A discussion on fostering development near Metro stations quickly turned into a pointed -- and, officials hope, constructive -- indictment of Prince George's County's planning and zoning process.
The meeting was a response to a pair of bills that would have allowed developers to fast-track the development process for projects within a half-mile of Metro or Maryland Transit Authority stations. The bills were tabled after criticism that they would allow such projects to bypass public hearings.
"When these bills were first introduced, I believe some people thought we were trying to skirt the public input process -- that is not true," said County Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison, D-Bladensburg. "It may not have been the best way, but that's why we retreated back."
Many speakers said the public hearing process is not what slows projects down. Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, called the development process a "labyrinth."
"There are too many requirements," Cort said. "Decisions and processes are mistrusted by the public."
Council members agreed. "The first time I came before the planning board as a citizen activist, I thought, 'Is this a Greek tragedy or a Greek comedy?' " said Councilwoman Mary Lehman, D-Laurel. "There's a long history, and if we don't do something we're going to keep repeating it."
The county is hoping to turn some of its 15 Metro stations into walkable neighborhoods, with proposals to develop around the Greenbelt, Branch Avenue and Largo Town Center stations. The transit-oriented development successes of neighbors like the District and Arlington County loom large for Prince George's.
One anecdote stood out: In the time it took Safeway to get a plan approved to add a gas station to a Prince George's County location, the supermarket chain was able to get an entire store planned, approved and constructed in D.C.
Councilman Mel Franklin, D-Upper Marlboro, who introduced the original bills, saw the meeting as a mark of progress.
"We wanted to get everyone in the same room to talk about the best way to bring high-quality transit-oriented development to the county," he said. "This is just the beginning of the dialogue."