Police Computer Goof Turns Out to Be Good News For Brandywine Developer
Written by Erich Wagner, Staff Writer for Gazette.Net
A change in the way Prince George's County police determine emergency response times could breathe new life into a dormant mixed-use development in Brandywine.
The Prince George's County Planning Board voted Jan. 5 to reconsider a $5 million fee for public safety infrastructure improvements in southern Prince George's that the developer must pay to move forward with the proposed 334-acre Villages at Timothy Branch.
The decision comes after police adjusted 2010 emergency call response times from 11 to 7.5 minutes in policing District 5, which covers much of south and southeastern Prince George's, including the site of the proposed development.
A police official said the department discovered a computer error that mixed longer, non-emergency response times with emergency calls.
The development, which would consist of about 1,200 new homes and 300,000 square feet of retail, was hit with a $5 million public safety infrastructure fee in February, thereby putting the brakes on building the development.
Matthew Tedesco, an attorney representing the Crofton-based developer, Timothy Brandywine Investments, continued to pursue the issue, filing a public information request with the Prince George's County Police Department in May because the numbers, he said, "made no sense."
"The police department is required to report emergency and non-emergency response times," Tedesco said at the Jan. 5 meeting. "... Why were non-emergency response times lower than emergency response times [in the original police department report]?"
Tedesco received a response in November from Russell King, a county attorney who represents the police department, stating that the department "re-examined the types of calls" that should be considered emergencies, and concluded that only "Priority 'E'" calls qualified. Those generally include calls regarding crimes in process and serious crimes like homicides.
Capt. Kara Lloyd, assistant commander for the Prince George's County Police Department's public affairs division, said her department changed their reporting policy after realizing that some non-emergency calls were being inadvertently coded as if they were emergencies.
For example, a call for a breaking-and-entering in progress, which is an emergency, was categorized the same way as breaking-and-entering discovered after the intruder has left, which is not considered an emergency call, Lloyd said.
Kamita Gray, president of the Brandywine/TB Southern Regional Neighborhood Coalition, opposed the reconsideration, arguing that there is not enough information available about the context of the police department's re-evaluation of response times data.
"I have an issue with a table being pulled [showing the revised response times], but the reports have not been provided," said Gray, of Brandywine.
Tom Dernoga, an attorney representing Gray and a former county councilman, said that while he agreed with Tedesco wanting to get to the bottom of the response time issue, he thought the developer should have essentially reapplied based on the new information via an amendment to the plan, rather than asking the planning board to reconsider the current proposal.
"The best recourse would be to go through the normal process so the plan meets current laws and standards," Dernoga said.
But planning board chairwoman Elizabeth Hewlett said that requiring the developer to pay additional funds on the studies required for a traditional plan review would be onerous if the original response time numbers were improper.
"If the applicant is required to go through the process and pay thousands and thousands of dollars, and there was no mistake, that's fine," Hewlett said. "But if you have to do that based on a mistake that's not yours, well that's a difficult decision."
Planning board staff have not set a date for the formal reconsideration hearing of Timothy Branch's $5 million public safety fee, but said that it would have to be after they heard more details from the police department about their policy change.