Development Review

The final steps in the land development process consist of the review and approval of subdivision plats and of various types of permits. In some cases, review and approval of site plans are also required. These procedures are designed to ensure that new development is compatible with approved master plans, meets county requirements and enhances the quality of life in the county.

(a) Subdivision
The Subdivision Regulations, which are part of the Prince George's County Code, control the subdivision of land for purposes of sale or development. Subdivisions are controlled through a process known as platting. A plat is a map of a parcel of land which shows features such as lot lines, streets, stormwater management facilities, easements, topography and building restriction lines.

(b) Preliminary Plats
The first step in the platting process consists of reviewing a preliminary plat. One of the major purposes of reviewing preliminary plats is to ensure that adequate public facilities are available, or will be available in the foreseeable future, to serve the proposed development. Determination of adequacy is made for schools, fire and rescue facilities, police facilities and public roads. The Planning Board determines adequacy based on an analysis of information generated by staff or submitted by the applicant or by the agencies responsible for building required facilities or supplying the necessary services. These agencies include the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, Department of Public Works and Transportation, Board of Education, State Highway Administration, Fire Department, Police Department and Health Department. If the necessary County-financed fire and rescue, police and transportation facilities are not existing, they must be planned for construction under the adopted Six-Year Capital Improvement Program. There is also an adequacy test for schools that is based upon regulations contained in the Subdivision Regulations. Public water and sewer facilities are considered adequate if the subdivision is located within the appropriate service area, in accordance with the Ten-Year Water and Sewerage Plan.

Preliminary plats are also reviewed for environmental issues, such as woodland conservation and stormwater management; proper legal description of lots; and the general design of the subdivision including access, circulation and lotting pattern. Certain residential subdivisions are required to provide land for public parks, recreational facilities or money to supplement existing facilities. The majority of preliminary plats are heard at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Planning Board. However, certain residential subdivisions containing four or fewer lots may be approved by the Planning Director. These are known as minor subdivisions.

There are three additional types of plats in the subdivision process. The Cluster Preliminary Plat is an optional method of design allowed in certain residential zones. The Final Plat contains all the pertinent engineering data, and the Record Plat is recorded in the land records for the county, establishing the actual subdivision of the property.

In instances, of extraordinary hardship or practical difficulties the Planning Board may grant Variations from the strict application of the Subdivision Regulations. In addition, the Vacation (abandonment) of a recorded subdivision may be approved upon petition by the owner of the property.

(c) Site Plan Review
Some development applications are subject to a special review process called site plan review. In most cases, site plan review is triggered by a Zoning Ordinance requirement attached to a particular zone or use, such as residential cluster subdivisions, townhouses, multifamily housing, day care centers, and employment parks in the I-3 Zone. Site plan review may also be required as a condition of preliminary plats, special exception or zoning map amendment approval. This process involves an in-depth review of the site plan and is based primarily on design issues, such as buffering, landscaping, grading and architecture. The plan must conform to the design guidelines stipulated in the Zoning Ordinance. These guidelines are performance standards for the design of parking, loading and circulation; lighting; views; green area; site and streetscape amenities; grading; service areas; public spaces; and in some cases, architecture.

The Planning Board is required to hold a public hearing on the site plan within 70 days of the time it is accepted, unless the applicant agrees to a waiver. Properties are posted with a sign advertising the hearing and all adjoining property owners are notified by mail. Any interested person may speak on the proposal at the hearing. M-NCPPC staff prepares a report and makes a recommendation to the Planning Board. The Planning Board may approve, approve with conditions, or deny the plan.

The board's decision may be appealed to the District Council by any party of record or the District Council may, on its own motion, choose to review the board's decision. The council will then hold a public hearing and affirm, reverse or modify the board's decision.

There are two types of site plans which are subject to the site plan review process.

(d) Conceptual Site Plans
Conceptual site plans show basic relationships among the proposed uses and illustrate approximate locations of structures, parking areas, streets, site access, open space and other major physical features. They may be somewhat detailed, or may depict large areas connected with arrows or other graphic symbols. Conceptual site plans must be approved before a preliminary plat of subdivision may be approved. They are valid indefinitely.

(e) Detailed Site Plans
Detailed site plans show the specific location and design of all buildings and structures, streets, parking lots, open spaces, landscaping, grading and other physical features. Whereas conceptual site plans are schematic and general, the detailed site plans are very specific and contain the same level of site information that is necessary to obtain a permit. Like conceptual site plans, the detailed site plans must conform to the site design guidelines. They must also conform to the preceding conceptual site plan, if one was required, and the preliminary plat. A detailed site plan is valid for three years. No building permits can be issued until the detailed site plan has been approved.

In addition to the regular detailed site plans described above, there is a detailed site plan for infrastructure which shows grading, stormwater management, tree conservation areas, sediment and erosion control, and utilities such as sewer and water. Approval of a detailed site plan for infrastructure allows an applicant to go forward with grading the property and making infrastructure improvements before all the architectural details are complete. The applicant may apply for approval of a regular detailed site plan at a later date.

(f) Permit Review
Building, use and occupancy, grading and sign permits are issued by the Prince George's County Department of Environmental Resources (DER). DER refers such applications to other local agencies including the Soil Conservation Service, Department of Public Works and Transportation, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, State Health Department and M-NCPPC.

The purpose of the referral to M-NCPPC is to ensure conformance with the Zoning Ordinance, Historic Preservation Ordinance and the Subdivision Regulations. This may involve parking, proposed uses, conditions attached to zoning, conditions attached to subdivision approvals and other issues. DER must refer most permits to M-NCPPC or the permit would be deemed to be issued in error.

(g) Historic Area Work Permits (HAWP)
Projects involving an Historic Site or property within an historic district require an additional permit, beyond those described in the previous section, if certain types of work are proposed, such as major exterior alterations, demolition, new construction or changes to the setting of an Historic Site. The HAWP process does not apply to interior work or to exterior projects that will not alter the exterior features of the Historic Site or its setting.

(h) Other Regulations
There are other regulations pertaining to woodland conservation and landscaping that have a significant impact on the development process. These regulations are governed by manuals that have been adopted by reference in the Zoning Ordinance.

(i) Woodland Preservation & Tree Preservation
To minimize unnecessary destruction of woodlands and specimen trees, the Woodland Conservation and Tree Preservation Ordinance was passed in 1990 and is part of the Zoning Ordinance. This policy involves a negotiated tree conservation plan that sets site-specific conservation requirements and commits the applicant to the use of certain tree protection techniques before, during and after construction. Strict penalties are imposed if the agreement is violated.

(j) Landscape Manual and Alternative Compliance
The Landscape Manual establishes mandatory minimum standards for planting on residential lots and for commercial landscape strips, perimeter strips and internal landscaping in parking lots. It requires buffering incompatible uses and screening undesirable views such as those associated with loading activities. It also includes a list of recommended trees and ornamental plants, as well as planting specifications and details.

In cases where circumstances prevent strict compliance, there is a procedure to allow other designs that equal or exceed the requirements. This procedure is called alternative compliance. A committee of M-NCPPC Planning Department staff reviews these cases. It makes recommendations to the Planning Director, in the case permits, or the approving authority, such as the District Council, in other types of cases. An alternative compliance application must be filed in conjunction with another application, such as a permit, detailed site plan or special exception.