something that didn't make sense for anyone," Dernoga said.
Harrington agreed, saying the council didn't want to adversely impact home buyers.
But proponents of slower growth, interested in maintaining the rural quality of the area, said yesterday that the delay signals that they are losing a battle against real estate interests who want to take advantage of one of the region's largest stretches of undeveloped property.
"It's tragic," said Fred Tutman, president of the Patuxent River Civic Association. "It shows that the development community runs the roost in this county."
The bills were criticized immediately after their introduction in committee last month. Builders and farmers said that they amounted to a one-year moratorium that was onerous and unfair.
In response, the committee recommended that the one-year time frame be reduced to eight months and that the number of permits be increased to 65.
Tutman said the actions "neutered" the original legislation. He said he is concerned because it seems as if the council is now mainly concerned about the quality of the homes being built rather than striking the right balance between construction and land preservation.
Last year, the council considered similar legislation but then backed off after a similar torrent of protest from developers. Under the previous plan, Harrington suggested putting a permanent 1 percent cap on building permits issued in the rural tier.
The legislation died in committee after Harrington was unable to get the six votes he needed to pass the bill as an emergency measure.
The county's general plan, which was approved in 2002, calls for about 33 percent of the future growth in the county's developed area, 66 percent in the developing tier and 1 percent in the rural tier.