Michael Theis is the editor and publisher of Route 1 Reporter. He grew up in Hyattsville and College Park. He has more than 10 years experience as a professional journalist, working for such news outlets as the Frederick News-Post, The Shepherdstown Chronicle, Patch.com and the Austin Business Journal.
Because of the economic havoc wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is urging creditors, banks and landlords to grant 90-day rent, mortgage and loan payment holidays to their borrowers and tenants, both residential and commercial. In an interview with Route 1 Reporter, Franchot also called for renters, borrowers and property-owners to also take initiative and request payment relief from their landlords and creditors. “I am told the private sector is more than happy to be responsive to Maryland businesses and families that call them and say ‘for the immediate future we need to keep any cash we have available, so give us 90 days,” said Franchot in a March 27, 2020, interview. “After that we will figure out how to make everybody whole.”
Franchot’s call is voluntary, however. He stopped short of pushing for a mandatory rent, mortagage and loan payment holiday.
Under the banner of the Riverdale Park “Partners in Economic Recovery Program,” the small Baltimore Avenue municipality’s City Council approved a suite of economic and food-assistance measures March 25, 2020 designed to address the coronavirus pandemic, its disruptions, and the recovery needs expected to follow. The measures are notable for the level of direct assistance offered to both businesses and residents, and could be a model for other small towns looking to provide direct assistance to their constituents during the pandemic. Riverdale Park, population 7,200-ish, has an annual operating budget of $6.7 million. Under the program, Riverdale Park… Established a “Resident-Restaurant-Town Partnership Program” designed to provide government-subsidized coupons for town restaurants and restaurant promotional support.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan extended the statewide closure of schools through at least April 24, 2020. Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson said state and county school officials were working to develop plans to address technology-access gaps that make it hard for many students to take advantage of the remote-teaching tools. The school system is trying to poll all students and families at each of its schools to learn more about technology and internet access in the home. Surveys have been circulated among school social networks and newsletters, and county school officials plan to launch a phone poll to get responses from others. Goldson, in a letter to parents, said school officials hope to announce more details of its long-term distance learning plans on Monday, March 30, 2020.
Just in time to avoid the possible collapse of the commercial real estate market, the City of Mount Rainier completed the sale of 3200 Rhode Island Avenue for $1.5 million to IFG Group Development and Construction. The property is approximately 33,000 square feet of vacant land the city bought more than 10 years ago for an inflation adjusted $1.1 million. IFG Group plans to build a $30 million mixed-use apartment complex. The transaction was scheduled to complete this past Friday. By Monday, the money had not yet shown up in the city’s accounts, causing some concern.
Prince George’s County economic development officials are pressing for massive injections of capital and government aid after the local economy has been thrown into a crisis by the coronavirus pandemic. Without government relief, the now-looming expected recession threatens the capital of thousands of business owners and the livelihoods of many thousand more workers, according to local economic development officials. Major employers have had to shut doors due to social gathering restrictions and send scores of workers to the unemployment lines. The combination of social distancing and income insecurity for the working class has devastated the customer base even for businesses still-allowed to operate. The impact on small business-owners, particularly retailers, restaurateurs and artists, is expected to be severe and rapid in Prince George’s County, according to several contacted for this article.
“It is less likely they have the finances to carry themselves for an extensive period of time with limited operating capital,” said Jim Chandler, assistant city administrator and director of economic and community development for the city of Hyattsville.
The coronavirus pandemic disruptions and the resulting economic slowdown will wreak havoc on Prince George’s County government budgets, local elected officials say. The full picture isn’t yet clear, but officials near unanimously tell Route 1 Reporter they are bracing for a severe recession and multiple years of reduced tax revenue that could force them to make deep cuts to services, change they way they provide services, and delay long-term capital projects. For elected officials just now starting their regular budget-planning seasons, the prospect of a deep and immediate recession caused by the pandemic makes it hard to do the forecasting necessary to even build a budget for the next fiscal year. “It is a size-able hit. Everything I am reading implies it will be as bad or worse than the last recession we went through,” said County Councilor Dannielle Glaros in an interview.
City officials across Prince George’s County generally gave high marks to state and county emergency communication efforts so far during the local coronavirus pandemic. “I feel all levels of government, from the state down, are being very responsive,” said Colmar Manor Mayor Sandara Barrow, in an email. But she pushed for more information about whereabouts of individuals infected with coronavirus. “The counties are able to know if there are cases in their jurisdiction, but at this time the municipal jurisdictions are not,” said Barrow in an email.
Several contacted for this article singled out Gov. Larry Hogan for praise, commending him for issuing executive orders to try and stem the pandemic in Maryland.
“I think the Hogan administration is doing an excellent job. Their executive orders have been well thought out and decisive,” said Berwyn Heights Town Administrator Maria Broadbent.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread in the region, Prince George’s County officials say lack of widespread testing remains the biggest problem hampering the county’s response to the pandemic. Prince George’s County Councilor Deni Taveras said the lack of widespread testing makes it hard to know the true extent of the outbreak locally.
“We are having some challenges getting our testing up and running and scaling up to the level we need to be to see the extent of the community transmission that is occurring,” said Taveras in an interview March 21, 2020. A small number of drive-through or walk-up testing facilities opened late last week in Prince George’s County, but county health officials last week urged residents to not rush them without a doctor’s prescription for a coronavirus test. County Councilor Dannielle Glaros said in a March 22, 2020, interview that a testing facility at a field hospital established by the Maryland National Guard at FedEx field is expected to come online this week.
Government officials across Prince George’s County say most residents are taking the social distancing measures seriously, though just about all contacted for this article said they witnessed gatherings that should have been prohibited over the weekend. College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn called for more strict adherence to social distancing orders.
“I have advised residents who see this activity to call the police,” said Wojahn in an email.
This article contains news and information released March, 19, 2020 about food assistance available in Prince George’s County and news about the regional food supply chain. Officials urge Maryland food producers to stay in business
The Maryland Department of Agriculture said it is essential for the state’s food supply chain to remain up and running. This is not normal. In a statement issued March 19, the Maryland Department of Agriculture said “reliable access to food is a human right and it is a critical that our food supply chain maintain – and even be prepared to expand – operations throughout this state of emergency.” The statement, which you can read in full here, lists several industries from agricultural suppliers to grocers to crabbers to veterinary services, as “essential” businesses exempt from executive orders banning business operations at bars and restaurants and other non-essential retailers.
The process to complete an overhaul of Prince George’s County’s zoning regulations has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, officials announced March 17, 2020. The zoning overhaul, which would govern how Prince George’s County’s built environment develops for several decades to come, will be one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation to be considered by the County Council in decades. The delay of the years-long planning effort is just one example of how the pandemic is disrupting life in Prince George’s County Government. Additionally, mandates to avoid crowds and offices have cratered traffic in the region. Developers are often required to submit traffic studies when their projects are reviewed by county planning officials.