Prince George’s County & District Council Update: Transition to Virtual Hearings

Vincent BiaseVincent Biase, Attorney

On July 21, the Prince George’s County Council voted unanimously to authorize the District Council’s transition to virtual hearings. The Prince George’s County Council has been operating remotely for several months now.  But up until just recently, the District Council, which plays a significant role in land use entitlements in Prince George’s County, has been at a standstill, unable to operate virtually. This has had the undesirable consequence of putting a halt to many development projects in the County.  But with this recent County Council action, that will change.  Council Bill 33-2020 effectively allows the Prince George’s District Council to operate remotely throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic by conducting virtual hearings. Virtual hearings will be held in accordance with the District Council Rules of Procedure (with amendments, discussed below) and public participation will be facilitated through the County’s online platform.

Video of the District Council’s first virtual hearing from July 27th (and subsequent meetings as they occur) is available through the link below:

pgccouncil.us/303/County-Council-Video

The District Council’s next virtual hearing will be held on September 14th at 10 AM. The virtual hearing can be watched live through the link above.

In addition to authorizing virtual hearings for the District Council, the County Council unanimously adopted Resolutions (CR-57-2020 and CR-58-2020) to set procedures that will ensure the District Council can function successfully in this new virtual platform. Specifically, these Resolutions amend the Council Rules of Procedure to provide for electronic notice, public participation, document submission, and virtual participation for all Council legislative and business meetings. Pursuant to these rule changes, individuals are able to sign up to speak on legislation until 3:00 PM on the Monday prior to a Tuesday Council session.

This legislation signals the County’s willingness to move forward with the development approval process despite challenges presented by the Pandemic. Beyond procedurally authorizing virtual/remote hearings, the Council Bill is indicative of County leadership’s confidence in their virtual/remote hearing infrastructure. The Planning Board and County Council have been operating remotely through virtual hearings since March with minimal procedural or functional issues related to technology or digital hosting. The District Council’s transition to virtual will likely follow similar technological procedures to allow for effective advocacy, dialogue, and public participation in future hearings. Importantly, this legislation will allow all land use entitlements and approvals to move forward during this unprecedented time, to ensure that Prince George’s County remains open for business.