Under Construction Newsletter, January 2022

DPIE Under Construction masthead with Permitting, Plan Review, Licensing, Inspections and Enforcement visuals, and DPIE logo

January 2022

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Message from the Director

DPIE Director Melinda Bolling

Happy New Year, Community Partners!


I hope your holidays were happy. My staff has returned refreshed and rearing to go in this new year. We are proud of the work we did last year and excited to augment our service to you in 2022. Last year, we expanded inspections of commercial and residential properties; public information, outreach and education efforts for residents and businesses; assistance to entrepreneurs and owners of existing businesses; and code violation detection and enforcement. We will continue those efforts. We will also regularly share with you additional initiatives we will implement this year.

In our effort to improve service, we are tracking our performance through our DPIE Customer Satisfaction Survey. The confidential online survey can be completed in only a few minutes. You can access the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DPIECSS21-22 or on our website. Many members of my staff have included the link in their signature boxes.

We look forward to serving you in 2022!

DPIE Director Melinda Bollings signature block

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Don't Forget to Clear Your Sidewalks!

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Top DPIE Accomplishments for 2021*

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Vertical Film Strip of DPIE employees at work

1. Continued high-quality service during pandemic

2. Implemented Momentum Phase Two, adding online Health Department food safety and environmental licensing and opened the Virtual Permit Café online permitting system

3. Expanded third-party plan review and inspector program; reduced plan review timeframes

4. Adopted and implemented 2018 International Building Codes and 2017 National Electrical Code with County Subtitles 4 and 9

5. Established the Vehicle Charging Station Permit

6. Established the Aerial Enforcement Program and the Drone Inspection Program

7. Expanded the Business Development Section (BDS) to work with more entrepreneurs to spur economic development

8. Worked to expand powers of the Administrative Hearing Unit (AHU) to include subpoena power, service of process for enforcement citations and adjudication of short-term rental violations

9. Worked with sister agencies to address water problems in the County

10. Implemented the upgraded Drainage Complaint Resolution Process for New Home Construction

11. Established an online information program to provide documents to the public

12. Virtually hosted about 190 people at the Fall Community Partners’ meeting and held the County’s first Community Partners’-type meeting in Spanish

13. Office of Boards and Commissions — including Nuisance Abatement, Building and Electrical boards — held 98 virtual hearings

14. Implemented online Small Wireless Facility applications/permits

15. Completed scanning of floodplain studies and publication in PG Atlas in GIS format

*All photos followed COVID protocol at the time they were taken.

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spacer bar between articles, no image, no textshopping center’s owners cited for 15 code violations, including this overflowing dumpster

This Suitland shopping center’s owners/managers were cited for 15 code violations, including failing to keep the property in a clean, safe, secure sanitary condition; inappropriate disposal of garbage and rubbish; unsound condition of structures; tall weeds; and failure to mitigate insects, rats or vermin.

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Enforcement Division Zeroes in on Commercial Property Violations with Operation Business Compliance

Program Supports the County’s Beautification Initiative

The parking lot is pocked with jagged holes. Dumpsters sit gaped open amid old boxes, broken wood crates, and discarded furniture — spilling garbage onto the rear service road. Sidewalks are stained with decades of soil, illegal vehicles litter the parking area and stucco adorning storefronts is badly cracked.

The Suitland shopping center’s owners have been cited by DPIE for numerous property maintenance standards and zoning code violations; $16,000 in fines have been levied. Yet those responsible for the property have failed to bring it into compliance, leaving residents frustrated at the unsightly spectacle and many customers refusing to patronize the unkempt center’s businesses.

Rusted, compromised footer of mall overhang

County Code requires those who own and operate shopping centers and other businesses to comply with maintenance and zoning mandates. For those who don’t, DPIE has established Operation Business Compliance (OBC).

"Those responsible for these properties show disrespect for the communities and the residents who live there by allowing them to fall into severe disrepair,” said DPIE Enforcement Division Inspector James E. Laws, who has been working for two years to bring the shopping center into compliance. “People wonder why it takes so long to address problems like this. Those responsible for some commercial properties in violation do the right thing and bring them into compliance when we notify them. Others, like this one, have to be forced to comply.”

Duct tape is used for siding of mall

OBC supports the County’s Beautification Initiative, which was created to promote pride among residents and encourage those who live, work and visit the County to protect and preserve the environment.

Under the program, inspectors have stepped up inspections at shopping centers and other businesses with excessive violations. Property owners and managers are notified about violations and abatement measures. Fines have been levied for unabated violations. Businesses that create a public nuisance may be referred to the County Nuisance Abatement Board, which has the power to shutter them until they are brought into compliance.

“We are targeting noncompliant businesses as part of an effort to address frequent violators,” said DPIE Enforcement Division Associate Director Val Cary. “We support businesses, but the ones that don’t comply with code create problems for customers and residents of the neighborhoods where they exist.”

Overflowing dumpsters attract vermin

Cary said exterior problems, such as unpainted structures and trash and debris, negatively impact the aesthetics of neighborhoods. Overflowing trash receptacles harbor vermin. Poorly lit parking lots are unsafe for pedestrians and can draw those who want to operate without being detected.

“Code requirements were established to ensure safety, not just the aesthetic value,” Cary said. “And agree or not, when you own or manage a business, it is your responsibility to make sure that business is compliant.”

Enforcement Division Assistant Associate Director Chrystal Tibbs said Operation Business Compliance focuses on five priorities:

• Businesses must have a valid Use & Occupancy Permit

• Properties must be free of trash and debris; trash receptacles may not be overflowing

• Parking lots must be in good repair and have proper lighting and clearly marked spaces

• Posted signs must be permitted and legal

• Buildings and structures must be in good repair — no cracked brick or stucco, peeling paint, broken windows, torn screens, downspouts and gutters in disrepair, grass breaking through sidewalks, etc.

She said changes to the Administrative Hearing Unit (AHU) process have given them additional tools to have commercial violation cases adjudicated more expeditiously. The Suitland shopping center’s owner was notified of violations in 2016 and failed to make changes. A second investigation was kicked off in 2019. After COVID protocols were relaxed, the owner and management company were asked in the fall of 2020 to establish a plan to bring the property into compliance. They have not complied. The case is scheduled to go before the AHU on January 20.

Laws said DPIE makes every effort to work with businesses to give them time and opportunity to abate violations. Extra effort is now taken to achieve compliance.

“The residents of Prince George’s County deserve to be served by businesses that are neat, clean and free of problems that negatively impact the communities where they exist,” Laws said. “Those who own and operate these businesses have an obligation to provide them a safe and attractive place to spend their money.”

Report violations at shopping centers and other businesses to PGC311, which will route the complaints to DPIE and other appropriate agencies for investigation and enforcement.

For more information, email dpiepio@co.pg.md.us.

Photos show existing violations in shopping centers, such as overgrowth, peeling paint, and uneven levels of asphalt

Photos show existing violations at local shopping centers: overgrowth around parking lots, peeling paint, and uneven levels of cracked asphalt on handicap lot spaces.

FAQs about Commercial Property Maintenance

Q:  Who is responsible for the upkeep of shopping centers?
A:  The property owner has overall responsibility for the maintenance of the property and for ensuring that the tenants abide by County Code requirements.

Q:  How can I complain about a business?
A:  Complaints should be reported to PGC311. Once the complaint is forwarded to DPIE, an inspector will respond to the property, determine if a violation exists and take appropriate enforcement action.

Q:  Do you need a license to run a store at a shopping center or mini mall?
A:  Every building and tenant in Prince George's County, except for property within the City of Laurel, is required to have a valid County-issued Use and Occupancy Permit (U&O) before the business may operate. The U&O process verifies conformance with the applicable County and State requirements and ensures the intended use is permitted at the desired location. See DPIE’s U&O web page for details.

Q:  How are fines assessed for violations of County Code on commercial properties?
A:  Zoning and property maintenance violations carry fine amounts set forth in the County Code.

Q:  What happens if the violations are not corrected and fines are not paid?
A:  For properties that are not brought into compliance, violations may be abated under DPIE’s “Clean It and Lien It!” Program, which allows the County to hire a contractor to make the necessary changes to bring the property into compliance. A lien is then placed on the property to recoup the cost. Unpaid liens are added to property tax bills to be collected when the taxes are paid.

Q:  How frequently does DPIE patrol shopping centers and other commercial properties to make sure they are kept clean?
A:  DPIE inspectors are assigned to specific areas. They regularly inspect those areas to check for compliance. We also encourage citizens to report code violation concerns to PGC311.

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spacer bar between articles, no image, no textChristmas in April house being repaired, boards on ground and porch being shored up for repair

Christmas in April volunteers work on a home selected for repairs. Below right, replacing the damaged soffit is one of the repairs volunteers made.

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DPIE Inspectors Help Evaluate Homes for Christmas in April Program

Larry Long and Brandon Wright spend their days investigating suspected zoning code violations. Eldrick Brown, Edward Scott and Donald Smith work to ensure residential buildings comply with requirements. Recently, the inspectors turned their attention to a charitable endeavor as volunteers with Christmas in April (CINA) Prince George’s County. Under the program, homeowners in need of help with repairs on their properties filed applications for assistance with their homes by November 1, 2021. Volunteers were assigned to analyze the properties to determine repairs that are needed. The work will be completed on the homes on Christmas in April Day, scheduled for April 30, 2022.

Wood under eaves is rotting

“Our inspectors from both Inspections and Enforcement have completed 38 inspections for CINA this year,” said DPIE Code Enforcement Officer Mike Metz, who has volunteered with CINA for seven years. “The inspections were limited to the exterior of the properties this year due to the pandemic.”

Inspectors said they find volunteering with the program rewarding.

“We are helping those who are in need of repairs but might not be able to get assistance without the program,” said Darrell K. Terry, who supervisors Brown, Scott and Smith. “The program also helps senior citizens who may be on a fixed income. This is very gratifying, and volunteering to do the actual repairs is even more satisfying.”

CINA Prince George’s County is a non-denominational program that started in 1989 with 600 volunteers. According to its website, to date, 94,000 volunteers have repaired about 2,800 homes — making more than $50.2 million in free repairs. About 40 percent of the volunteers are County employees.

“The program allows our employees a chance to help improve the living conditions of citizens of the County who desperately need the help,” Metz said.

The program is open to elderly and disabled property owners; income is also considered. The program’s public funding is augmented each year by donations and several fundraisers, including a golf tournament.

Visit the Christmas in April Prince George’s County website at https://www.christmasinaprilpg.org/.

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Tell Us How We’re Doing!

Please let us know how we are doing by completing the short, confidential DPIE Customer Satisfaction Survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DPIECSS21-22. The survey will help us improve our customer service and service delivery.

DPIE Customer Satisfaction Survey card with survey link
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Name That Violation Contest!

DPIE is holding a monthly contest where we share a photo that contains a property violation of Prince George's County Code. The first person to respond with the correct answer will win a DPIE goodie bag featuring a large (13"x10"x15") insulated grocery tote with a zipper closure, and your name in next month's Under Construction newsletter.*

Carefully study the photo below and email your violation guess to DPIEpio@co.pg.md.us.

*DPIE employees and their family members are not eligible to enter this promotion.

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New Hires

DPIE welcomes the following new hire and congratulates him on joining the team!  The new staffer has shared some information to help us get to know him and his start date.

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New employee Nima

Nima Khoshand, Site/Road Plan Review Division  — Engineer I, 12/6/2021

Nima is assigned to Site/Road's Traffic Engineering Section. He spent more than five years consulting as a traffic engineer in engineering firms in Maryland and Virginia. He enjoys hiking, biking, nature and travel.

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DPIE promoted the following employees in December 2021. We would like to recognize and congratulate these employees for their hard work and commitment!

Tiffany McNeal

Tiffany McNeal, Human Resources Analyst II — Administrative Services Division, Human Resources Office, 12/5/2021

Tiffany started working for DPIE in 2013.

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Promoted employee Yonas

Yonas Tesfai, Engineer IV — Site/Road Plan Review Division,  12/5/2021

Yonas started working for DPIE in 2016.

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Employee of the Month

Chanee is Employee of the month for December 2021

We are pleased to announce Chanee Williams as the Employee of the Month for December 2021!

Chanee Williams is a Property Standards Inspector in the Enforcement Division and is being recognized for the exemplary service she gives.  Chanee has earned the honorary title as "Mayor" in the Town of Fairmont Heights. Her positive attitude shows through her smile and willingness to go above and beyond to help the community.  

DPIE commends you for your exceptional performance!

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Upcoming Holiday Closure

Upcoming Holiday - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday