Image by Julie Strupp.

Several candidates for Prince George's county executive and council spoke with Greater Greater Washington contributors and readers at a recent happy hour, especially about the county's bus service, its pending zoning rewrite, and other important issues in the county.

A multi-year reinvestment strategy in College Park has seen the construction and opening of a number of new residential, retail, and restaurant spaces, so we decided to check one of them out. Milkboy Arthouse, a long underutilized college bar, now boasts chic art and performance space. College Park mayor Patrick Wojahn joined us, along with a number of local candidates:

  • Donna Edwards (former member of Congress), Paul Monteiro (former Obama administration official), and Angela Alsobrooks (Prince George's state's attorney), candidates for county executive
  • Calvin Hawkins, candidate for county council at-large
  • Three county council district candidates: former county councilmember Tom Dernoga (District 1), Hyattsville mayor Candace Hollingsworth (District 2), and former state delegate Jolene Ivey (District 5)

We were also joined by former College Park Mayor Andy Fellows, former Hyattsville City Council member Scott Wilson, and former District 2 County Council member Eric Olson (who currently heads up the College Park City-University Partnership). Unfortunately, a zoning hearing prevented any of the current county councilmembers from attending.

Image by Julie Strupp.

Candidates spoke briefly on their vision for the county. Candace Hollingsworth stated the need to reinvest in the county’s older, more densely populated communities and to be conscious of strategies that would maintain the high levels of income, racial, and age diversity in these communities. Tom Dernoga talked about work he had done during his previous council stint to promote bike lanes and more progressive planning processes generally. Jolene Ivey touched on her past representing the Port Towns and the old streetcar suburbs and her interest in building strong communities.

Several of our contributors had the chance to talk to the candidates one on one. DW Rowlands spoke extensively with Donna Edwards and said, “I thought it was interesting that both she and Paul Monteiro seemed to be pretty clearly running as outsiders attacking the way things have been being run in the county. Which, as a lifelong Prince George's resident, does make me more inclined to support them.

“I asked Edwards about The Bus and she seemed supportive of the idea of extending hours of service, but didn't have a plan to do so already figured out. She said she wanted to get to look through the County budget in more depth and try to figure out where money is being wasted and how to use it to more effectively provide services.

Angela Alsobrooks, another candidate generally considered a front-runner for county executive, arrived mid-way through the event. Another contributor, whose job precludes being quoted on the record about political races, spent some time talking to her. “I found her very supportive of transit-oriented development and she even volunteered how parking reform is an important part of making TOD work. That made her seem knowledgeable and smart on that question.”

The contributor also spoke to Alsobrooks, who is the state's attorney for Prince George's, about marijuana prosecution and appreciated her answer. Alsobrooks had been quoted on the radio saying that decriminalization of marijuana had led to increases in crime, and concerned, the contributor asked her about this. Alsobrooks replied that the state is not prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses and hasn't for years, but said we need to be prepared to address some of the shifting in the drug trade that has been taking place. The contributor said Alsobrooks was “genuine, smart, and thoughtful and not just about platitudes,” talking about youth programs, diversion, and other ways to help keep young people in particular out of prison.

Image by Julie Strupp.

We talked about “call-up”

Prince George’s County is updating its entire zoning code, which is more than 50 years old. The reality is that the code was written for a different county than what exists today, and a lot of the suggested changes suggested will better support and improve the developing transit-oriented urban centers throughout the region.

There’s a lot of good stuff in there, but there is also one issue to watch. A development review process called “call-up,” which was successfully challenged in court in 2015 for facilitating corruption, seems to be back in a new form of the latest draft of the zoning rewrite. Fliers at the event explained why that’s a problem, and supporters and candidates around the room discussed that issue throughout the night.

Bradley Heard talked to Edwards about call-up, and appreciated the response he got. He said, “I had the opportunity to explain the dreaded “call-up” process to [Edwards] and to illustrate the potentially negative impact that process has on development in the county. She, in turn, then explained the process in her own words to another attendee, showing that she understood and had taken the information to heart. And somewhere in the middle of all that, she was able to share with us some of the issues she wants to prioritize, including economic development, transparency, and accountability. Everyone left a little more knowledgeable. Plus, the beer was good. What more can you ask for a happy hour?!”

The Planning Department sent half a dozen representatives to talk with attendees about the zoning rewrite, including Derick Berlage, chief of the countywide planning division. Attendees talked about accessory dwelling units, the zoning rewrite, and call-up with planners and elected officials. Who knew drinks and zoning go so well together!

We appreciated the warm welcome in Prince George’s and will definitely be back soon. Thanks to the rest of the organizing committee — Dan Reed, Bradley Heard, Tracy Loh, and David Whitehead — as well as Milkboy Arthouse for hosting, and everyone who came out!