Back on April 4th the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission presented the results of their Purple Line community workshop at a public meeting. I attended, and while M-NCPPC’s delay in posting material has delayed this writeup, there’s still quite a bit to talk about. The Prince George’s County Planning Department within M-NCPCC established five Station Planning Areas to address stations areas not covered by another plan of some form.
The M Square/River Road and College Park stations sit approximately a mile apart and were therefore covered in the same workshops. Significant areas around both station lie open for development, both within the M Square research park and South of River Road. During the second community workshop, the Planning Department used visual examples to let participants pick and choose among elements without delving into lots of planning jargon. From this the Planning Department formulated recommendations for transit, roadways and redevelopment.
The preliminary recommendations take a solid transit-oriented urban design approach. Recommendations include new sidewalks and trails to provide pedestrian and bicycle connections, and an attention to the character of those spaces, including recommendations for buffered sidewalks, shade trees, and street furniture such as benches and trash cans. The Planning Department also includes recommended building frontage to tie structures to the street and ensure an active streetscape, rather than a series of blank walls. Each station area presents different specific challenges, addressed separately by the workshop.
This station, intended to serve the University of Maryland’s M Square research park, will sit at the Southwest corner of River Road, University Court and Haig Drive. Note that Haig Drive, extending South from River Road, is marked as University Research Court by Google Maps. Planning calls it Haig Drive, so I will too.
Planners acknowledged right off the bat the challenge presented by Federal government facilities. The area research park already houses NSA and USDA facilities, as well as the nearly complete NOAA building. Beyond the usual problems of nondescript buildings surrounded by parking lots, NOAA and NSA add secured perimeters that create impervious walls. The Planning Department expressed interest in running a road between the NOAA and NSA facilities to create a North-South axis through M Square from River Road to Paint Branch Parkway, which may be blocked due to security requirements
The already approved plans for M Square lots 15-17, facing River Road between USDA and FDA, includes space for future internal roads, one piece of a new internal street grid. Preliminary plans include a new road tracking River Road inside M Square, as well as new connections to River Road, Calvert Road and University Research Court. Future office development will include ground-floor retail, expected to be oriented towards daytime the daytime office workers, increased use of structured parking, and will cover over some of the existing surface parking lots. This should be most notable along River Road, where structures will create a real street wall.
To the South of River Road, outside of M Square, the Planning department recommends mixed residential and commercial, with trails behind the residential structures to connect Tuckerman Lane to River Road and Haig Drive. The connection to Lafayette Avenue will be “formalized”. Currently, Rivertech Court runs from River Road past the Raytheon building and dead-ends at a cul-de-sac. Many residents then cut across a parking lot in front of the ERCO building and across an unfinished section to access Lafayette Avenue. Current proposals suggest extending Rivertech Court as a formal road, complete with sidewalks and intersections, thus providing access from Riverdale Park out to River Road. The extension would also tie into a bridge across the CSX tracks which would be part of the Cafritz project, although that remains unapproved currently. Both these connections should assist in plans for reuse of the ERCO building. The historic former airplane factory is owned by the University of Maryland, which has expressed some interest in converting it to residential or mixed residential/office use.
The University of Maryland appears to be generally supportive of the Planning Department’s ideas, based on the entirely unofficial comments of some UMD administrators present
The College Park Purple Line station will sit against the East side of the Metro tracks, atop the current surface parking lot. The station has been shifted slightly Southwest from previous proposals to fit the redevelopment of the WMATA lot. The joint development plan for the site is already underway. With more infrastructure in place, the College Park station area will see less new construction and connections, as the River Road station will, and a greater use of infill development. 51st and 52nd Avenues will likely be extended South to connect Paint Branch Parkway to the internal roads at M Square. A new greenway will turn the existing stream south of FDA into a pedestrian greenway, providing green space and an improved pedestrian connection to internal M Square developments.
The Planning Department recommends new redeveloped offices on top of parking lots both East and South of the FDA building, as well as entirely new commercial and residential in the small industrial area North of Paint Branch Parkway. An Urban Land Institute study indicates that even with the airport four to five story structures are quite possible, allowing commercial to front Paint Branch Parkway and step down to residential closer to the airport. Given the presence of established neighborhoods, very little will be done West of the Metro Station other than a few sidewalk and trail improvements
The workshop presented many interesting ideas which move both station areas strongly in a transit oriented direction. Existing facilities and federal security requirements create fewer complications than I would have expected, and the Planning Department is actively trying to work around them. All the ideas presented were highly preliminary, as emphasized by multiple staffers present. Illustrations were given only to provide flavor, so one shouldn’t expect everything one sees. For example, while illustrations show cycle tracks on River Road, they’re actually proposing soft shoulders, a less protected form of facility.
There’s still time to weigh in and let the Planning Department staff know what you think. You can do that by e-mailing comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. A final report is expected in June, which will likely impact the review of the College Park Transit District Overlay Zone scheduled for next year.
Full Disclosure: The author works as a contractor for a unit of NOAA which will be located at M Square. All views and opinions are his own and not those of his employer or NOAA.