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Prince George's new general plan places too much emphasis on sprawl

Last year, Prince George's County planners kicked off a bold effort to revise its general plan and direct most future growth to transit stations inside the Beltway. But a continuing focus on sprawling suburban development on the county's fringes could thwart those worthy goals.


Photo by La Citta Vita on Flickr.

The Planning Department has been working on "Plan Prince George's 2035," an update of the county's blueprint for long-term growth and development. It proposes directing most growth to a few "downtown" areas at major Metro stations inside the Beltway. Planners stressed the need to revitalize older communities and preserve natural resources.

Throughout the process, planners urged the county to be "bold and forward thinking" and to reject the "business as usual" approach of supporting sprawl development. But the County Executive's and County Council's continuing enthusiasm for big greenfield developments like Westphalia and Konterra, will only continue this pattern by directing growth away from downtowns.

Preliminary draft plan reflects council's desire for more "business as usual"

The preliminary draft of Plan Prince George's 2035, released in September, is graphically impressive and chock-full of data. Planners have spent the past several weeks reviewing, digesting, and responding to public comments received in November and December.

In many ways, the preliminary draft plan lays out the right overall vision and framework for how the county should "live, work, and sustain" over the next 20 years. It says that 50% of the county's growth should go to one of eight "Regional Transit Centers": Largo Town Center, New Carrollton, Prince George's Plaza, Branch Avenue, College Park, Greenbelt, Suitland, and National Harbor. Of these, only National Harbor is not Metro-accessible, and all of these areas are either inside or adjacent to the Beltway.

In many other ways, however, Plan Prince George's 2035 is at odds with the planners' stated vision. It's too permissive of allowing growth to continue in the sprawling areas of the county that lie outside the Beltway and away from transit. Inside the Beltway, the preliminary plan misses the mark in identifying existing neighborhoods most in need of capital investments to catalyze revitalization and redevelopment.


Photo by Magnus D on Flickr.

New "Suburban Centers" and sprawling subdivisions away from transit encourage growth in the wrong places

The plan identifies five "suburban centers," all located outside the Beltway and away from transit: Bowie, Brandywine, Landover Gateway, Westphalia, and Konterra. Planners envision that these centers will be "larger in size" than development around Metro stations and will "rely more on vehicular transportation."

According to the plan, 6,300 new homes should be built in these areas, representing 10% of the county's growth over the next 20 years. But Konterra and Westphalia alone are already approved for 9,500 homes, or 15% of the county's projected growth. Add the approved and planned development at Woodmore Towne Centre and the old Landover Mall (both at Landover Gateway), as well as Bowie and Brandwine, and Suburban Centers could easily be responsible for more than 20% of Prince George's projected future growth.

County planners may have felt they had to include the suburban centers because they're already reflected in existing master plans. Additionally, County Executive Rushern Baker and many County Council members continue to vigorously support growth and development in these areas. But the point of the General Plan is to provide a blueprint for the county's future growth, not to ratify the bad growth decisions of the past.

The preliminary plan also recommends directing another 20% of the county's growth to so-called "Established Communities," which refers to every place in the county that's eligible for public water and sewer connections. But such an overarching designation, which includes many areas that are currently undeveloped, turns the whole concept of "established" on its head and does virtually nothing to control sprawl.

Last fall, the County Council extended the validity periods for several previously approved but still-unbuilt projects dating to before the housing bust. Eighty percent of those projects are for single-family subdivisions in undeveloped areas outside the Beltway.

With the "Suburban Centers" and "Established Communities," as contemplated in the preliminary plan, over 40% of the county's projected growth will occur in outer-Beltway suburbia, away from transit. This can hardly be the "bold" direction that planners originally envisioned.

Plan doesn't direct enough resources for inside-the-Beltway communities

In contrast to the massive growth planned for "Suburban Centers" and "Established Communities," the draft plan only anticipates 15% of the county's growth going to the 20 Metro, MARC, Purple Line, and other transit stations inside the Beltway that are designated as local transit, neighborhood, or campus centers. There's little mention in the plan of public funds for capital improvements, like new streets or public facilities, and other catalytic investment in these areas, meaning even that tiny amount of growth is not likely to materialize.

The draft plan focuses its "Neighborhood Reinvestment Area" priorities solely on the six neighborhoods that County Executive Baker designated in his 2012 Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) program, which provides educational, public health and safety resources to communities particularly plagued by crime.

In her public testimony, Lillie Thompson-Martin, mayor of the town of Fairmount Heights, rightly criticized the preliminary draft of Plan Prince George's 2035 for "starving the older established communities," refusing them any meaningful revitalization assistance.


State-designated revitalization opportunity areas like this, across from the Addison Road Metro Station, get little attention in Plan Prince George's 2035. Image from Google Earth.

A better approach would have the plan focus on those areas that county and state economic development officials have already identified as most in need of revitalization. Maryland has designated several Prince George's communities as either a Sustainable Community, Targeted Area, or Enterprise Zone. This would encompass most of the inner-Beltway Metro station areas designated as Local Transit Centers or Neighborhood Centers, like West Hyattsville and Addison Road, and many other older communities, like Brentwood, Mount Rainier, and Capitol Heights.

Tell Prince George's it's time to change directions

Although the public comment period has passed, the final draft of Plan Prince George's 2035 has not yet been adopted. The Planning Board and the County Council still have to meet and vote to adopt the final plan.

If you believe that Prince George's needs to make developing our Metro stations and revitalizing inside-the-Beltway communities a priority, you should write to them and urge them to hold another public hearing. For the Planning Board, send your emails to the Public Affairs Department, with copies to Planning Director Fern Piret and Deputy Planning Director Al Dobbins.

For the County Council, send your emails to Council Chair Mel Franklin, with copies to the Clerk of the Council and Ingrid Turner, chair of the council's Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development committee.

Cross-posted on Prince George's Urbanist.

Speak up

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To:Public Affairs Department, Prince George's Planning Board
Mel Franklin, Chair, Prince George's County Council
Cc:Firn Piret, Planning Director, Prince George's Planning Board
Al Dobbins, Deputy Planning Director, Prince George's Planning Board
Ingrid Turner, Prince George's County Council
Clerk of the Council, Prince George's County Council

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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, Virginia, Brad spent most of his adult life in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Prince George's County in 2007. Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George's County. 

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I hope you will be trying to get an op-ed based on this piece in The Gazette.

... but it is an illustration of how planners work for the Exec. Branch and ultimately do what they are told.

see cites within: http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2012/10/prince-georges-county-still-doesnt-get.html

by Richard L. Layman on Feb 20, 2014 1:05 pm • linkreport

That Konterra thing has been under development for more than 30 years too. I was looking through the Washington Post archives at articles from the early 1980s about it. Really shows how once a development is "in the works" it's not likely to ever go away.

by iaom on Feb 20, 2014 1:17 pm • linkreport

This brings up the question of instead of planning stations, development etc in the middle of nowhere why not do it in existing communities. Take for example the Largo extension of the Blue line a station was mentioned for Largo back before the Blue was built but it took 20 plus years to build why. I would bet the only reason the station was built at the spot it was is due to the Boulevard next to it.

I remember back in the late 80's early 90's people wanted a station closer to Wild World/Adventure World (Former names of Six Flags America)and Watkins Park not to the north of Central Ave there was nothing there; most of the residential areas and businesses were along Central Ave or to the south of it.

Stations should be built in areas where there is already activity instead of bulldozing woods to build new areas and developments. Then build up in those neighborhoods and if need be use eminent domain as transit would be a proper use.

Almost every single station in Prince George's County is built in areas that never had much business or residential use before the stations and has mostly empty land but the areas where there are people not a single station is built the only exceptions that come to mind would be Capitol Heights(which sits right next to the town), and to an extant West Hyattsville & Addison Road

by kk on Feb 20, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

kk -- that's exactly why rail transit has made little difference to PGC. See

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/04/future-of-mixed-use-developmenturbaniza_8796.html

That's why, with the coming of the Purple Line, PGC gets a second chance to re-set its planning paradigm.

I haven't read the plan yet, but according to Bradley's rendition, it doesn't do that.

Note that when I tried to influence the Balt. County master plan when I worked there, I was told that everything that was recommended that "cost money" was taken out of the plan at the order of the chief administrative officer (who is really the most powerful person in govt. there, more powerful than the County Executive).

So my transit recommendations had no chance on staying in the plan:

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2012/05/from-files-transit-planning-in.html

It's very hard vis-a-vis the Growth Machine, for the County Exec. and County Council to change their outlook...

In any event, in my piece on MD-county 2014 elections transpo agenda, I mentioned extension of the Purple Line to serve National Harbor as a key priority.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2014/02/maryland-gubernatorial-campaign.html

by Richard L. Layman on Feb 20, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

It's a shame Prince George's government is still in the sprawl and drive everywhere mentality. The next generation, which be the customers for all those McMansions in nowhere, have already moved on, and want transit accessible, lifestyle communities.

by Greenbelt on Feb 20, 2014 2:34 pm • linkreport

It's not such a big deal if the nearest metro station is a mile or two away though if you can walk there or take a bus. The problem with so many suburban stations is that they bent over backwards so far to ease car access that it's really hard to get there by walking and bus service is limited enough to make it tedious to connect. Plus typical suburban subdivisions are usually very circuitious making it even more obnoxious to get there without a car. It wouldnt have been such a bad thing to put the stations in the middle of nowhere if the county established a good road grid and amenities to enable appropriate development.

by BTA on Feb 20, 2014 2:37 pm • linkreport

@ Richard L. Layman

It wont matter almost none of the Metrorail stations be it in Maryland, DC or Virginia were built where populations lived in the 60's, 70's, 80's or early 90's (just look at the southern Green Line most stations are nowhere near housing that was not built around the same time or after the stations).

The lightrail could be a second chance but will never compare to Metrorail. I personally think the Purple Line should be built similar to many Premetro's in Europe. I see the Purple Line being worst than the Lightrail in Baltimore unless more of it is given exclusive roadways otherwise the Lightrail will just a very long Streetcar route.

When it comes to National harbor I would only build something (Lightrail or Metrorail)there if it can be routed to serve existing built up areas that are not served well by Metrorail, Metrobus or PG County The Bus that are near by meaning Oxon Hill, Ft Washington, Camp Springs and Birchwood maybe Indian Head. Also for a start I would route the P17, P18, P19, D12, W13, W14 & W15 Metrobuses all into National Harbor and then get rid of the NH1 & NH3 or extend them to somewhere else.

by kk on Feb 20, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

@ BTA

I don't really mind subdivisions if built well and integrate with the area if there are already subdivison another one can go next to it all areas at one point were built like subdivisions its just that cities/towns formed around them.

What I would like to see if they are going to continue to build subdivision and transit lines just put the damn station in the middle of the subdivision. That way the people atleast could walk or take a bus to the station.

I could see a typical subdivision being built with a central park in the middle that has a Metrostation or atleast an entrance to a larger Metrostation with another entrance outside of the subdivision on a major rd not side street.

Of all the stations in PG County only Capitol Heights, Addison Rd, PG Plaza, Suiltland & Naylor Rd are built on major roads the rest are built off of side streets creating traffic on local streets which the metrostations don't even integrate well into the neighborhood.

If the stations were built into subdivisions/neighborhoods they all would not need parking lots

by kk on Feb 20, 2014 3:14 pm • linkreport

kk -- as always good point. Metrorail wasn't set up to make communities better. It was set up to get suburban residents to their federal jobs. ArCo was quite visionary in figuring out how to change their land use paradigm to allow it to do both.

DC didn't change the paradigm, but had the happy accident of a bunch of stations that served neighborhoods as well as commercial areas, or were on the outskirts of the main commercial district.

Some of the outlying stations on the eastern leg of the red line sort of duplicated old rail station stops (like Takoma, Fort Totten, and Brookland). Now that there is some intensification at those places, ridership is increasing for those stations, and the commercial amenities are improving.

Similarly, in MoCo, a bunch of the stations are in extant places, so they accomplish the commute support function as well as the neighborhood improvement function.

Not having been around then, I guess in the 1950s and 1960s, transit planning didn't look at previous transit planning (like the Van Swearingens in Cleveland, who bought a railroad to get the right of way to build heavy rail streetcars to serve Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights) and how transit + community building could be intertwined.

You mentioned Balt. Light Rail. It has a double misfortune of following an industrial railroad (hence no real activity centers) and having big, clunky vehicles. It would be nice if they could upgrade to new modern vehicles.

Plus, your point about European style "pre-metros" with separated ROW outside of the core is of course, exactly right too.

by Richard L. Layman on Feb 20, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

How exactly will Konterra "only continue this pattern by directing growth away from downtowns" I thought it was going to create a new urban town center resembling Reston more than Westphalia.

@ kk

"Almost every single station in Prince George's County is built in areas that never had much business or residential use before the stations and has mostly empty land..."

That's not true at all. Two Green Line stations that opened in 2001, Naylor Rd and Suitland, were built in very densely populated areas. And the county's newest station, Largo Town Center, was built in '04, a year after the Boulevard at Cap Ctre opened.

by Burd on Feb 20, 2014 4:06 pm • linkreport

After riding the Baltimore light rail, I'm a lot less enthusiastic about the upcoming purple line. Wow, it takes forever for those trains to move through downtown. And 30-minute headways at Penn Station during rush hour? No thanks.

The lack of signs explaining how the proof-of-payment system works doesn't help either. I thought that the trains would have European-style ticket validators onboard, only to discover that they did not, and the tickets that I bought all expired and became worthless. Oops.

by jms on Feb 20, 2014 4:33 pm • linkreport

@Burd

At Naylor Road there is nothing directly around the station; there is a huge parking lot to the southwest of the entrance, bus bays directly south, east a skating rink with a large parking lot along Branch Ave , A liquor store along Branch Ave, a highrise which does not directly touch Naylor Road and is set back about 50-100 feet from the road. On the northern side there is nothing but the Suiltland Parkway until you reach Southern Ave. There is also a big empty field along Oxon Run Drive. There is not much there until you reach Curtis Drive or Oxon Park Street.

At Suiltland station there is the Federal Center to the east, an empty patch to the north, Suitland Parkway to the west. To the south of Silver Hill Rd there is Parkway Terrance Drive, Covington Street, Claire Drive, Pearl Drive with some garden style apartments. There are also houses along Swann Rd, Randall Rd, Navy Day Drive & Place. You have to get to Pennsylvania Ave to really see lots of development.

Each of those stations has empty patches less than 500 yards from the station that has no use. Each of those stations could be 50 times denser than they are now. Those stations are in no way in a dense area.

Largo Town Center is surrounded by parking lots literally, both side of the station have parking lots then a bridge over a stream going to another parking lot with the back of the Boulevard stores about 100 feet. There is green to the west, east and south. Also the Boulevard was only there a year that is not much time when comparing other areas that have had stuff for 30, 40 or 50 plus years.

Most of the land around those stations is empty as I just pointed out; it is either patches of grass field, empty lots, parking lots or woods.

by kk on Feb 20, 2014 4:43 pm • linkreport

Thanks for another very detailed and spot on post.

by ArchStanton on Feb 20, 2014 4:45 pm • linkreport

@ jms:

I commuted to Baltimore for a few days last month for a conference and used the light rail to travel between the convention center and Penn Station. Yes, the trips directly into and out of Penn Station are absurdly infrequent, but there are actually pretty reasonable headways, a train each way about every 10 minutes, between Convention Center station and Mount Royal station, less than a 10 minute walk from Penn Station. If the Purple Line has similar headways it will be quite useful.

I too was annoyed that one can essentially only buy a light rail ride on the platform just before boarding, not on the vehicle and not very far in advance. At least I was able to pay with my DC SmartTrip card. The Purple Line will have to do better.

by A Streeter on Feb 20, 2014 5:00 pm • linkreport

I again fail to see why people are so against Konterra TC and why Landover Gateway also now seems to be a 'go to' example of bad planning.

Like it or not, the ICC has been built, and I-95 is already being altered to include a new interchange and managed C/D lanes near Konterra. The town center is also designed to have thousands of housing units, retail and office space on a few hundred acre grid of streets. Sure, there's no existing transit, and it's not likely to have rail transit (it's only about a mile from a MARC station) but it certainly would attract WMATA and PG county buses, some that would likely provide direct or fairly direct connections to MARC and one or a couple of Metro stations. It would also provide for a live-work environment which is more than the rest of PG county sprawl, it would provide high density, and it would be designed to cut down on errands requiring the car to be moved multiple times. Similarly the Landover Gateway is on the existing Beltway, is located almost equi-distant to two Metro stations, could easily have regular Bus to one or both Metro stations, and is on a logical extension of the Purple Line. Why abandon these areas that want to urbanize just because they're not at an existing Metro station. Westphalia and Brandywine are the two projects I feel are most worth fighting because they are further away from existing infrastructure and won't connect well regionally.

I'm also going to suggest again as I have before that without additional tax dollars coming in from successful suburban development, the County has limited funds to perform the needed capital improvements to the areas around existing Metro stations. Maybe the plan should identify more work, so it can get in line for funding should the funds become available, but thinking the County can quickly and easily make much of the Metro proximate communities attractive to private development is looking at the situation through rose colored glasses. Maybe in 30 years when the Metro stations in the city and in the perfected corridors are out of development space then Prince Georges Co will have a TOD boom, but there is plenty of development capacity left in much more sought after areas and developers are almost never risk takers.

by Gull on Feb 20, 2014 5:01 pm • linkreport

This is just one of several attempts to promote anti-growth in Prince Grieves County by preventing new growth throughout the County knowing that it is impossible for massive new growth in areas near metro stations.

by tom on Feb 20, 2014 6:22 pm • linkreport

@kk

You should probably see this info on bus service near National Harbor,
http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/news/PressReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=5666

by Transport. on Feb 21, 2014 12:15 am • linkreport

@ Transport

Thanks I hardly ever visit the metrobus-studies site or anything connected to it cause it does not updated in a timely manner only about twice a year and I didnt know about that press release since it happened yesterday

by kk on Feb 21, 2014 9:47 am • linkreport

@kk

I said that Naylor Road was built in one of the county's densest places, and that is a fact. The station is within walking distance to several high rises, not just one: Marlborough House, Top of the Hill (numerous), Carriage Hill (numerous), etc.

Suitland Station is directly in front of a major employer, the Census Bureau, and within walking distance to several apartment complexes, retail, etc. The station is also in one of the county's densest places.

Yes, both Suitland and Naylor Rd are also adjacent to the Suitland Parkway, where the green line runs, but that is federal parkland. Obviously there is nothing the anyone can do to develop a federal park, so I don't know what point you're trying to make.

Largo Town Ctr station has garage parking, just like many other suburban stations, and is within walking distance to the Boulevard, condos/apts, townhomes and offices.

So again, you're quite wrong to assume these stations are surrounded by empty parcels, when they are actually much more developed than many other suburban stations.

by Burd on Feb 21, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

Gull -- ICC was built to enable Konterra for the most part.

jms -- as A Streeter pointed out, it's easier to walk to Mount Royal Station than wait for the LR at Penn Station. I kept pushing the idea of creating a "sustainable transportation corridor" from Penn Station along Oliver Street to the Mount Royal Station when I was more involved in Baltimore stuff, but never got take up on the idea. (The other place to do that is from Woodberry Station to Hampden, although there is some serious hillage...)

I hate to admit that for awhile, not really paying attention, I would get out at the North Ave. station and walk to Penn Station, before I figured out the Mt. Royal alternative.

Wrt your point about in-Downtown routing, they'd probably do better to underground it, like how LR is in parts of Seattle.

by Richard L. Layman on Feb 21, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

@ Burd

About 40% of the woods near Suitland Parkway are not along the parkway; there are huge patches of woods all around inbetween the houses and streets. There is no housing at all within 1/4 mile of the station most of the housing is between 1/3 and 1/2 mile from the station

On 23rd Parkway, behind many of the homes along Hillcrest Parkway, Everest Drive, 31st Ave, 32nd Ave and between Branch Ave & Scottish Ave. Grant some of the woods may be privately own such as the case with some near the apartment complex on Curtis Drive but that does not excuse the fact that it is wasted space.

Most businesses of any type are not near Naylor Road Station they are closer to Iverson Mall, Marlow Heights or St. Barnabas Road. The excceptions are Mid Atlantic Seafood, a Budget Inn, Temple Hills Skating Palace, a liquor store, beauty salon, a carryout, 7-Eleven, another seafood place and another liquor store. All of that land could be developed to anything better; a CVS would be better than what is currently along this stretch

Iverson Mall in itself is another problem. They mall is damn near empty (the only stores that probably make a decent amount are Footaction and Footlocker which are the same company)

The area near Suitland Station is now where near dense; between Suiltland Road and Suitland Parkway there not many businesses (federal government agencies don't count) and not many houses considering the amount of space. Directly across from the station is a damn laundromat of all things.

I bet there is a good amount of land owned by PG County around there.

Most of the housing near Naylor Road Station is west of Naylor Road and goes that way for about 2 miles look for yourself. The stations are on the edges of the neighborhoods themselves

http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=257081

The only thing around there that makes the area dense in any way is the apartments and if they were not there it would be just like any area of PG County. Glassmanor, Glendarden, Lahnam, Hyattsville, Riverdale, Edmonston are all probably denser

by kk on Feb 21, 2014 6:01 pm • linkreport

As a lifelong MoCo resident, I am only really familiar with PG west of Route 1 except for what I can see from Google Maps. I think where the two western most stations of the Purple Line in PG could urbanize even without much county support. When combined with the two Long Branch stations adjacent to them they have a substantial amount of commercial land that could be redeveloped that also benefits from their proximity to Silver Spring.

On a different note, something I have not seen discussed (though it probably has been somewhere) is the possibility of light rail on Route 1. There is already quite a bit of density on Route 1, at least on the sections I tend to drive between College Park north to Route 100. Light Rail along Route 1 from downtown DC to downtown Baltimore would open a lot of potential for TOD to an already densely populated corridor, add another transit link between the two cities and possibly bring some desperately needed relief to a very congested road.

by DaveS on Feb 21, 2014 7:27 pm • linkreport

@ Richard:

Thanks. I forwarded this post to the Gazette for consideration for republication, but haven't heard anything back from them. Re: extending Purple Line to National Harbor, I agree, as long as the alignment proceeds inside the Beltway and helps to revitalize and transform some of the now-dying strip malls into walkable mixed-use nodes. I also agree w/ kk that the Purple Line is no substitute for building out the existing Metro stations.

@kk:

"Stations should be built in areas where there is already activity instead of bulldozing woods to build new areas and developments."

Totally agree. Also agree with your statements re: West Hyattsville, Capitol Heights, Addison Road, and Naylor Road. That's why I think it's crazy for the General Plan to ignore revitalization needs around these viable locations. With the right help and investment, these neighborhood stations could densify and thrive.

@ Gull:

"I'm also going to suggest again as I have before that without additional tax dollars coming in from successful suburban development, the County has limited funds to perform the needed capital improvements to the areas around existing Metro stations."

That's not true. While the county's funds are not unlimited, the county's decision to ignore the capital improvement needs around the existing Metro stations is largely one of poor prioritization rather than poverty. It's not as if it's any cheaper for the county to build the expensive new infrastructure that's necessary to support greenfield sprawl development. The cost of sprawl is huge. Indeed, over the long haul, it is much cheaper to redevelop what we have and to maximize the benefit of our existing infrastructure.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 23, 2014 3:12 pm • linkreport

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