Prince George's County approves zoning plan over concerns from Langley Park residents Langley Park is home to thousands of low-income immigrants, some of whom worry the rezoning plan could push them out.
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Prince George's County approves zoning plan over concerns from Langley Park residents

Victoria and Bedford Station Apartments in Langley Park, Maryland, are two buildings that could be affected by new zoning changes in Prince George's County. Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist

Lawmakers in Prince George's County, Maryland, unanimously approved a zoning plan Monday that could entice more development to Langley Park.

Immigrant advocacy organization CASA de Maryland campaigned against aspects of the plan — called the Countywide Sectional Map Amendment — saying that it could increase gentrification pressure near a future Purple Line station in Takoma/Langley Crossroads. The area is home to thousands of low-income immigrants from Central America.

"CASA is deeply disappointed that the Prince George's County Council approved a roadmap charting significant gentrification in Langley Park," said Gustavo Torres, CASA's executive director, in a statement. "Our voices weren't heard though we raised every alarm to protect the community. The immigrants and low-income families who call Langley Park home will be pushed out by developers and their luxury apartments if we don't immediately change course and have a zoning process that values community voices over those of developers."

The new regulations overhaul Prince George's County's decades-old zoning rules, which shape how the locality's land can be used and developed in the future. Planners say the old code was confusing and not aligned with current development standards, and changes were needed to prepare the county for the Purple Line light rail project. Two Purple Line stations are planned for the Langley Park area.

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The new zoning map applies to the entire county, but changes to land use in Langley Park, in particular, drew criticism from residents who testified against the plan in public hearings. Langley Park is 84% Latino or Hispanic, according to American Community Survey estimates, and a 2019 report commissioned by CASA says it has one of the largest concentrations of undocumented Latino immigrants in Prince George's.

Under the newly approved zoning rules, land that's currently home to midrise garden apartments in Langley Park could be rebuilt at a higher density, making the existing housing more attractive for redevelopment. The map amendments go into effect April 1, 2022.

An approved rezoning plan would convert medium-density neighborhoods in the Takoma/Langley Park area into higher-density transit zones to accommodate new development along the Purple Line. The previous zoning is shown on the left; approved changes are at right. Courtesy of/Prince George's County Planning Department hide caption

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Courtesy of/Prince George's County Planning Department

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a nonprofit that typically supports dense residential development near mass transit, took the unusual step of opposing the rezoning plan for Langley Park, echoing advocates' concerns that it could lead to displacement. The organization urged planners to maintain the current density of the neighborhood, so redevelopment could still take place, but perhaps at a less dramatic scale.

"Implementing the new zoning code is a critical advancement for Prince George's. We are however disappointed that they aren't waiting to upzone Langley Park until stronger protections for tenants are in place," said Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a text message.

The county has not adopted a plan to protect current Langley Park residents from displacement if their buildings are torn down to make room for new housing, or if their rents go up in response to rising property values. Residents of two buildings in the neighborhood are suing their corporate landlord over poor living conditions, but many say they don't know where they would go if their decaying buildings are replaced by pricier housing.

"I am willing to stop the construction of the train that is coming by, in order to protect our Langley Park," said longtime resident Digna Ramirez during a press event CASA organized in September.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is now calling on officials to exercise the government's right under the county's Right of First Refusal law, which grants Prince George's an opportunity to purchase any multifamily rental building in the county with 20 or more apartments that goes up for sale. The law is meant to preserve lower-cost housing.

County planners have said that maintaining affordable homes in Langley Park is a priority, but that housing policy isn't set by the zoning map.

"The [Countywide Map Amendment] is not an appropriate mechanism to attempt to implement affordability initiatives by zoning fiat. Affordable housing strategies for the County must evolve from the ongoing work such as the Housing Opportunities for All implementation workgroup," staff wrote in a memorandum submitted to the council in October.

Prince George's County Council Chair Calvin Hawkins applauded the plan's approval, calling it a step forward.

"This is a game-changer for our County," Hawkins said. "Prince George's County is now in a posture to successfully compete in our region and seize opportunities for smart growth, economic development and improved quality of life for its residents."

If Langley Park landlords put their buildings on the market, some residents say they're prepared to contest any redevelopment deals that threaten their residency.

"I will keep struggling, speaking out and protesting to not throw us out of Langley Park," said Isabel Espinoza, a 20-year resident of the neighborhood, in a statement. "This land is our land, not the land of the rich."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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