PG 411-12 is a local zoning authority bill that would devolve Prince George's County zoning authority to a municipal level. Sponsored by Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith of Bowie, it would grant county manipulates with populations greater than 20,000. This would limited the authority to Bowie (54,727), College Park (301,413) and Greenbelt (23,068) allowing these three cities to join Laurel (25,115) which has the authority as a historic anomaly.
For the record. some version of this bill has been introduced since I first joined the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce in the late 1990s, I recall testifying against the legislation on behalf of the Chamber as a member, and later co-chair of the legislative committee. Zoning on a local level is a not a recent idea. This November just past marked the 85th anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court case Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. Realty, which upheld the basic constitutionality of local zoning. One often hears the argument that that there is no need zoning and that land use planning is somehow a definition of socialism implying that socialism is somehow criminal and therefore so is zoning. Planning, however, according to Ed McMahon, in Urban Land Magazine, "...is the multi-faceted process that communities use to prepare for change. It is an activity as old as humankind itself. In most realms of endeavor, failing to plan, simply means planning to fail. Try to imagine a corporation without a business plan. It would have a hard time attracting investment. The same is true of communities. In America, land use planning is primarily the responsibility of local government. Zoning is considered the quintessential tool of plan implementation."
Zoning as practiced in Prince George's County tends to be a is a limited tool. It is sometimes good at protecting what is already in place and pretty good at preventing nuisances. Because of political pressures that favor short terms interests of the few over long terms interests of the many, zoning in this county is not particularly good at defining, shaping, or improving the future quality of new development. Because most zoning codes are proscriptive in nature. They try. in Mr. McMahon's words, "...to prevent bad things from happening without laying out a vision of how things should be."
Allowing multiple communities their own zoning may create an mosaic of design which could reflect the diversity the county. It may also lead to additional planning costs for developers restricting the small businesses because of the additional costs. Some may claim that city zoning authority will be more responsive because it is smaller an closer to the community affected. Other may ask where the money will come to support the professional staff needed to administratively handle the increased responsibilities that now are spread out across the entire county through the services of PG-MNCPPC's planning department.
Why do the larger municipalities need the additional layer of zoning is a question we should be asking? Why does Bowie et al. think the planning system in place is broken? What successes has Laurel had that Bowie and the others wish to emulate? What are the measureable benefits to both Bowie and the County in enacting this legislation? Who bears the additional governmental costs? How will the varying local zoning plans connect when it comes to the single ecosystem upon which we all depend? Who will knit together the wider effects of local zoning on connecting infrastructure?
16 years ago this bill would have had strong supporters on both sides debating the proposal; today there is a strange silence - maybe this legislation's moment has come through anodyne apathy to regulatory process changes.
 PG 411-12 Prince George's County - Qualifying Municipal Corporations - Land Use Decisions [accessed January 6, 2012] http://www.princegeorgeshousedelegation.com/legislation/bill-history?local=PG%20411-12
 2010 US Census data
 SUTHERLAND, J., Opinion of the Court, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES. 272 U.S. 365. Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO. No. 31 Argued: January 27, 1926 --- Decided: November 22, 1926 [accessed January 6, 2012] http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0272_0365_ZO.html
"Building zone laws are of modern origin. They began in this country about twenty-five years ago. Until recent years, urban life was comparatively simple; but with the great increase and concentration of population, problems have developed, and constantly are developing, which require, and will continue to require, additional restrictions in respect of the use and occupation of private lands in [p387] urban communities. Regulations the wisdom, necessity and validity of which, as applied to existing conditions, are so apparent that they are now uniformly sustained a century ago, or even half a century ago, probably would have been rejected as arbitrary and oppressive. Such regulations are sustained, under the complex conditions of our day, for reasons analogous to those which justify traffic regulations, which, before the advent of automobiles and rapid transit street railways, would have been condemned as fatally arbitrary and unreasonable. And in this there is no inconsistency, for, while the meaning of constitutional guaranties never varies, the scope of their application must expand or contract to meet the new and different conditions which are constantly coming within the field of their operation. In a changing world, it is impossible that it should be otherwise. But although a degree of elasticity is thus imparted not to the meaning, but to the application of constitutional principles, statutes and ordinances which, after giving due weight to the new conditions, are found clearly not to conform to the Constitution of course must fall."
 Ed McMahon. Happy anniversary, zoning! From Zoning at 85 in Urban Land Magazine. November 23, 2011. [accessed January 6, 2012]
"Successful communities think beyond conventional zoning. They use education, incentives and voluntary initiatives, not just regulation. They also use design standards, form-based codes, density bonuses, transfer of development rights and other innovative techniques that foster walkable, mixed use neighborhoods."