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Fast-tracked development near Metro stalls in Prince George's

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Photo - The Naylor Road Metro Station in Prince George's County (Examiner file photo)
The Naylor Road Metro Station in Prince George's County (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

Public criticism has stalled a pair of Prince George's County Council bills meant to bring more development around Metro stations.

The bills, which would allow development projects within a half-mile of Metro or Maryland Transit Administration stations to be fast-tracked straight to the permit process, were criticized in part for allowing projects to bypass some public hearings.

"The concern is that it's not the right approach," said Capitol Heights attorney Brad Heard. "It removes public accountability."

Heard said that streamlining the approval process and curtailing public oversight could lead to corrupt development practices and pay-to-play scandals. In May of last year, former County Executive Jack Johnson admitted to taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from developers.

"Let's be honest -- in Prince George's County, corruption and shoddy development have been the recent history," Heard said. "You need some standards to regulate the process."

Others worried that the proposed process did little to differentiate between transit-oriented development and car-oriented development that happened to be near a Metro station.

"It might not be the kind of development we're seeking," said Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "We need to strike the right balance between setting up standards that are easy to comply with and setting up standards that are high-quality."

The two bills were originally proposed in September by Mel Franklin, D-Upper Marlboro, Andrea Harrison, D-Bladensburg, and Derrick Leon Davis, D-Mitchellville. After backlash, the second bill was tabled and the first was revised. The negative response continued, though, and the council decided to push the legislation to next year and seek more public input.

"We needed more time to address the concerns of folks who were more critical," Franklin said. "Perhaps there are things we can change, modify and improve."

The council has scheduled a Nov. 14 Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee meeting dedicated solely to transit-oriented development. The committee will take public comment on the bills before, during and after the meeting. The bills' sponsors will present revised legislation for further public comment in January before likely presenting it to the council in February.

"That gives us the opportunity to collect more input as to how we could improve those bills," Franklin said. "They might look completely different."

Activists are hoping the altered timeline will help speed up transit-oriented development without shutting them out of the process.

"Nobody really has an issue with Mel Franklin's goal," Heard said. "You just don't want to jam it through with a bill that's not well-thought-out."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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