prince george's

Prince George's Council Wants to Waive Ethics Law to Approve New Zoning Map

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After years of planning and millions of dollars spent reimagining what Prince George's County could look like, a plan to move the county forward is stalled at the county council.

A state ethics bill monitoring council campaign contributions stands in the way of approving a new countywide zoning map.

Activists say the Prince George's County Council is asking the state to change the ethics law that prevents politicians from being unfairly influenced by developers.  

“The council is asking the General Assembly to not only legalize its own illegal behavior but the developers’ as well,” said Greg Smith of Sustainable Hyattsville.

After six years of community engagement — and millions of dollars spent — the county simplified its zoning laws and created a new map for development called Plan 2035.

Supporters say it will make the county more competitive and promote smarter growth.

"For us, Prince George’s County, to move forward as other jurisdictions have," said Maryland-National Capital Park Planning Chair Elizabeth Hewlett said.

"I can tell you this is very, very long overdue," Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Harrington said.

To pass the map, the county council needs to vote, but it can't due to a state ethics law that says council members can't accept developer money. If they do, they can't vote on those projects. In this case, so many council members have taken money from developers and landowners that they can't get a quorum.

"We saw that there was potentially legal question with respect to moving forward with the joint public hearing," Council member Todd Turner said in February.

The council is asking the Maryland General Assembly to waive the ethics law in a bill quickly making its way through the House of Delegates. While presented as zoning law, some see it as a pass to break the law.

"I think it really does not come off well,” said Del. Mary Lehman (D-District 21). “It raises all kinds of red flags with me."

"The way it's being done sets up the county to be sold out to developers again," said Janna Parker of Clinton.

Some question if the county's work to move forward is really a step back.

"They’ve asked for permission to break the law,” AMP Creeks Council President Kelly Canavan said. “They've been breaking the law. They kind of got caught breaking the law this time, and they’re heading off lawsuits and other things like that by asking for a loophole."

News4 requested an interview with council members Thursday but was told no one was available.

The bill heads to the house floor for a full vote Friday.

Activists say if it passes, they will fight it in the Senate.

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