Prince George County – Green Infrastructure Plan

Prince George’s Green Infrastructure Plan has been successful in preserving and protecting wildlife habitat, while ensuring that future growth does not hinder this progress by establishing a network of undevelopable preservation areas. Due to the county’s provision of incentives and guidance, new developments have occurred in appropriate areas and preservation areas have been maintained. Maps have been created, clearly delineating different zones to guide future planning efforts to enhance and build upon what has already been accomplished.

Project Summary

Prince George’s County is located within the coastal plain of Maryland, with a population of over 800,000 people and covering approximately 500 square miles. It is home to a diverse array of plant species, floodplains, wetlands and woodlands. Prince George’s County is adjacent to Washington, D.C. and lies in the heart of the Washington DC – Baltimore, MD corridor. The population has consistently increased in recent decades creating development pressure. This pressure led to new construction in the 1990s, which resulted in fragmented forests, destruction of natural habitats, decline in wildlife, and degraded water quality. Additionally, a substantial decline of freshwater wetlands, due to highway construction as well as commercial and industrial development has negatively impacted the wildlife and water quality of the area. The Prince George’s County “General Plan” (2002) was created because of community concerns over poor water quality, and a general lack of sustainable development and livability. The 2002 “General Plan” provided a formal mandate for the Green Infrastructure Plan.

The Green Infrastructure Plan was approved in 2005 as a joint effort between the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (M-NCPPC) and Prince George’s County Planning Department. An interdisciplinary team, including representatives from various county departments, assisted in the effort over the two year development period. The plan is composed of an interconnected network of natural areas and open spaces that conserves natural ecosystem values and functions, sustains clean air and water, and provides a wide array of benefits to people and wildlife (Lammers 90). The plan also guides future growth to reduce forest impacts and infrastructure costs, and identifies vital ecological areas to protect and enhance. The strategies of the Prince George’s County Green Infrastructure Plan are each given corresponding implementation actions, to provide guidance for the objectives to be met. The three key elements of the plan include on-going public outreach, GIS driven green infrastructure network development, and protective implementation tools. Implementation tools include land conservation incentives, legislative proposals, monitoring of plan objectives, and funding strategies, including a Purchase of Development Rights Program.

Plan Highlights

Environment

The decline of the natural resources in Prince George’s County occurred due to increased development to accommodate an increasing population. With demographic projections indicating continued population growth, the need to protect the natural resources became amplified.

  • The plan identifies sensitive ecological resources across the county in an effort to ensure their protection, restoration, and enhancement.
  • GIS analysis contributed to appropriate identification of areas to be included in the network by allowing different scenarios and results to be considered by the plan developers before making final decisions.
  • The Plan does not directly address wetland loss, but it provides implementation strategies aimed at expanding minimum stream buffer widths to protect wetlands and their drainage areas.

Community

Public outreach became a significant component of the green infrastructure planning process. The county believed public involvement would improve the accuracy of the plan and increase support from citizens, elected officials and non-profit partners.

  • Public outreach efforts included citizen focus groups to provide input before development of the plan, a citizen review group, and a formal public hearing for the final plan. The county also produced a website where meeting locations, dates and results were posted along with public presentation materials.
  • The Plan included simple, easy to understand graphics, which helped in gaining public support of the plan.

Process

All of the strategy statements in the plan were accompanied with a work program for implementation. This prevented the plan from becoming static, and made possible that implementation could begin the day of approval.

  • The Department was assisted by an interdisciplinary team which included representatives from the Department of Parks and Recreation; the County Department of Public Works and Transportation; the County Department of Environ­mental Resources; and the Bi-County Washington Suburban Sanitary Com­mission.
  • A Purchase of development Rights (PDR) Program was approved in 2008, providing funds to purchase permanent conservation easements on privately owned land.
  • The county’s 2002 “General Plan” for development provided county staff with a formal mandate to prepare a Green Infrastructure Plan based on functional master planning. Their functional plan, which aims to plan the implementation of projects, amends the General Plan but does not make land use or zoning recommendations.

Lessons Learned

The adoption of the plan has helped reduce woodland fragmentation, preserve wildlife habitat and improve water quality in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Through acquiring land and guiding new development for maximum conservation, the objectives of the project are being met. 43 acres in the coastal plain and over 50 acres of forest in Montgomery County have been preserved and protected as a result of being listed as part of the green infrastructure network.

Several keys to success were identified in the Prince George’s County Green Infrastructure Plan. They include developing a set of guiding principles to direct work on the plan, using GIS to inform decisions about what should be included or excluded from the green infrastructure network, using water quality maps to illustrate the need for better protection of ecological and human health, and using graphics to make material legible for citizens.

Additionally, local leadership helped garner support for the Green Infrastructure Plan and ensure its passage. A former elected official acted as a champion for the plan, communicating the ideas and progress of the plan to others. Leadership among elected and appointed officials provided support throughout the planning process. Finally, coordination between the Prince George’s County Planning Board and the County Executive allowed for both sides to support initiatives that meshed well with green infrastructure planning.