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Is "too Arlington" a bad thing in Prince George's?

This past Tuesday, Prince George's Councilmember Eric Olson (District 3-College Park), fell short in his bid to become council chair in 2013. Development lawyer André Gingles posited that Olson didn't get the job because he might be a bit "too Arlington" for Prince George's. What's that supposed to mean? Is that supposed to be some type of slur?

Photo by Ron Cogswell on Flickr.

Olson, a well-known progressive smart growth and environmental advocate on the council, had been elected by his colleagues as vice chair for 2 years in a row.

But in a surprise move, the council bypassed him for the top spot in 2013 and instead reelected its current chair, Andrea Harrison (District 5-Springdale). The council also stripped Olson of the vice chairmanship and replaced him with Councilmember Obie Patterson (District 8-Fort Washington).

Harrison, who had previously pledged her support to Olson for the chairmanship, reversed course, agreed to allow her name to be placed back in the running, and then cast the deciding vote in favor of herself. As Harrison herself acknowledged to the Washington Post, the circumstances of her reelection to the chairmanship were "not comfortable."

Through a spokesperson, county executive Rushern Baker denied any role in the thwarting Olson's election to the council chair position. However, the Post reports that Baker did show up in the council chambers shortly before the vote was cast and declared, "We are moving in the right direction, we are taking Prince George's County in the direction it needs to go ... because of [Harrison's] leadership and [her] work."

What is "too Arlington"?

So what is it about Harrison's leadership and work style that arguably makes her not "too Arlington"? Or, perhaps better stated, what is it about Olson's perceived leadership and work style that arguably makes him "too Arlington" for Prince George's?

(And before we jump to the conclusion that "too Arlington" simply means "too white," let's recall that former councilmember Tom Dernoga, who is white, was elected as council chair back in 2010.)

We know that Harrison and new council vice chair Obie Patterson are both reliable supporters of the current county executive, Rushern Baker, and his largely suburban-oriented economic development agenda. Olson, by contrast, has opposed certain development projects supported by Baker, such as the controversial rezoning of the Cafritz propertya vacant, wooded formerly single-family residential-zoned parcel in Riverdale Park that is outside of the ½-mile pedestrian zone of any existing Metro station or any planned MARC station.

Might Olson's approach to land use and economic development issues be what's "too Arlington" for his colleagues on the council and/or to County Executive Baker?

Prince George's should learn from Arlington's smart growth focus

The 2002 EPA national award winner for overall excellence in smart growth, Arlington County, Virginia, is a proven leader in transit-oriented development and environmental sustainability. Whether measured by housing units, jobs, retail and office space, economics, crime, or other general "livability" factors, Arlington stacks up quite favorably in the metropolitan Washington region.

Arlington's economic development strategy over the past 40 years has been inexorably linked to its two Metro station corridors—the Orange Line's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and the Blue and Yellow Lines' Pentagon/Crystal City corridor. Arlington directed major employment centers and higher density residential and retail development toward "urban villages" around 7 of the county's 10 stations: Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston, Pentagon City, and Crystal City. (Arlington's other three stations—Arlington Cemetery, Pentagon, and Reagan National Airport—have other dedicated uses.) Arlington also prioritized reinvestment in its existing residential communities ahead of creating new sprawl developments on previously-undeveloped land.

Sadly, Prince George's County has not followed Arlington's path to success. The county has 15 Metro stations—the largest number of any jurisdiction outside of the District of Columbia. With 2,500 acres of developable land within ½ mile of those stations, county planners acknowledge that Prince George's "is uniquely situated in the Washington region to take advantage of the regional interest in TOD."

Yet, while county leaders continue to pay lip service to the idea of transit-oriented development, they actively support development strategies that are directly contrary to that idea. Virtually all of Prince George's County's Metro stations remain undeveloped or underdeveloped. At the same time, county leaders continue to push outside-the-Beltway suburban sprawl strategies, like the town-less "town center" projects at Konterra, Westphalia, and Woodmore. And rather than reinvesting in its existing residential communities inside the Beltway, the county breaks its own rules to approve oversized greenfield projects like the Cafritz property.

Thus far, there has been no true, sustained commitment on the part of Prince George's officials to the smart growth and TOD concepts that have secured Arlington's prosperity over the past few generations. And the comparative demographics show the troublesome results of that lack of commitment: Prince George's lags behind Arlington in nearly every category.

FBI headquarters and regional hospital planning typify Prince George's haphazard development strategy

More recently, we've seen other examples of the county's unfocused approach to TOD in the ongoing discussions as to where the new FBI headquarters and regional medical center campuses will be located. I argued nearly a year ago that the county needed to be more nimble if it wanted to land the FBI. After identifying the five available Metro station sites (i.e., Branch Avenue, Largo Town Center, Morgan Boulevard, New Carrollton, and Greenbelt) that would meet the federal government's requirements for the new building, I recommended Morgan Boulevard as the most ideal site. Indeed, the Morgan Boulevard station area could accommodate both the new regional medical hospital and the FBI headquarters.

The county still has yet to publicize or lobby for a particular site preference for the FBI building or the new hospital. However, despite the many transit-oriented development opportunities existing around Metro stations, the current buzz appears to favor the nearly-abandoned Landover Mall site for one or both projects. Like the Cafritz property, the mall site is outside of the pedestrian zone of any Metro station and will therefore likely encourage more single-occupancy automobile travel.

Arlington County would never have considered a development strategy that placed some of its largest employment centers and highest quality jobs away from Metro. Why? Because Arlington recognizes that successful planning requires strategic leveraging of Metro's premier regional rail transit system. As David Alpert recently argued, when deciding where to locate a major job-and customer/patient- generating public facility such as a regional medical center, the list should start and stop with Metro.

Prince George's shouldn't fear being "too Arlington"

If Eric Olson was passed over for chair of the Prince George's County Council because of a fear that he would be "too Arlington," that is truly regrettable. Most in the region would readily agree that, as compared to Prince George's, Arlington County government is better managed and run, less corrupt, more focused on smart growth and transit-oriented development, better at managing the public's finances, and overall more successful in providing a high quality of life to its citizens.

The truth is that the Prince George's County's government could stand to become "more Arlington" in its outlook and in its approach to smart growth and transit-oriented development. Because—let's face it—"keeping it [real] Prince George's" hasn't exactly gotten us where we need to be.

Bradley Heard is an attorney and citizen activist who resides in the Capitol Heights area of Prince George's County. A native of Virginia Beach and former longtime Atlanta resident, Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George's County. 


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Everyone wants to be like Arlington, nobody wants to live there....

by charlie on Dec 10, 2012 11:47 am • linkreport


indeed no one wants to live there, its way too crowded.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 10, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

Well, you have to fit in with what the constituents want. Eric Olson isn't in elected office in Arlington, so if his policies seem more in line with another locality, either he has to lobby his *own* locality to support his ideas or move where his ideas are more aligned with constituent desires. That's the tough part of being an elected official, sometimes you get penalized if your personal beliefs aren't aligned with the constituents in your locality.

by Need More Info on Dec 10, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport


Really? Based on what information? The population has gone up 12.3% in the last 12 years. I loved living in Arlington (in the Ballston corridor) and I'd likely be there now if I'd gotten a job in Ballston instead of one in Navy Yard. I may end up there again someday, who knows. But regardless, unless you're trolling, you need to back up your claim.

by CapHill on Dec 10, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

@Need More Info
Except this isn't really about his constituents' desires - it's about political wrangling and power struggles among the council members and the county exec. Their policies may be tinged by their constituents but political deals seem to have far more sway.

by Frankie on Dec 10, 2012 12:18 pm • linkreport

Great article, you just forgot EFC in your list of Arlington metro stations :) (Interesting, actually, because it's the only Arlington station per your breakdown that does not have either TOD or another sui generis dedicated use.)

by JoeSchmoe06 on Dec 10, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

So are we really writing this based on what a development lawyer termed "too arlington?"

I don't know what he meant by "too arlington" but I certainly didn't think "race."

But if making an appeal (that doesn't fall on deaf ears) to PGC residents based on the idea that they shouldn't "fear" being like Arlington because Arlington does it so much better than they do, then I imagine you won't get very far w/that argument at all.

Don't sell yourself short Bradley.

by HogWash on Dec 10, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

So this entire article was written because some nobody zoning lawyer, in his opinion, thinks a councilman is "too Arlington?"

It really is amazing how far some go to attack PGC.

by The Truth on Dec 10, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

So are we really writing this based on what a very well connected development lawyer termed "too arlington?"

Seems like he had a pretty clear take on the vote no?

Bradley's right in that the county council's words on TOD and smart growth haven't matched their actions.

by thump on Dec 10, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

It's not that "too Arlington" means "too white," necessarily, but I think many in PGC are under the impression that the Arlington model can only work if the demographics of the area are exceptionally affluent (Arlington being the #3 richest county in the country). Race and class are often close substitutes for each other in the U.S., though that breaks down a bit in the DC metro area.

Regardless, the suburban mentality, informed by flight from the cities (be it white flight or middle and upper-class black flight), sees suburbs and gated communities as synonymous with safety, success, and protection against the negative externalities of concentrated urban poverty. So it's not even that the sages of PGC don't want to see a Prince George's version of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in their own county, it's that they don't think it is possible in that county. They believe that dense residential and commercial development would end up looking more like 1980s/early 90s inner DC or Newark/Camden today than the Orange and Blue Line corridors or Arlington.

by Dizzy on Dec 10, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

If an arlington county official labelled one of their councilmembers "too Price George's" the screams of racism would be loud.

by keithdcil on Dec 10, 2012 1:14 pm • linkreport


I think it's a little of both: some people don't want Arlington-style development in their backyard, and some think it's automatically going to be a bad thing. It happens in Montgomery County too. At a community meeting in Kensington once, a resident complained to me that the new high-rises in White Flint looked like Queens, where she grew up. It's her only frame of reference for urban development, so it's all she can picture.

I think there's also a greater misunderstanding of WHY Arlington works the way it does. You can't just have a transit station, or nice apartments, or expensive shops and restaurants. They have to fit together in a way that encourages and prioritizes walking/biking/transit use. It helps if these things happen in an established older neighborhood that's a) already built for that and b) has a "sense of place" that can be expanded upon.

That's why Clarendon is really successful, but Prince George's Plaza has struggled. And it's why Hyattsville is booming, despite the lack of a Metro station: all of the other pieces are there. Richard Layman wrote a good post about this last year.

by dan reed! on Dec 10, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

One thing to think about, would people in PGC be willing or able to pay the undoubtedly higher prices to live near a metro stop if any TOD does happen. As we all know, the median household income of PGC is a lot lower than Arlington. Arlington can afford the higher costs of living in a TOD metro area.

by Nickyp on Dec 10, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

Upper Marlboro = only accessible by car. PGC = stuck in the roaring 1980s. Office parks, traffic sewers, home-run (more often: swing and a miss) economic development proposals.

Maybe instead of getting whiffed again, we could just start burying the power lines along our traffic sewers and making them at least look a little nicer? Then maybe start making them more person friendly in bits by bits? Then maybe they'd be attractive to more desireable businesses than just gas stations and 7-11s? Then maybe the neighborhoods alongside them would be more attractive, and that tax base would grow? Then maybe the schools would start to improve? Then maybe a whole host of new businesses large and small would considering locating in the county? Then, maybe... Oops, that would be too Arlington.

Fixing the traffic sewers starts with burying the power lines and widening the sidewalks! And then improving the bus stops and bike lanes! And then... Dang, Arlington again, can't do that!

by Greenbelt on Dec 10, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

Fixing the traffic sewers starts with burying the power lines and widening the sidewalks!

Underground and wider sidewalks cures traffic sewers? In what reality does this happen?

by HogWash on Dec 10, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

I have recently heard/seen/read negative references to Arlington around Alexandria. It usually refers to "overdevelopment" and the things we associate with smart growth or TOD, or "urban" generally. I have also heard it used in reference to newer buildings which are urban but architecturally ambiguous i.e. not exactly modern, but not sufficiently brick and "historic" for Alexandria.

by spookiness on Dec 10, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

There are a few points I tend to slightly disagree with in this article and other peoples perceptions, although I think the end point is the same. Suggesting something like the whole foods proposal south of College Park is such a bad thing just because it's not within 1/2 mile walk of the Metro seems like something else is the problem. This site is INSIDE the beltway, and along a corridor that is trying to change all the way from Bloomingdale in the City up to Baltimore! The residential component may be a bit dense, but isn't smart growth all about high density located along existing infrastructure?

As to making PGC more "Arlington", I wonder how much the track record in PGC is playing into skepticism over more urban, transit oriented development. I can remember every time plans are proposed for a great urban redevelopment such as New Carrollton, Greenbelt, Branch Avenue, or the Old Caps center, the projects either don't get built, or are built well below expectations. We could discuss all day the various reasons these projects have floundered, but there does seem to be a theme.

I also see PGC's current development trends as an analogy of evolution to other phenomona. People seem to say PGC is in a 1980's development boom mentality of new suburban growth, and attracting mega development projects around highways. We're calling it the 1980's era growth because it's exactly what Montgomery, Howard, Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun Counties all were doing. Most of these places became congested and it was the necesity of redevelopment and better planning that has helped evolve the 'current' wave of development. How is this much different than looking at China, India, Brazil as going through "1980's era" --> (really industrial era) growth, with the beginnings of suburbanization, car dominance growth, major population growth. All things the US saw for decades after WWII ended. PGC may not be ready for better urban/TOD growth, but may be there soon. The current planning may be a 'natural' step toward what everyone wants to see. The County probably could use the economic help by way of tax revenues and better reputation that they can get from some of these 'suburban mega projects' to attract and pay for change around TOD.

I'm sure many will disagree, but that's my take on the situation.

by Gull on Dec 10, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

We're calling it the 1980's era growth because it's exactly what Montgomery, Howard, Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun Counties all were doing.

Ever hear of "learning from someone elses mistakes"?

by Marian Berry on Dec 10, 2012 2:07 pm • linkreport

One thing to think about, would people in PGC be willing or able to pay the undoubtedly higher prices to live near a metro stop if any TOD does happen

If not, the developer's will lower their prices to the point that people will be willing to buy the units. Given the demand for TOD condos, the units aren't going to sit unsold for too long.

As to making PGC more "Arlington", I wonder how much the track record in PGC is playing into skepticism over more urban, transit oriented development.

How would you describe PG's track record for suburban, auto-oriented development? That strategy seems to have hindered PG's growth rather than propel it forward.

by Falls Church on Dec 10, 2012 2:25 pm • linkreport

HogWash apparently doesn't live near a "traffic sewer", or the Hog would understand why wider sidewalks and improved aesthetics would be a good start.

by Col. Brentwood on Dec 10, 2012 2:34 pm • linkreport

Some may be surprised that Prince George's County isn't simply a collection of mistakes and it's not as built out as some may think. If the entirety of the county fit within the Beltway, there may be greater arguments that Prince George's has failed, but much of the county is rural and barely suburban. One size doesn't fit all. Arlington is smaller than Accokeek alone.

by selxic on Dec 10, 2012 2:50 pm • linkreport

@ Marian Berry

It's a novel idea that someone would learn, but that does not seem to be what happens in reality. Most people learn better from their own mistakes. The world would be a much better place if we all could learn from each others mistakes.


I'd actually say the county has created some very nice suburban designed areas. It has done very little for commercial employment growth, but upper middle income people seem to have found a niche in PGC, especially outside of the beltway, and it's brought for these areas the associated community shopping centers. I think the issues of not attracting substantial job creation goes much deeper and has regional context to consider. Having a few TOD's around transit likely would not have substantially increased office development in my opinion.

by Gull on Dec 10, 2012 2:50 pm • linkreport

I'm not going to get into the "too Arlington" debate.

I'll just as a Prince Georges resident that I would like to see the County follow the example of Montgomery County and hire a professional planner who knows how to focus on and advocate the kind of planning that would result in maximizing the potential of our Metro Stations.

The region is booming and Prince Georges is missing out thanks to corruption and incompetence. The failure to maximize the potential of New Carrolton is a case in point. Here we have one of the best locations in the region - a Metro/Marc/Amtrak station, at the intersection of I-95 and the expressway connecting DC and Annapolis - and the place is practically a ghost town. It's an embarrassment. New Carrollton should be the equivalent of Ballston or Tysons.

by ceefer66 on Dec 10, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

The region is booming and Prince Georges is missing out thanks to corruption and incompetence

Just wanted to address this point I've seen used a lot wrt to PG. Can you name two big ticket items PG missed out on thanks to corruption?

by HogWash on Dec 10, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

Yes, Eric Olson isn't African-American, in a county that is majority African-American. (cf. the article in yesterday's Washington Post about new DC Council Chairman Mendelson vis-a-vis Marion Barry, black issues, etc.)

Yes, Mr. Olson doesn't jump the way that the council generally is willing to jump vis-a-vis the executive. Yes, PG County doesn't yet really understand what changing its development paradigm means and Mr. Olson is somewhat ahead of the curve.

The thing is, I didn't understand this until I worked briefly for Baltimore County, all the power in a County in terms of being able to do things rests with the Executive. So if Councilmembers want to get stuff, they need to have a good working relationship with the County Executive.

I can't claim to be all that conversant with how it works in PG County at a very granular level, but it becomes a tight dance between the Council and the Executive and "doing stuff."

Good piece.

Not a ding, just a point, that my discussion about the PG County opportunity to change its land use paradigm is brought back to the fore with the coming of the Purple Line.


But its up to stakeholders, citizens to move this discussion further than the typically cheerleading not in-depth enough discussion pushed forward by the smart growth types thus far (I didn't go to last week's CSG talk, but I haven't been impressed with the written discussions on the issue that have been put out thus far).

Most of the county's development priorities still promote sprawl, and they haven't yet proposed anything with a lot of nuanced and subtle leveraging of transit accessibility vis-a-vis stations.


Now the thing that's interesting is PGC vs. MoCo. They both have the MNCPPC, but in Montgomery County, in a manner that is pretty much unprecedented across the United States, the land use planning and parks planning and operations function of MNCPPC (MNCPPC was created by the state, in response to local lobbying, but theoretically to coordinate planning in these counties as a complement to how NCPC was doing federal related planning in DC), these functions are under the legislative branch. Not so in PG County (or anywhere else in the US for that matter).

It creates different tensions, but changes the relationship of the legislative and executive branches.

by Richard Layman on Dec 10, 2012 3:28 pm • linkreport

"Can you name two big ticket items PG missed out on thanks to corruption?"

I can't identify specific projects and perhaps I should have said the perception of corruption has been a hindrance.

However, PG has a bad reputation re: pay-for-play. also when you factor in the reputation for sub-standard/failing schools, crime, blight, etc. and it's arguably been a hindrance to attracting prime development.

by ceefer66 on Dec 10, 2012 4:57 pm • linkreport

Its more than a perception of corruption when the most recent former Co. Exec and a recent former Co. CM are both convicted of corruption...

by Tina on Dec 10, 2012 5:32 pm • linkreport

Can you name two big ticket items PG missed out on thanks to corruption?

I don't know about big ticket items but there are many many smaller items. For example, there's a condo community near Landover that is a complete disaster due to corruption. A corrupt developer worked with the former corrupt County Exec (Johnson) to build condos that looked fine from the outside but were totally rotten on the inside. It would have never passed building code if the developer wasn't connected to Johnson -- e.g., the roof is joke, the dryers vent into the attic, the crawl space leaks, etc. As a result, dozens of folks are in foreclosure and have lost tons of money. MD Dept of Housing has taken over many of the units and is auctioning them off. Overall, an unmitigated disaster that has siphoned millions of dollars out of the pockets of PG residents that could be going toward supporting local businesses.

by Falls Church on Dec 11, 2012 9:43 am • linkreport

Can you name two big ticket items PG missed out on thanks to corruption?

The renovation of Glenn Dale Hospital into senior housing and the continuing care center that the statute calls for. Qualified organizations with a track record in sich projects were simply blown off. Instead, the somewhat historic buildings have just sat there deteriorating, they don't even bother to fix the roof.

by JimT on Dec 11, 2012 10:02 am • linkreport

You could also suggest that a single minded focus on 'big ticket items' rather than holistic planning and development is part of the problem.

I also don't get why Bradley Heard continues to single out the Cafritz project as an example of sprawl. It is not. It's infill development on a corridor with decent transit service. Is it Metro? No. But it's hardly a bad location.

Why not direct that ire at Westphalia or Konterra instead?

by Alex B. on Dec 11, 2012 10:12 am • linkreport

"Its more than a perception of corruption when the most recent former Co. Exec and a recent former Co. CM are both convicted of corruption... "

And they apparently can't find a single resident without a criminal record to anoint as their next representative to the State legislature -

And they want to put someone who led police on a 100+ mph chase through her own jurisdiction then yelled at the cops for chasing her in charge of the Council's committee on Public Safety -

by Dave on Dec 11, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

PGC needs to become to Arlington, not in the terms of race but in terms of development. Arlington has done it right for years so why reinvent the wheel if you are really trying to push TOD. I understand PGC is grasping at any attempt to get any commercial development into the county and dont really have the leverage to reject any developer but I think they should steer more development towards the metro stations. In cities across the country the trend for younger professionals is to ditch the automobile and walk or use public transit to work and night life so if PGC wants to be a contender with other counties it needs to step up and get in the game but right now they arent even on the bench they are still in the locker room thinking about which pair of socks to wear.

My personal belief in what the vision of PGC should be is that PGC should be viewed in 2 separate categories. Inside the beltway should be view as a major city, high end, high density development with retail, amenities, nightlife, high walk-ability around these underused metro stations. Outside the beltway should be treated as a county suburb where you have low density development, large home with big yards.

I purchased my condo in PG near a metro station because of this TOD hype but I am starting to feel that this was just hype. Me and my gf are in the process of looking for a home now and nothing develops from this TOD PGC will definitely not be on our list of places we want to move to.

by Dwight Gholson on Dec 11, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

I agree that it is more of a "perception" of corruption than actually corruption. Otherwise we would believe that similar corruption in similar cities yields the same amount of "non development." I'm sure there are specific projects that didn't work. It happens in most cities. That's a bit separate from the idea that "corruption" is keeping development away from PGC.

Perception matters a lot and that is what most people will refer to when talking about PGC.

by HogWash on Dec 11, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

Dwight -- the point I keep making is that if PGC really wants to demonstrate commitment to TOD, then they need to move the government center from Upper Marlboro to a Metro Station (or somehow extend the Metro, which is about 10 miles away from the Branch Avenue Metro Station). And the MNCPPC headquarters on Kenilworth Ave. ought to be moved to a Metro Station too (it could be used to spark change at the Greenbelt Metro Center, among other places).

But that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars...

by Richard Layman on Dec 11, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

Arlington is only Smart Growth by the very low-bar set by the rest of the region. It wins awards while cycle tracks stop for no reason mid-route, numerous side streets lack sidewalks, cross-walks go unpainted for a decade, and local bus service is crowded and infrequent. Clarendon is nice, yes, but the details in the rest of the county are far too often ignored.

And Crystal City's a dead zone!

by Frank on Dec 11, 2012 12:06 pm • linkreport

There aren't too many regions that are ahead of this one on urbanism.

Parts of arlington are suburban, but what they have done with the entire RB corridor is outstanding. And Crystal City is being transformed (and is already livelier than it used to be). Change is happening also in Pentagon City, on Columbia Pike, at Shirlington and elsewhere.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 11, 2012 12:17 pm • linkreport

@ Alex: I think you may have misread my post. I didn't say the Cafritz project was sprawl development; I said it was greenfield development that is outside of the half-mile pedestrian zone of a transit station. While the proposal may be considered infill development, it's not transit-oriented development. And when Prince George's has done virtually nothing of substance to facilitate development at its 15 Metro stations, it shouldn't be pushing 2 million SF of greenfield development on an already-crowded automobile corridor. That's the lesson that Arlington gets and PGC doesn't.

Sure, maybe someday -- 40 years from now -- when all the Metro stations are fully built out, it might be appropriate to consider an inner-Beltway greenfield mixed-use infill project like Cafritz -- assuming that enhanced bus or streetcar service is planned along with it. (Currently, I wouldn't characterize the current level of service -- 2 bus lines on 30-minute headways in the off-peak hours -- as "decent" even for the existing level of development on Route 1.)

Until that time, the county's full focus should be directed toward building out the Metro station areas, reinvesting in and rehabilitating its aging inner-beltway subdivisions (particularly those around Metro stations and planned Purple Line stations), and planning for Purple Line station area projects.

To take another Arlington example, consider Shirlington -- a very decent, high-quality mixed-use infill redevelopment that's not near a Metro station. Arlington officials didn't begin to redevelop that area until the mid-2000s -- after it had built out its Metro stations. Same story with Columbia Pike.

That's called smart growth -- well planned, appropriately staged, with an overall vision for how you want the county to look -- something our leaders in PGC have yet to buy into.

by Bradley Heard on Dec 11, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

I don't think it necessarily means too "white." I think it means a mindset that government should be more innovative, forward-looking, service-oriented and transparent. By contrast, the PG model has been insular, pay-to-play, spoils-oriented and non-transparent.

by Alf on Dec 11, 2012 12:47 pm • linkreport


Shirlington was not a greenfield - it was an existing shopping center, with several large office buildings, and at least one quite large apartment building adjacent. Which was built in the mid 1990s, come to think of it (and the ArlCo metro stations are not built out yet)

If someone owns a greenfield, they can legally build on it as of right - unless the County buys it from them, you can't stop them from building something less dense. If they do that, you may have precluded higher density for a generation or more.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 11, 2012 12:50 pm • linkreport

@ Walker: I know Shirlington wasn't a greenfield. That's why I called it a redevelopment. Redeveloping an existing place to add more mixed uses and density, as Arlington did with Shirlington, is again a much better development strategy than developing a greenfield.

And no it's not the case that a property owner can legally build as of right on a greenfield - unless you're talking about one individual house. Cafritz could've built a subdivision of houses without getting a rezoning (since the property was already zoned R55, but even in that case, it would've required subdivision and detailed site plan approvals from the Planning Board.

by Bradley Heard on Dec 11, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

@ Alex: I think you may have misread my post.

No, I got it just fine. My point still stands: if you're talking about where to prioritize growth, you could've picked much better examples.

by Alex B. on Dec 11, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

Could they have legally turned down the subdivision and site plan approvals simply because they wanted to keep the property on ice till better transit happens someday, without other justification?

My point is that Arlington did not, and could not, stop as of right development in Shirlington. Which in fact occurred before 2000 - not only the original post war shopping center, but redevelopment and new development in the 1980s and 1990s. The urbanist completion happened post 2000 - some of that may have been due to new zoning initiatives, some was due to the emerging market for WUPs as ones near metro got pricier, and some was public investment - the new library, the new transit center, and I believe public support for the new theater.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 11, 2012 1:07 pm • linkreport

BTW, if you read that article you linked to, I think its clear ArlCo was supportive of redevelopment efforts earlier - its just that no developer was able to make it work till the complex was bought in 2005. And note well, that plan was initiated IN 2005 - 7 years ago - when the RBC and CrystalCity/Pentagon City metro stations were even farther from build out than they are now.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 11, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

"Redeveloping an existing place to add more mixed uses and density, as Arlington did with Shirlington, is again a much better development strategy than developing a greenfield. "

The greenfield in question is midway between the Hyattsville Arts district and UMd, right?

From all I know of the Arlco BOS, they would have been salivating to develop something like that. Of course they'd also have a proposal for a street car line there, and bike lanes.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 11, 2012 1:14 pm • linkreport

Prince George's County not having its fair share of regional development is a major factor in the thinking of the people that can make things happen in the county. What people seem to disagree about is why this is true, and therefore there is disagreement as to what should be done about it. In my opinion this underlies a lot of what is being discussed here.

However, I think everyone can agree that the county's Metro stations represent a major economic opportunity. Something like a quarter million people leave their homes in the county every day to work someplace else, so again I think people can agree that job centers in the county are desirable. This brings us back to my point above: how did we get here as a county and what do we do about it?

I think part of the answer is actually to turn a negative into positive and view the lack of development around our Metro stations as an unprecedented opportunity to leapfrog the types of development practices that other communities are turning away from. Let's not "catch up" by building a Tyson's Corner at the same time billions are being spent to retrofit the actual Tyson's.

Imagine if Prince George's committed to building a state of the art green office and retail development at one of our Metro stations. I think a major federal tenant would turn up in a hurry, and plenty of private sector business would follow. Market drivers around green leasing/purchasing are creating opportunities that Prince George's is uniquely suited to capitalize on given the amount of available land relative to other jurisdictions.

by Brent Bolin on Dec 11, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport


If Olson had the support of the county at large for his ideas (whether they are too Arlington or not), he would have gotten the position. Politicians, in general, don't needlessly buck the will of the locality in these matters...if a fellow politician is popular in his/her area and seeks a leadership position (and is otherwise qualified), he/she usually gets it. This seems to be a case of not solidifying "hometown support" before going after the big "promotion". Same is true in the private sector, if you want to move up, you have to have support from the staff (absent other concerns in your favor, because sometimes people advance despite - and even against the will of - the "little people" if more entrenched interests want them to advance).

by Need More Info on Dec 11, 2012 1:39 pm • linkreport

I agree that it is more of a "perception" of corruption than actually corruption. Otherwise we would believe that similar corruption in similar cities yields the same amount of "non development."

Isn't non-development exactly what we saw during the corrupt years Barry was in charge of DC?

by Falls Church on Dec 11, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

Falls CHurch -- no, there was plenty of development in DC during the Barry years. see ch. 4 of _Dream City_. That being said it was a particular type of development, downtown, serving federal office related needs, be they the federal govt. or law firms, lobby firms, and trade assns.

While I accord the last decade's success in DC to the election of Anthony Williams, you could also argue that it just took until around 2000 to hit critical mass velocity for the impact of the Metro and the dissipation of the land inventory in the central business district.

2. wrt Cafritz, while there are many arguments against, it is actually a kind of infill development in the Rte. 1 corridor which has the best intermediate term opportunity for intensification in the county.

I also argue that this development will help solidify the argument for federal funding of the Purple Line, as an indicator that infill development and intensification development energy will be triggered by the construction of that light rail line.

FWIW, it took a couple iterations for Arlington to start to get the Wilson Blvd. corridor right. Whether or not there are lots of design failures, the amount of energy from Courthouse to Ballston is pretty intense. At least as an outsider, every time I come over there for business, more and more in the last couple years I am really surprised and impressed.

by Richard Layman on Dec 11, 2012 2:26 pm • linkreport

@FC Isn't non-development exactly what we saw during the
corrupt years Barry was in charge of DC?

Are you sure this is correct? I've heard differently

by HogWash on Dec 11, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

@ Alex:

"[I]f you're talking about where to prioritize growth, you could've picked much better examples."

Well, I already mentioned Westphalia, Woodmore, and Konterra as other bad greenfield developments outside of the Beltway. Were you thinking of others?

My point still stands about Cafritz, though: it's the wrong kind of development at the wrong place and time -- even if it is infill, and even if it is on the Route 1 corridor. The answer to the question of where to prioritize growth in PGC is the 15 undeveloped/underdeveloped Metro stations. If you want to talk about good infill development inside the Beltway and away from Metro stations, Arts District Hyattsville would be a much better model than Cafritz. It's also on the Route 1 corridor, it wasn't totally a greenfrield, and it's closer to a MARC station. There's no need to clear a forest to put an even larger mixed use development a mile up the road when the Arts District isn't even fully built out yet, and when UTC is a mile away in the other direction.

@ Walker:

Even before the recent rezoning to MUTC, the Cafritz owners couldn't have built more than one single-family house on that property as of right. The unsubdivided parcel was zoned R-55 for single-family housing, but they would've needed to get a subdivision plan approved to build more than one house. In that process the county would've had to determine that there were adequate transportation facilities, utilities, schools, etc., to support the new subdivision. Then, they would've needed to get a site plan approved. The site plan would have to comply with whatever site plan and design standards were approved by the county in the area master plan. So unlike Shirlington, the Cafritz owners couldn't have built any commercial development on that parcel -- by right or otherwise -- before the recent rezoning.

Even after the recent rezoning, the Cafritz owners will still need subdivision and site plan approvals for its proposed development -- which is why I say that this project is still thankfully far, far away from ever seeing the light of day. Hopefully in the meantime, we'll get county leaders who understand and are committed to smart growth and TOD, and this proposed development can move to a more suitable location, like UTC, West Hyattsville, or Largo.

@ Richard:

Yes - move the county seat and M-NCPPC to a Metro area! That would be a great way to spur development - and it would be well worth the $$ in the long run. Unfortunately, the taxpayers probably aren't in the right frame of mind for such an expansive stimulus project at this time. But maybe if the county put that in the plan for, say, 20 years out, it could build political support for the idea.

Re Purple Line - I think a better way for the county to entice federal funding for the Purple Line is to do now what it should've done for the 15 Metro station areas prior to their construction: create top-notch plans for each station area, outlining the county's integrated vision for those new stations. Because if I were the feds, my first question would be, "How can we know that these new stations will be put to productive uses worthy of federal largess when you've thus far neglected your existing Metrorail and MARC station areas?"

by Bradley Heard on Dec 11, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

Be careful what you wish for. DC actually did station area plans for all the Metro stations, but somehow they were mostly forgotten. I've never seen them, I've only talked about them with a planner who came across them.

Remember when they were done, in the early 70s, when tower in the park urban renewal was all the rage.

Think say Delta Towers or Capitol Hill Towers in the H St. neighborhood.
- Delta Towers,

We lucked out that the plans were forgotten, and that trends in thinking of what is appropriate urban development changed.

Anyway, the problem you're falling into is the one that I claim is an issue with the State of Maryland generally. All transit stations (railroad, subway, lightrail) are not equally valuable as TOD. Many of the stations are in distant locations, where developing them is more like leapfrog development of pods (sort of like Southern Towers in Alexandria). Belmont in _Cities in Full_ calls this polycentric development, and I've mentioned it a lot in my writings.

All 15 stations don't have the demand to justify the level of planning you're talking about, and hundreds of millions of dollars as incentives.

The point is to focus on the stations that have the best opportunity in the intermediate run (5-15 years) and then grow from there.

That's what happened in DC. Think of NoMA, U Street, Columbia Heights as second stage development after the CBD + some development at Takoma. Fort Totten, Petworth, and a bit at Potomac Ave. as third stage. Capitol Riverfront (M St. SE) as a separate simultaneous stage. Etc.

And that's in DC where there is already intense development and lots of extant neighborhoods with traditional urban design patterns. PG doesn't really have that.

PG's centers were never as large as Bethesda, Silver Spring, Rockville, and Wheaton. And face it, College Park is a pretty average level example of a college town. That makes it hard to move development forward. Because the "easiest" development is to build on what you already have.

by Richard Layman on Dec 11, 2012 6:17 pm • linkreport

one more thing. Excellent idea to get moving the County and MNCPPC headquarters buildings into the long range capital improvement plan.

Once items are in the plan, inexorably the projects move forward.

by Richard Layman on Dec 11, 2012 6:18 pm • linkreport

Arlington evolved into an urbanized, "smart growth" area out of necessity, not choice. Their land area was never going to be large enough to make sprawl a viable growth plan long term. They had to rely on mass transit and build up not out. Prince George's, on the other hand has plenty of land to work with, so like it or not, they will likely continue to have haphazard land uses, and not think mass transit first. While smart growth is a good idea in principal, integrating it into more suburban, car focused areas is always going to be an uphill climb. That said, the county should absolutely take advantage of the areas around existing Metro stations as development and employment hubs. Although, I'm not sure the Morgan Boulevard site is big enough for the FBI or a hospital. Unless they trade the FBI for the Redskins and replace Fed Ex Field.

by Mike on Dec 12, 2012 2:29 am • linkreport

I think "too Arlington" means "too little crime" when compared to PG. How many homicides in Arlington in 2011? Oh yeah that's right, zero. PG? Please.

by Matt Glazewski on Dec 12, 2012 8:24 am • linkreport

@ Mike:

Actually, Morgan Boulevard has 56 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to the Metro station, which is plenty space for a hospital. The FBI HQ could go across Central Avenue, in the warehouse area that's within a half-mile of that station.

by Bradley Heard on Dec 12, 2012 8:38 am • linkreport

Mike -- very good point. And limited options for land use do drive land use outward. E.g., there is no question that were there not a height limit in DC, places like NoMA or Capital Riverfront or housing on U St., in Columbia Heights, and Petworth would have been much less likely to happen.

Also when you have so much land to use, it can be difficult for transit proximity and adjacency to add much value, and it needs to have a premium in order to make building vertically financially efficacious.

That's the problem in the Baltimore metropolitan area, besides the fact that they don't really have a transit network. Being next to a station isn't worth all that much--except for Penn Station, and even there, it hasn't been that valuable. Therefore, sparking TOD is incredibly difficult and requires lots of incentives.

E.g., in my previous response, in response to Bradley's, I was thinking that PG is like Baltimore County in that same way. One problem I think is that Mr. Baker's ec. dev. director is from Baltimore County. I never dealt with him when I was there (I was not at that level) but I know generally within Baltimore County Government especially at the topmost levels, there was no recognition of transit being very important to the county either in terms of mobility or economic development, and that includes the proposed Red Light light rail which will serve the southwestern county (and Social Security and CMMS in particular). I can't imagine despite all the talk that the people in PG County Govt. feel the value of transit adjacency in the same way that officials do in Arlington, DC, or Montgomery.

by Richard Layman on Dec 12, 2012 9:03 am • linkreport


What does shaping growth mean? What does that look like? It almost sounds like you're proposing to ban development at any site that's not adjacent to a Metro station.

You can shape growth, but that requires you to bend market forces in your favor - not ignore them.

You also need to account for property rights. You can't just tell a landowner "no, you can't build here" and direct them to build at land they do not own near a Metro station instead.

Richard makes a great point about the spikiness of demand. Location, location, location. A Metro station is a huge asset, but it's hardly the be-all and end-all of location. Likewise, TOD is great, but you can still have good development that will age well and integrate with the surrounding community without a rail station next to it.

by Alex B. on Dec 12, 2012 9:39 am • linkreport

The other tissue to consider with Morgan Boulevard is that Metro just shafted Blue line riders durring rush hour. I guess some of that slack is going to br accounted for with the Silver slated to go to Largo now. However the silver will not cover everyone who works for the FBI. Having a major job center like the FBI at one side of the Metro instead of near the center of the system will likely cause commuter havoc. Many may find it easier to drive, in particular those from southern Virginia comming from quantico. Their only viable metro option is the blue, which is rendered nearly useless with high rush waits and a long ride time to the other end of the line. Many will simply take the Wilson bridge, even if congested. Transit oriented developments are all fine and dandy, but you have to know the patterns of the people who will work in your development. In this case I'm nit sold that FBI workers will fall over theselves to take metro to work.

by Mike on Dec 12, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

I would wager that the Silver Line reaches more people than the Blue Line, if only by virtue of its extreme length. The net result of Metro's service change is to increase, not decrease, access to Largo and to central Prince George's County.

Also, we seem to have major job centers all throughout the suburbs (including many non-Metro accessible locations). I doubt that any one additional employer ending up in the suburbs will, on its own, wreak any more "commuter havoc" beyond what the rest of us call "rush hour traffic." MWCOG's congestion survey finds only "intermittent" congestion for inbound Prince George's commuters -- the worst congestion in the area is for people commuting out of, or through, the county, e.g., Wilson bridge west in the AM and east in the PM.

by Payton on Dec 12, 2012 8:12 pm • linkreport

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