The regulation of land use and zoning is one of the most important functions of county government. New development can enhance or detract from residents’ quality of life, foster or hinder economic development, and dramatically impact land use options for individual property owners. It is therefore critical that all affected community members have meaningful input into zoning decisions. Our public participation process needs to be more than good – it needs to be great.
No land use decision will please every community member or every property owner. Officials have to choose among the competing positions of neighbors of the project, developers, agencies, and other stakeholders. The critical test of a good community process is credibility. The side which did not prevail will be unhappy. But they must believe that they were treated fairly, and respect the decision even if they disagree with it.
In Prince George’s County, as in many jurisdictions, the public hearing before the Planning Board or the District Council is viewed as the most important moment of public participation. But public hearings are only effective when participants arrive at the hearing with accurate, complete information and receive a meaningful opportunity to be heard. And it is important to note that public hearings are not always necessary or appropriate. Most development can – and should – be handled at an administrative level (permit review or staff-level review). Potential public input opportunities for administrative applications are addressed in the companion discussion paper.
This executive summary discusses possible reforms to improve public participation in land use and zoning decisions as explored in further detail in the companion discussion paper. Experience shows that a good public participation process begins long before the hearing is even scheduled. These reforms cover the time period before a development application is considered, the hearing itself, and what happens after the hearing. Each proposed reform creates potential costs for the applicant and the County.
It is safe to say that applying every reform to every application would be neither practical nor affordable. However, this executive summary outlines a menu of options from which to choose. Staff reminds the reader that, at the time of this writing, the Planning Department, Planning Board, and District Council have not taken any positions regarding the proposals presented by the Clarion Associates team. Nothing in this executive summary or the companion discussion paper should be viewed as endorsement or adoption of any recommendation made by Clarion.
Read the discussion paper on Creating a World-Class Public Participation Process for Land Use and Zoning Decisions