Area around the Addison Road/Seat Pleasant Metrorail Station. Image by the author.

Prince George's County is updating its more than 50-year-old zoning code, and the update includes new zones that are specific to building transit-oriented communities.

This will help the County benefit more from its Metrorail stations, bus transfer stations, and future Purple Line stations, and will also encourage walkability in the county.

Development across from the Addison Road Metro stop. Image by the author.

The proposed Transit Oriented Zones would encourage walking and transit

Specifically, the County wants to be able to concentrate growth in regional transit districts–vibrant, dense, mixed-use, and transit-oriented neighborhoods.

To that end, the County is exploring new zones around transit stations that would allow homes, retail, and offices to be built together. These zones also have reduced parking minimums and instead require direct pedestrian and bicycle connections to not only the transit station, but also other destinations in the area. These Transit-Oriented base zones will allow more people to be in an area where they can travel without depending on an automobile.

Current zoning map of the Addison Road area. Red and pink are commercial zoning, yellow is residential. Image by PGAtlas.

Some of the zoning regulations won’t change, such as rules that govern the size of a building, how many homes can be built per acre, and how the building is oriented towards the street.

Unlike the current zoning ordinance, these zones also have building form standards designed to help create walkable streetscapes, which means buildings will be close to the sidewalks, have windows for window shopping, and incorporate architectural features that help create a “Main Street” feel (things like balconies, ground floor awnings, etc).

Let’s take as an example a large grocery store with 48 homes above it placed near a Metro station. Under the current county zoning laws, this wouldn’t be possible because vertically mixed-use projects can only be built in a limited number of locations and are subject to a lengthy review process. Under the proposed recommendations, such a project would be easily permissible as long as it met the regulations.

Area around the Addison Road/Seat Pleasant Metrorail Station, which currently follow old zoning regulations Image by the author.

The current zoning code hampers transit-oriented development

The current ordinance was designed to regulate rural and suburban development, and isn’t well equipped to manage growth and redevelopment in denser and transit accessible neighborhoods.

For instance, the current zones surrounding the Addison Road/Seat Pleasant Metrorail Station follow traditional zoning practices: there are two residential zones and three different types of commercial zones. None of the zones intermix, which is how people used to think about zoning–to separate different uses.

Today we understand that commercial and residential areas support each other and shouldn’t be as separate. The current arrangement of zones discourages walking because it increases the distance between homes, commercial destinations, and the transit station.

Area around the Addison Road/Seat Pleasant Metrorail Station, which currently follow old zoning regulations.

Further, design regulations in the ordinance are intended for suburban development patterns. For example, the regulations require a set number of parking spaces based on the size of the building. This further separates the distance between buildings and restricts the type of development possible because large areas must be reserved for parking.

At the Addison Road/Seat Pleasant Metrorail station, the moderately-sized properties across the street cannot be developed to the size and quality that the General Plan envisions without a prohibitively expensive parking structure, despite being across the street from mass transit.

This is a rendering of what the local transit-oriented zones would look like when developed. Image by Prince George’s County Planning Department.

The proposed ordinance is now online, but keep in mind that it is still a draft and has not yet been adopted by the County Council, nor endorsed by the Planning Board. Both the Council and the Planning Department are soliciting comments and suggestions from the public until mid-December.

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Bryan Barnett-Woods is a transportation planner in Prince George’s County with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. In addition to bicycling and rowing, Bryan likes nothing more than a good walk in the city. He lives in Barney Circle with his wife and young son. The opinions expressed in this post represent Bryan’s opinions only and do not represent the opinions of his employer.