Yesterday the full County Council met in a Committee of the Whole (COW) to consider amendments to CB-51-2002, the bill that would improve zoning around General Aviation Airports in Prince George's County. You'll recall that they declined to vote on the day of the public hearing, June 18th, and requested that staff review all of the views in opposition that were expressed. In the interim, MNCPPC staff met with Rouse and (on Monday night) pilots & airport managers from W00 and CGS to review possible amendments. At yesterday's COW meeting, for the first time, all nine Council members were present.
The news is good with respect to amendments.
Attempts by Rouse to further change the dimensions of the Aviation Policy Areas (APAs) failed -- they remain exactly as before.
The bill was improved with respect to notification of prospective homeowners
in APA 6 -- everyone in all six APAs will be notified a time of contract that
they are living near an airport. (In the previous draft, only those in APAs
1-5 received notice at time of contract for their homes while those in APA 6
had more passive notification that they probably would miss.) There were no
objections from anyone on the Council on adding this back in and Estepp and
Knotts both emphasized noise as a compatibility issue.
Attempts by Norman Rivera, representing the developers at College Park, to remove the process of amending APAs/granting exceptions from a Zoning Hearing Examiner (ZHE) and allow the Planning Board to grant them also were generally unsuccessful. Amendments to the APAs will go the Planning Board but always be reviewed by the full District Council, which can refer any controversial amendments to the ZHE. The Council defeated an attempt (by a vote of 5-1) to exempt all zoning decisions at College Park from a ZHE. (This was the only proposed amendment to CB-51-2002 that was voted down.)
The new 'definition' of small and medium airports does not depend on the number of operations. Instead, CGS is declared small because it is publicly owned, flight schools are not allowed, and based aircraft greater than 8500 pounds are not allowed. This will naturally reduce the number of operations relative to the other airports and reduce the predicted number of accidents and is used to justify the smaller APA 3 at CGS. There is still a ban on runways longer than 4,000 feet or with based aircraft greater than 12,500 pounds. However, in the discussion the staff noted that if Hyde got approval for a longer runway then the zoning ordinance would have to be amended and the APAs reviewed as a function of the type of uses.
In short, the bill has come out of the COW stronger than it went in. County
staff met several times with Rouse to try to work out a deal to get them to
support the bill, and did succeed in establishing the fact that they would 'lose'
fewer than 100 homes (not 240, as they claimed). The staff also worked to allow
Rouse to swap land uses within the development without going through the entire
approval process (preliminary sketch plan, comprehensive sketch plan, and so
forth), and to assure that they get to build on A-44, the right of way for the
inter-county connector. There is discussion of making the area between the power
lines and Church Road into a community park. Despite this progress, Rouse is
still opposing the bill and threatening to sue -- probably over fewer than 30
homes, which I think is an exaggeration -- and we can expect them to try to
undermine the legislation again at the final public hearing. At the COW meeting,
however, the Council's attorney advised that Rouse would probably not win a
lawsuit claiming a 'taking', since there are no lots yet east of the power lines.
The news is encouraging, but this bill is still not a 'done deal'. It will need to go to a final public hearing (to include these amendments) on Tuesday July 30th (we believe). That's the last possible day that the bill can be heard and voted on. Rouse will again pull out the stops to try to upset the bill, maybe even introducing newer 'experts' and arguments. The Council can still add and subtract amendments that will weaken the bill on the 30th, or even table it for the fall (which would be a disaster). It was the strong support of pilots at the last hearing that ensured that it survived this COW meeting. We will need another strong showing of support from pilots on July 30th, especially with respect to the new notification provisions in APA 6, and can use more letters in the next week.
If you can testify on Tuesday, July 30th and/or write a letter on the final bill please let me know. I'm getting an electronic version of the bill and will circulate it today. Thank you everyone for the tremendous and effective effort to date.