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Letter to the Editor: Build near transit for people, planet

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Posted on: June 13, 2024
Photo Credit: Joseph Jakuta

Zoning and planning are definitely complicated, but they are one of the most important things for us to pay attention to at the county level if we want to improve our quality of life and fight climate change.

I worried after reading “County councilmembers tussle over zoning, sprawl” that we need to ground our conversation. In 2018, after years of community meetings, input from experts, and political discussions, the County Council passed the Zoning Rewrite, which aimed to streamline and simplify zoning, while pushing more development toward denser Activity Center Zones. These zones are centered around Metro
stations or other important areas like National Harbor. This is a laudable goal since denser development reduces the need for cars and related pollution, costs less for taxpayers to maintain and service, and has even been found to improve quality of life.

One of the concerns raised in the article is that it is too expensive to build higher density near Activity Centers because they “tend to need to be lifted out of flood plains.”

However, if you match up the current best available flood maps from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) with the Activity Centers Zones, only about 7.46% of the land is in a flood plain as designated by FEMA. What’s more, it is only the Activity Center Zones around West Hyattsville Metro, Cheverly Metro, and National Harbor where flood zones are an issue – most of the Activity
Center Zones have no flood plains at all.

Another concern raised in the piece was about how cutting down trees impacts the air quality children experience. I would never say that cutting down trees is good for air quality, and I certainly think that in many of these Activity Zones, the existing intact forests should be preserved. Still, the number one source of air pollution in our region is transportation.  The Washington, DC, area is considered noncompliant with the federal standards for ozone and borderline with compliance with the new federal standards for particular matters.  One of the worst things we can do to exacerbate the problem is to put more cars on the road, which is what sprawl development does. So if air pollution is going to be dealt with, we really need to build more homes and businesses in the activity centers.  And this is not even getting into the fact that more cars lead to more car accidents, like the one in Riverdale in November 2023.

If we are going to live right by the next generation, we need to act on climate at all levels, and when it comes to local action, the most important thing to do is to put a stop to sprawl development.

No one would doubt we need more housing, but it needs to be where people aren’t also required to have a car to survive. In Prince George’s we can follow the facts and do what is right.

Joseph Jakuta
Resident Mount Rainier, MD

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