The Zoning Ordinance

The Zoning Ordinance, Subtitle 27 of the County Code, is adopted by the District Council for the purpose of governing the use and development of land. It defines various zoning categories, specifies the uses which are permitted, prohibited, and permitted subject to special exception review in each zone, and specifies detailed procedures governing a change in zoning. The Zoning Ordinance also sets forth procedures for various stages of development review, establishes standards for land use and the character of development, and provides procedures governing the planning process.

The Zoning Ordinance establishes a number of zones which permit either residential, commercial, industrial or agricultural uses, or a mixture of uses. Within each of these classes are numerous zones of various intensity. For example, there are seventeen separate “residential” zones, ranging in intensity from one unit per five acres, to 48 units per acre. Most of the more recently adopted zones encourage a mixture of residential and commercial uses, under certain circumstances and subject to specific standards and review. These are generally referred to as “floating zones”, while the traditional zones are commonly considered “euclidean zones.”

Euclidean Zones
Euclidean Zoning is characterized by a rather strict separation of land uses. Specific uses are permitted or prohibited subject to inflexible requirements regarding lot size, lot coverage, street frontage, building setback and building height. A Euclidean Zone may be sought by a property owner through a Zoning Map Amendment or applied by the Council through a Sectional Map Amendment. These processes are described later in this Chapter. Floating Zones: Floating Zones are intended to permit specialized development of land in accord with a comprehensive plan, and are subject to specific requirements which ensure compatibility with the adjoining properties. The approval of a floating zone depends upon conformance to the specific requirements of the individual zone, and development within these zones is subject to various stages of site plan review. The Zoning Ordinance includes three types of floating zones: Comprehensive Design (CDZ) Zones, the Mixed Use Transportation Oriented M-X-T) Zone, the Mixed-Use Community (M-X-C) Zone, the Mixed-Use Town Center (M-U-TC) Zone, the Mixed-Use Infill (M-U-I) Zone, the Development District Overlay (D-D-O) Zone and the Transit District Overlay (T-D-O) Zone.

a.) Comprehensive Design Zones are intended to encourage the imaginative utilization of land, expand diversity and choice, lessen public cost, and encourage the positive aspects of development. These zones are more flexible in the scope of permissible uses, land use regulations, residential densities, and building intensities. CDZs reduce public costs by allowing the provision of public benefit features, such as additional green area, public facilities, and recreational amenities, in exchange for density. They provide a developer with incentives to develop a better quality environment.

The plans for a CDZ are submitted in three phases. Approval of the Basic Plan makes the CDZ part of the Zoning Map. The Basic Plan is a general, schematic plan which includes the ranges of dwelling units and building intensity, and a general description of the proposed uses. The second phase, the Comprehensive Design Plan, establishes the general location, distribution, and type of dwelling units and other buildings. The final phase, the Specific Design Plan, shows the precise site plan, architectural plans, building exteriors, and detailed landscaping plans.

b.) The Mixed Use Zones encourage a variety of uses to be developed together in a single coordinated project. Land may only be placed in a Mixed-Use Zone (M-X-T, M-X-C, M-U-TC, M-U-I) if it is located where the applicable Master Plan recommends mixed land uses. As with the CDZs, the dimensions for the location and size of all buildings are determined on a case-by-case basis, and increases in density may be obtained through the provision of public benefit features. Development in a Mixed-Use Zone requires Detailed Site Plan Review.

c.) The Development District and Transit District Overlay Zones are intended to ensure that the development of land in the vicinity of Metrorail stations and other high-intensity development areas maximizes transit ridership, serves the economic and social goals of the area, and takes advantage of the unique development opportunities provided by mass transit and other public facilities. These zones are superimposed over other zones in a designated District and modifies certain requirements for development, such as permitted uses, parking, and sign requirements, within the underlying zones. The D-D-O and T-D-O Zone require that a District Development Plan be approved by the Council and that all development be subject to site plan approval by the Planning Board.

Other Regulations
New regulations have been adopted by the Council that are related to the Zoning Ordinance and have a significant impact on the development process. These regulations are either incorporated into the Zoning Ordinance or are governed by manuals that have been adopted by reference in the Ordinance.

a.) Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Overlay Zones
The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area in Prince George's County, which extends along the Patuxent, Potomac, and Anacostia rivers, was established by the Council in 1988 with the creation of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Overlay Zones. In general, this area includes the tidal waters, tidal wetlands, and all land within 1,000 feet of the mean high tide line. Within the Critical Area Overlay Zones, lands are classified into one of three overlay zones: Intense Development, Limited Development, or Resource Conservation. Development within these zones is regulated by sections of the Zoning Ordinance addressing the type and intensity of uses permitted, and by the adopted Conservation Manual.

b.) Woodland Conservation Requirements
In 1989 the Council amended the Zoning Ordinance to implement provisions of the Woodland Conservation and Tree Preservation Policy Document. This document sets forth requirements for the protection of woodland resources as a component of the development process. Developers are required to provide a detailed accounting of trees on proposed development sites, and through the use of a Tree Conservation Plan approved by the M-NCPPC, preserve an appropriate amount of woodland habitat.

c.) Landscape Manual
In 1989 the Council also approved legislation that removed sections of the Zoning Ordinance that addressed landscaping, buffering, and screening, and consolidated them in the Landscape Manual. This document, which is adopted in the Ordinance by reference, sets forth new regulations for all private and public development in Prince George's County. It establishes minimum mandatory standards, provides options which allow greater freedom of design, and establishes a procedure for approval of alternative methods of compliance with the Manual's standards.

Text Amendments
The Zoning Ordinance is subject to review and amendment solely by the District Council, under procedures set forth in Part 3 of the Ordinance. The Council may amend the text of the Ordinance to create new zones, restrict or expand uses permitted in existing zones, impose new requirements for land development, accommodate new or unforeseen uses, clarify the intent of existing provisions of the Ordinance, or improve the development review process. Some text amendments have relatively narrow application, while others are of far-reaching significance.

A Zoning Ordinance text amendment may be requested by a Council Member, the Planning Board, or an interested individual or organization. Every amendment must be sponsored by a Council Member. Amending the Zoning Ordinance is a legislative proceeding, subject to the normal legislative process (see Chapter II). But unlike other bills, Zoning Ordinance amendments are not subject to Executive approval or veto.