Prince George’s County will welcome new county council members in a few months, and a new majority of progressive Democrats is expected to change how the council approaches issues like land use.
Some county activists are accusing the current council of limiting what new members can do in those cases.
In September 2021, former Prince George's County Council member Derrick Davis was driven to tears as a room full of senior citizens accused the politician of underhanded politics. They fought a fast-moving proposal to radically change their community with the construction of a massive multiuse development. It’s one of many such fights around the county, and it played a part in why voters elected a new council majority with a different approach to governing.
“We knocked on over 20,000 doors in District 6, and people made it clear we want change,” said Prince George's Council Democratic nominee Wala Blegay (District 6).
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Blegay is one of many concerned about two proposed bills that she says will put the incoming council at a disadvantage. One requires eight instead of six votes from the 11-member council to approve future zoning legislation. The second will limit the council's review of zoning cases, which will also limit public interaction.
“I've never seen in any other legislative body where they’ve actually passed laws to increase the number to get things done because they've lost,” Blegay said. “That's not fair and that's not democratic, either.”
“It's about our land and how we can use it,” said community activist Carol Hurwitch of Adelphi.
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Activists representing various groups in Prince George's County support a petition that has hundreds of signatures opposing the bills.
“We saw in the election cycle that many districts voted in candidates that would be very community-centered and community-focused and that they would be beholden to the voters and their wishes and the community's wishes above developer interest,” PG Change Makers Deputy Director Janna Parker said.
Some residents have been involved in land-use fights that have gone on for years from the council to the courts and back again. They said they want the fights to be fair.
“The current council is making sly legislative moves, planning on the fact that people are not paying attention,” said Deane Wright of Progressive Maryland.
There will be a public hearing on the two bills Thursday. Anyone interested in testifying before the council will need to sign up by Wednesday at 3 p.m.
If passed, the new legislation is expected to take effect in December when the new council is seated. In the meantime, the current council is rapidly reviewing a number of zoning bills.
The proposed legislation was introduced by the council's two at-large members, Calvin Hawkins and Mel Franklin. Neither was available for comment Tuesday.