Drive-through debate continues

July 9, 2014

Upcoming hearings and meetings:

McDonald’s
remand to District Council
Monday, July 14 at 10:00am
County Administration Bldg
14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive, Upper Marlboro
Watch live
Chick-fil-A
public planning board hearing
Thursday, July 17 at 10:00am
County Administration Building
14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive, Upper Marlboro
Watch live

BY CAROLINE SELLE — The debate over whether to allow the proposed Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s drive-through restaurants near the Prince George’s Plaza metro station continues in and out of court. Current county zoning prohibits drive-throughs in transit districts, which are designed to reduce dependence on cars by promoting other forms of transportation. Both McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A are seeking an amendment to current uses.

On June 24, the Prince George’s County Circuit Court sent the McDonald’s case back to the District Council (the name for the County Council when it rules on planning and zoning questions). In April, the Chick-fil-A case, appealed to the District Council, was sent back before the Prince George’s County Planning Board in order “to allow further testimony into the record.”

Hyattsville residents will have an opportunity to speak out about Chick-fil-A at the planning board hearing on July 17. Based on citizen testimony, the planning board will issue a recommendation in the case in the upcoming months. However, the City of Hyattsville has already made its position clear: it’s against drive-throughs in transit-oriented developments, as specified by zoning guidelines.

“We’re not opposed to fast-food uses. We’re not opposed to any fast-food company,” said Assistant City Administrator Jim Chandler.

Rather, the City is objecting to the companies seeking to add drive-throughs as an acceptable use to the county Prince George’s Plaza Transit District Overlay Zone (TDOZ). The TDOZ, which was created alongside a Transit District Development Plan (TDDP) in 1998, aims “to enhance development opportunities in the vicinity of the Metro station and promote transit use,” according to the Prince George’s County Planning Department.

“It’s just not consistent with the intent of the zone, which is really to develop in a way that [enhances] pedestrian and bicycle traffic. A drive-through is inherently in opposition to that,” said Chandler.

While the outcomes of the cases are determined and interpreted, City Councilmember  Patrick Paschall is taking matters into his own hands. With the planning board scheduled to hear comments on Chick-fil-A on July 17, Paschall is re-circulating a petition calling for Chick-fil-A’s request for a drive-through to be denied. So far, the petition has more than 300 signatures.

Zoning decisions are typically made by the Prince George’s County Planning Board and only called up to the District Council on appeal. Both the Chick-fil-A and the McDonald’s planning board decisions were appealed by the companies, which meant the case was automatically heard by the District Council.

The City of Hyattsville sued the District Council over its McDonald’s decision, and the case was heard before the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. However, the Circuit Court’s decision to remand the McDonald’s decision back to the District Council appears to be based on a potential conflict between county code and state law. The Maryland Regional District Act (RDA) gives the county planning board the responsibility for “planning, subdivision, and zoning functions that are primarily local in scope.”

Meanwhile, an amendment to county’s TDOZ code states, “A property owner may ask the District Council, but not the Planning Board, to change … the list of allowed uses. … The District Council may approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove any amendment requested by a property owner,” as long as it “meets applicable site plan requirements.”

In other words, the RDA appears to require that the planning board be responsible for all zoning decisions in TDOZs, contrary to the Prince George’s County Code, which gives the District Council the ability to change the list of allowed uses in a TDOZ.

Reader poll results as of July 13

Reader poll results as of July 13

If the two are in conflict, state law generally takes precedence over local law.

In the past, “the planning board has made a recommendation and the District Council has made a decision,” said Steve Adams, urban design supervisor at the Prince George’s County Planning Board.

According to Deborah Borden, associate general counsel at the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, “We do have a couple of areas where our local code seems to conflict with state law. I think that’s why we have these cases that are going to court.”

The reasoning by which the Prince George’s County Circuit Court reached its decision appears to be similar to the case of County Council of Prince George County v. Zimmer Development Company, heard by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and decided on May 28, 2014.

“The District Council,” the court found, “…is only authorized to affirm, reverse, or modify the decision of the Planning Board, or to return the case to the Planning Board to take further testimony.”  In the case of the McDonald’s, the District Council did not approve the planning board’s recommendation to allow the restaurant without the drive-through. Instead of following its own procedures, it granted approval for a text amendment to the PG County Code (of which the TDOZ and TDDP are a part).

It appears that the District Council violated its own authority.

Regardless, say drive-through opponents, the District Council decision was contrary to public opinion and the stated goals of the TDOZ. Both McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A were contacted but had no comment at press time.

Citizens of Hyattsville who would like to go on record regarding the Chick-fil-A drive through, “can write a letter stating their position,” said Chandler. “But certainly if people feel passionate about it, I recommend they attend the planning board hearing [on July 17].”

The public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. in the County Administration Building, located at 14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive in Upper Marlboro.