Work Session Attendees and Purpose of the Work Session
On Thursday, March 28, 2019, the GHI Board of Directors hosted a work session with the Honorable Todd Turner, Chair, Prince George’s County Council and our District 4 Representative, the Honorable Mel Franklin, At-Large County Council Member, and the Honorable Calvin Hawkins, At-large County Council Member. Greenbelt City Council Member Colin Byrd and City of Greenbelt Department of Community and Planning Director Terry Hruby attended the work session. Two members of the GHI Audit Committee and several GHI members also attended. The purpose of the work session was to introduce GHI to these County Council Members and to discuss issues of mutual interest.
GHI Board President Steve Skolnik used this meeting to share information with the County Council Members about GHI, to provide a brief history of GHI, and to provide an overview of the GHI Homes Improvements Program (HIP). In discussing HIP, he emphasized that the $25 million dollar project would not require GHI to obtain loans as GHI’s replacement reserves program has sufficient funds to cover the cost of the project.
The Prince George’s County Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Project
The Prince George’s County Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Project was discussed at great length. The GHI Board members were very interested in learning more about the process and timing involved in Greenbelt obtaining a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Zone (NCOZ). Before addressing this topic directly, Todd Turner talked about the zoning rewrite in broader terms:
- The purpose of the zoning rewrite was to modernize the county’s zoning ordinance.
- A primary goal was to streamline the zones in the zoning ordinance in place at the time this effort began. The zoning ordinance consisted of more than 73 zones and over 1,500 kinds of uses.
- When the rewrite becomes effective, there should be less than 40 zones and 250-300 uses.
- The new zoning has added additional requirements to the review process to accommodate more resident involvement.
- The current zoning designation for Greenbelt (R-P-C) will remain in place until the comprehensive map amendment is passed. Once the comprehensive map amendment is passed, the new zoning changes will be in place. At that time the R-P-C will go away, and Greenbelt can apply for a Neighborhood Conservation Overly Zone (NCOZ). The NCOZ may be different from the R-P-C. This is why the City of Greenbelt (and GHI as part of the City of Greenbelt) are working on a draft of what the stakeholders would like to see in the NCOZ.
- National Capital Park and Planning (Park and Planning) is also part of this zoning rewrite. The Prince George’s County Council passed a resolution for Park and Planning to work with the City of Greenbelt, so that when the zoning ordinance is effective, the city will be ready to go through the process to obtain a NCOZ.
- Todd Turner did caution that the city and GHI should expect corrective legislation from the Prince George’s County Council as it is a new County Council. He also reminded GHI that if everything goes as planned, Greenbelt has three County Council Members committed to not letting anything slip as far as the NCOZ is concerned.
County Facilities and Support for Greenbelt as a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC)
GHI Board members discussed the fact that Greenbelt is a NORC. They were interested in which county agencies might have grants or programs to help keep GHI affordable.
GHI Board Member Bill Jones added that GHI is a NORC because people move to GHI and end up staying. Only about a 100 homes a year are up for sale. Also GHI is an owner-occupied community.
As people are staying and aging in place, some older members are facing challenges staying in their homes. For example, members of the cooperative can not obtain reverse mortgages.
Todd Turner responded by mentioning that Prince George’s County has departments that GHI should meet with to discuss these issues. The GHI Board thought such meetings would be productive.
Todd Turner was very clear about the importance of affordability in Prince George’s County, citing the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) which received a $5 million budget in 2017. HTF supports two programs, the Workforce Housing Gap Financing Program and the Pathway to Purchase Program.
The Workforce Housing Gap Financing Program enables the County to help develop mixed income communities by providing gap financing for quality workforce housing.
The Pathway to Purchase Program provides down payment and closing cost assistance to approximately 150 eligible first-time home buyers to purchase owner occupied or vacant residential properties in the County.
Other Federal programs funnel money through the county. GHI Board President Steve Skolnik raised the issue that there seem to be some government programs that can’t be used by people owning shares in a cooperative rather than a deed.
Economic Development Plans Around Greenbelt and the Metro Station
There was discussion about what the Plan B would be for the parcel that was to be used for the FBI headquarters. Consensus by the County Council Members was that there was no Plan B. Todd Turner was under the impression that the developer’s agreement with WMATA may come to an end soon.
Todd Turner mentioned that there was work in process to have Greenbelt designated as an Arts and Entertainment District. This designation comes from the State of Maryland.
He talked about the Beltway Plaza redevelopment project that will revitalize the mall and add housing, making the area a mixed use project.
He also cited some examples of other development throughout the county and the fact that the county is focusing again on efforts to bring higher end stores into the county.
GHI Board President Steve Skolnik mentioned that GHI was looking for business opportunities as currently 90% of all GHI expenses are paid with members’ fees.
SCMaglev and Widening of the Capital Beltway and the BW Parkway
Widening of I-495 and I-270
Todd Turner addressed both of these topics at the same time. He said that the widening of I-495 and I-270 would be a P3 effort (P3 stands for Public-Private Partnership). There will be an informational meeting at Eleanor Roosevelt High School on April 23, 2019. He noted that it was important to monitor the process and ensure that it is followed properly.
To learn more about this topic, see the following article:
He also made the point that the widening of 1-495 and I-270 is not something that either Montgomery County or Prince George’s County asked for. The initial 15 options have been reduced to seven. Transit options, such as dedicated bus only lanes, have been dropped with the focus now on toll lanes. He believed that it may be possible to have more influence on the project as it is a state project rather than a Federal project.
When discussing the Baltimore Washington (BW) Parkway, Todd Turner mentioned that the County Council did pass a resolution against transferring the BW Parkway to the State of Maryland. He was not sure where things are with the proposed widening of the BW Parkway.
Todd Turner began by mentioning that the SCMAGLEV Alternatives Report is available and now the NEPA process has begun.
(From the B-W SCMAGLEV web site the current timeline is described: “The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) are preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate the potential impacts of constructing and operating a high-speed superconducting magnetic levitation (SCMAGLEV) system between Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland with an intermediate stop at BWI Airport. The EIS is being prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), as amended, and other applicable regulations and procedures.”)
GHI Board President Steve Skolnik replied that the GHI Board was aware of the release of the Alternatives Report but wondered what more could be done to oppose this project, as the likely route will have an impact on GHI even if the MAGLEV is supposed to be underground near Greenbelt. Todd Turner stated that the Prince George’s County Council and the Prince George’s County Executive are on record opposing it. As this is a Federal project with Federal funding, he said it is much more difficult to stop. Unfortunately the State Legislature seems divided on this project, so legislation concerning the project has not passed. He did mention that now that there is a new County Council, the Council may decide to weigh in on SCMAGLEV project again. Mel Franklin said to “lawyer up” in response to Steve Skolnik’s question.
Taxation and Assessments and Opportunities for Grants
At the beginning of the Work Session, Steve Skolnik asked that the topics of taxation and assessment, and opportunities for grants, be added to the agenda if there was time at the end of the meeting. He described how GHI is taxed and that this year’s assessment did seem high. Todd Turner made the point that it is the State of Maryland who does the assessments. He said that the solution is to build up the tax base in the county.
Todd Turner mentioned a number of development projects that should contribute to increasing the tax base, such as the University of Maryland Medical Center. He also mentioned that another of effect of the University of Maryland Medical Center project is that they are taking over Laurel Regional Health Care and the Bowie Health Center. He also mentioned that the old Cap Center provides another opportunity. Cultural tourism is another area that is growing in the county, and he thought that there might be a way that Greenbelt could take advantage of this growing area.
Todd Turner encouraged GHI to learn more about existing grants in the county. He also suggested that the GHI Board meet with various county agencies, introduce the cooperative, and start the conversation to see if the cooperative qualified for any of the initiatives. If told the cooperative did not qualify, it would provide an opportunity to start the conversation about how to include cooperatives. Also Todd Turner mentioned that one of the GHI Board Members was a good resource on Pepco-related grants (GHI Board Member Tami Watkins) that might help members in their homes.
The meeting ended on a very congenial note with consensus that the work session had been productive.