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Where is downtown Prince George's County?

Prince George's County has struggled to attract new development, especially around its Metro stations, but it also lacks a defined center. Over 300 residents and constituents gathered for a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland last Saturday to discuss potential locations for the county's future "downtown."

Photo by dpbirds on Flickr.

The forum was the latest in a series of outreach efforts by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) as part of Plan Prince George's 2035, an effort to update the county's General Plan, last updated in 2002.

Over the past 6 months, county planners have worked with residents, business owners, developers and state and municipal officials to craft a vision for the county's future. They've concluded that the county's approach to development needs to change: instead of sprawling farther out, it must focus on a few select areas that have the transit and economic strength to draw private investment.

The problem: the county can't simultaneously develop 27 centers

One issue is that the current vision is too broad. The 2002 General Plan designates 27 growth centers. 15 are at each of the county's Metro stations, and another 3 are at the Bowie, Seabrook and Riverdale MARC stations. 9 other centers are far from existing or planned rail transit, in places like National Harbor, Konterra and Westphalia.

This isn't serving the county well, says M-NCPPC planner-coordinator Sonja Ewing. Virtually all of the centers remain undeveloped, and none have reached their housing and employment density targets.

Each center fits into one of 3 vague categories, "Metropolitan," "Regional," and "Community," but those often lead to competing and disjointed planning efforts. This time around, M-NCPPC proposes to adopt a more descriptive system with 8 categories. Each one comes with its own particular desired land use mix, desired types of housing, height limits, maximum floor-area ratios, and density limits.

M-NCPPC will also designate 2 or 3 of the "urban center" locations as "Priority Improvement Districts" (PIDs), where the county would provide marketing, infrastructure investments and financial incentives to encourage private development.

Planners pick 3 "high performers" and 3 "game changers"

After analyzing and scoring all 27 areas, Planners chose 6 potential downtown sites, all of which are at Metro stations. They say 3 of them, Prince George's Plaza, College Park, and New Carrollton, are "high performers" best poised for the PID designation because of the existing level of activity there.

The other 3, which they dubbed "game changers," need an additional push to make them viable downtowns. These sites are Greenbelt, which could be the FBI's future home, Largo Town Center, where the county wants to see a regional medical center, and Branch Avenue, where WMATA has expressed interest in a public-private partnership to build around the station.

The audience favored New Carrollton as the best "high performer," followed by College Park. The audience appeared to favor College Park as the best "high performer" due to the presence of the University of Maryland. There was also clear consensus that New Carrollton made sense as a downtown since it is already a major regional multimodal transportation hub. Largo Town Center was the most-favored "game changer" location.

I left the town hall meeting with several questions, which I hope can receive some attention as we move through the Plan Prince George's 2035 process. In the next part, I'll look at those questions.

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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The Bowie MARC station is a "growth center?" There's no there there. Seabrook, maybe. New Carrolton definitely. Landover Mall should have been nuked from orbit years ago. But Bowie MARC station?

by monkeyrotica on Jun 19, 2013 12:05 pm • linkreport

The ability of PG county to fill in development between PG Plaza and College Park Metro Stations will be vital to any proposed downtown like character. There are numerous jurisdictions there and they all have their own agenda, often counter to promoting a downtown feel.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 19, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

Yes, College Park has a lot of potential for in-fill, but I always figured that College Park is the way it is because people want it that way.

by JustMe on Jun 19, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

I believe that downtown PG (often referred to as "Ward 9") lies somewhere between Wards 7 and 8.

by Axel on Jun 19, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport


by Andrew on Jun 19, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

The whole Rt. 1 corridor is ripe for infill as evidenced by the overwhelming response to the "Arts District Hyattsville".

by thump on Jun 19, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised that Clinton didn't make it on these priority lists. It's a fairly substantial suburban area that lies just south of the Branch Avenue Station.

While prioritizing a heavy rail line isn't going to happen, it does fall within the path of the future Southern Maryland Light Rail Corridor. And even with that plan so far out, it's not a stretch to amplify BRT projects through this area as a way to alleviate the Southern Maryland bottlenecks (Since the only reliable roads north towards DC are 210 and Route 5)

Clinton has history, dating back to the Civil War era. There's some spotty growth along Old Branch Avenue, but it can be easily revitalized and it won't take much to turn it into a more compact and organized center. With infill, you can even get a small street grid growing.

I'm sad to see it neglected since Brandywine, an area that was mostly rural a decade ago, is getting top billing in this project.

It'd make sense to concentrate on this corridor since it's more or less the gateway to Southern Maryland (and vice versa as more commuters cut through 301/5 as an alternate strategy to enter the District or points north)

by Swftkat on Jun 19, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

The Bowie MarC Station could be a growth center, the County wants to develop some of the existing land around the station with a town center, that would serve Bowie State and be somewhat self supporting.

The problem with the upper green line (Hyattsville, CP, Greenbelt) is the space between the stations is fairly large, large enough that most people would not walk or bike between them unless it was a nice day or they were exercising. The space between these stations is largely single family residential, which is kryptonite to redevelopment potential. Takes a long time to assemble parcels, and is very expensive. Conversely one and 2 story commercial uses are like Miracle Grow to redevelopment in an area that supports it.

The Riverdale Park Whole Foods with an access road over the tracks into the big University of Maryland office park and potential mixed use area/future Purple Line station is a nice extension of activity back to Rt 1, but as we've seen regarding that project recently, many of the existing residents in the area don't want that kind of activity near by. All in all, I do see the future of Prince Georges hinging on that upper Green Line corridor however.

Largo could one day be a stand alone hub, with some activity at Morgan Blvd, but I don't see a lot of density in the cards further west along the Blue Line. With highway and train access, I actually see Largo really becoming the second hot bed for future employment and high density residential, if the County zones the land to support it. Branch Ave could also be a nice stand alone development, but it's not connected by road/bike/foot very well to the other Green Line stations, nor are the other lower Green line stations going to take off any time soon with development, and each are their own island cut off by the parkway, parkland and stream valleys.

Interesting the County didn't make any mention of Konterra or Westphalia in the analysis. Granted they're not transit accessible, but it's too late to stop them from happening, and could be very big deals in the auto-centric community. Maybe there should be a 3rd set of three activity centers, say Konterra, Bowie and Westphalia, and identify them as suburban activity centers. The current list of 6 would make me feel really slighted if I lived in the southern or eastern part of the County.

by Gull on Jun 19, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

The courthouse

by Skant on Jun 19, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

CB-20M which Cherly Cort described a few weeks ago on GGW, was modified to exclude the future Purple Line stations and the Riverdale and Seabroom MARC stations, but it still includes the land around all Metrorail stations plus the Bowie State MARC station.

by JimT on Jun 19, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

The current list of 6 would make me feel really slighted if I lived in the southern or eastern part of the County.

Isn't that the point?

Not to slight anyone, but they can't all be downtowns. If everything is a priority, then nothing is.

by Alex B. on Jun 19, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

I see the Riverdale Whole Foods as really a hugely important project. How that parcel of land in the NW of the jurisdiction is developed will greatly impact if the urbanization of College Park and PG plaza happens in the near-term or if it is pushed off for another 20 years.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 19, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

Washington, DC.

by Regionalguy on Jun 19, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

What does it mean in terms of tactics for planners to pick these "downtowns"? What will government do at these 3-6 sites that they won't do at other sites? It seems like what's more important than what planners pick as downtown is what employers pick. For example, it's great that PG picked Greenbelt as a downtown but what really matters is for the FBI to pick Greenbelt. Similarly, New Carrollton has been touted by government and planners for years but what really matters is for developers (and the financiers of those developers) to pick NC.

by Falls Church on Jun 19, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

Link to the Cafritz project aka "Riverdale Whole Foods"

by Richard Bourne on Jun 19, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

And then there is National Harbor, which already has become a weird sort of downtown, and could become a very interesting place if connected to Alexandria via the Purple Line. Maybe they left it off because its development can be subsidized by the state gambling system, rather county funds and the comprehensive plan.

by JimT on Jun 19, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

They probably left out national harbor because a light rail line is decades away and the current site is rather constrained by roads and water.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 19, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church: It can make a difference in how the county plans infrastructure and park facilities, where some decisions lead the actual development.

Moreover, the general plan being revised now, will form a backdrop for the sector plans as they come up for review. The sector plans may, in turn, provide a basis for upzoning some places--eventually.

by JimT on Jun 19, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

I don't really understand the concept of a county having "downtown."

by recyclist on Jun 19, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

"I don't really understand the concept of a county having "downtown." "

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

The concern about proper geographic distribution of the county's PIDs was actually another issue discussed at the town hall. In the beginning, few of the participants thought that was an important factor for consideration. By the end of the forum, however, the percentage of people who favored broader geographic distribution of activity centers had significantly increased. I think that's why M-NCPPC was thinking in terms of 2-3 "downtowns," which isn't unreasonable, given the size of the county. MoCo has several geographically dispersed downtowns -- Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville, and soon White Flint.

Like MoCo, though, PGC can't expect to have "downtowns" across the whole span of the county. With a few exceptions (like Bowie and Brandywine), the southern and eastern portions of the county are largely rural, lack current or planned access to rail transit, and would be poor choices for a downtown. So we're really talking about the urbanized portion of the county, which includes the region inside and just around the Beltway -- and within that area, the places that are served by Metrorail.

There are several inner-Beltway locations that are sorta-kinda close to Metro, but not close enough, and that are ripe for infill (like the Cafritz property and Landover Mall). These sites aren't the place to devote limited county subsidies, nor are they proper "downtown" locations. Nor does should they be developed at densities that would exceed that of the downtown areas -- at least not without frequent developer-financed transit links like express buses. If they are developed, it should be exclusively with private market dollars, and in such a way that does not detract from the county's overall land use priorities.

by Bradley Heard on Jun 19, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

New Carrollton has the built-in transit, and Largo has the road network and the geographic proximity to the county at large. But Hyattsville and College Park actually have stuff going on now, between the University of Maryland, the Arts District (both the actual arts district along Route 1 and the EYA/Pulte development), and the massive ongoing redevelopment around Prince George's Plaza.

This area is already the county's downtown. If I were Prince George's, I'd throw everything I could at that area to build it up and get that economic engine going. Eventually, the spillover (or increased demand) would start to justify private investment in other areas.

by dan reed! on Jun 19, 2013 3:03 pm • linkreport

This area is already the county's downtown. If I were Prince George's, I'd throw everything I could at that area to build it up and get that economic engine going.

I couldn't agree more!

by thump on Jun 19, 2013 3:44 pm • linkreport

Regarding College Park: In my admittedly limited visits to PG County, it's struck me that College Park would probably be the area most worth targeting. It's anchored by a major university, and will have two Purple Line stations in addition to its Metro station. So it's already got a lot of the things one might look for in a downtown; they just need to be properly channeled.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Jun 19, 2013 3:56 pm • linkreport

The two that immediately popped into my mind were College Park and Prince George's plaza for completely different reasons. College Park has the metro/MARC station and the population (and eventually? the Purple line). The problem there is that the prime location for redevelopment is single family homes which would make it very difficult. Prince Georges has the metro station and huge area for potential redevelopment. I'm really surprised the mall hasn't been knocked down for condos considering it's a 20 minute metro ride downtown.

by Alan B. on Jun 19, 2013 4:21 pm • linkreport

@Alan B
The mall likely would have been redeveloped had it not been for the financial crisis, but West Hyattsville and a lot of other open land out that way is cheaper and more accessible.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 19, 2013 5:13 pm • linkreport

@Richard - West Hyattsville may have a lot of open land but it is one of, if not the, least developed Metro stations on the Green Line. Lots of great plans for the immediate area surrounding the station but no progress since 2008, and no glimmer of hope at this point.

by Scott on Jun 19, 2013 5:17 pm • linkreport

"The audience appeared to favor College Park as the best "high performer" due to the presence of the University of Maryland. There was also clear consensus that New Carrollton made sense as a downtown since it is already a major regional multimodal transportation hub. Largo Town Center was the most-favored "game changer" location."

I was at the event and I think this part can be a little misleading. The voting indicated a preference for New Carrollton at 40% and College Park at 33%. So, people liked College Park, but I wouldn't say they favored it as "the best performer" since New Carrolton outscored College Park by a 7 point margin.

by justinsays on Jun 19, 2013 6:24 pm • linkreport

To me both New the Carrollton and College Park metros have serious community access issues. But if I were to pick one that is most ready to develop from scratch and already has development momentum close by, I'd give my vote for College Park. Looking at New Carrollton from Google Maps, there is a serious community connection issues. It is bounded by highways and railways. On the other side of Rt. 50 there are nothing but warehouses and industrial buildings. Towards 450 you have the IRS. While perfect for infill, I just don't think it's as ready as College Park is. Also, WMATA is in talks with developers to revive a development plan for apartments to the north and south of the station. Presumably where the park lots are.

by adelphi_sky on Jun 19, 2013 7:01 pm • linkreport

When the Purple Line goes in, College Park is going to boom.

by Crickey7 on Jun 19, 2013 7:10 pm • linkreport

Here is a nice overview of projects around the PG Plaza Station:

by adelphi_sky on Jun 19, 2013 7:11 pm • linkreport

Thanks, justinsays. I was afraid I had gotten that wrong! We'll get that corrected.

by Bradley Heard on Jun 19, 2013 7:13 pm • linkreport

Silly question. Where is downtown Arlington? Where is downtown Fairfax? Where is downtown MoCo? Where is downtown Loudoun? Not every county needs a (single) downtown.

by Jasper on Jun 19, 2013 8:58 pm • linkreport

Jasper, while I can't speak for Loudoun, I think Rosslyn-Ballston, Tysons, Silver Spring, Bethesda serve as downtowns for their respective counties.

To your last statement, I'm not sure if you're saying that some counties don't require a downtown at all, or that some counties require more than a single downtown. If the former, I'd say that the current trend of greenfield suburban development is unsustainable (enviornmentally and economically) but if you're arguing the latter, the planners are actually advocating for 2-3 "downtown" areas.

Personally, I'd like to see one north county (PG Plaza/College Park), one central county (New Carrollton or Largo) and one south county (Suitland/Branch Ave).

by justinsays on Jun 19, 2013 9:59 pm • linkreport

Silly question. Where is downtown Arlington? Where is downtown Fairfax? Where is downtown MoCo? Where is downtown Loudoun? Not every county needs a (single) downtown.

I'd say there are traditional and new centers to each place. However while there might be more than one downtown in some of these counties I'd argue that the number is way less than 27.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2013 11:56 pm • linkreport

In all fairness, the existing plan does not contemplate all centers becoming like Bethesda. In many cases it envisions higher density or allowing something skin to a small town to take hold as opposed to the monoculture segregation of land uses one normally sees. Allow row houses near a Marc station for example.

by JimT on Jun 20, 2013 6:17 am • linkreport

Prince George's resident Cheryl Ingraham has another great summary of the town hall forum here. Follow her on Twitter @PGCBlogging

by Bradley Heard on Jun 20, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

I definitely think West Hyattsville could be redeveloped. I just think the Prince Georges Plaza site has to the be single biggest parcel in the area that is ripe for redevelopment. It's a classic aging mall that is going to die sooner or later anyway. In it's place you could drop a brand new 30 acre town center with a good 1000 DU and plenty of ground floor retail practically right on top of a metro station. I actually think they should almost look at College Park to West Hyattsville as a unified corridor a la Rosslyn - Ballston or maybe White Flint - Shady Grove although not quite to the same extent.

by Alan B. on Jun 20, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

@Alan B.

This is interesting. I wrote a post in a forum not too long about asking should the PG Plaza Mall be redeveloped into a town center. OF course I was met with opposition because some people prefer indoor shopping. But looking down on the entire all area, that's an awful lot of wasted space where the parking lots are located. I could see the mall doing a phased approach where they take one half of the mall, namely where TJ Maxx is being added and make that a tower. There could also be a tower on the southwest corner where Chik-Fil-A is trying to build a restaurant with a drive-thru (I oppose the need for a drive-thru). The corner where the Capital One Bank is can also be a tower with the bank on the ground floor. I wrote the mall owners concerning this. OF course no one ever responds. :-)

by adelphi_sky on Jun 20, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport


Sorry to hear that. I think it's safe to say if you drew a Venn diagram of planning visionaries and average mall customers, there would not be a lot of overlap. I'm not inherently opposed to an indoor shopping zone, but you can do it in a much more mixed use/town center kind of way. If they did the phased approach they could always throw in some structure parking (ideally in the back) to start with and have a lot of room leftover for a fantastic development. PG should be all over that given the potential tax base they could attract.

by Alan B. on Jun 20, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

The problem with simply looking at images of areas with the search engine of choice is that those photos are only a snapshot of a region and don't say much about the people who are actually involved or affected. How many stakeholders have popped up while trying to rezone and now develop the Cafritz site? It's not just Riverdale Park, it's college Park, Hyattsville, University Park and others who all have their own legitimate concerns and agendas. It's easy to say land around the College Park metro should be developed, but what is stopping the University of Maryland from doing that now?

by selxic on Jun 20, 2013 1:30 pm • linkreport


Are you against bird's eye views? :-) This awesome technology actually helps planners instead of being a problem. We all know there are people involved. Maps provide a point of reference.

by adelphi_sky on Jun 20, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

Thank you for linking to my blog post. You and this blog ROCK!

by Cheryl on Jun 20, 2013 5:23 pm • linkreport

I am really glad I stumbled on this site because I now realize that the area in which I live (Crown Meadows Town home community off Suitland Rd) will not benefit from any redevelopment. I had hoped that this area would be improved astetically in the very near future but according to the future redevlopment plans for Prince Georges County, that's not the case. This area is so close to the beltway I don't see why its not being looked at closely, well I have my theories but anyway, this a great concern for me because my home is already over $100,000 underwater. How is it DC can redevelop its cramped city and strive but wide open, and I might I add wealthy Prince Georges County is having problems. Well this saddens me a great deal, I guess I'll start making plans to move.

by Donna on Oct 24, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

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