Greenbelt Sector Plan: Preferred Alternatives

On April 19, the last public outreach meeting was held for the Greenbelt Metro Area and MD 193 Corridor Sector Plan, which laid out a more detailed vision for the plan area. What follows are some of the highlights of this vision. A draft of the sector plan is expected to be released in July, and a joint public hearing will occur in September (tentatively set for September 18, 2012).

Land Use
Greenbelt Sector Plan Zones
Land use is to be organized in part by dividing the plan area into two zones: Greenbelt Metropolitan Center (which includes Capital Office Park, Franklin Park, and Greenbelt Station’s north core) and MD 193 Corridor (which includes Greenway Center, Belle Point and University Square, Beltway Plaza, and Greenbelt Station’s south core). The goal is to enhance connectivity within each zone and promote development that complements the other areas of the zone.

Two different land use approaches for Greenbelt Station’s north core will be proposed. It would call for either a comprehensive, transit-oriented mixed use community or a major employer (such as a GSA tenant like the FBI) with some potential for associated mixed-use development. For a more detailed description of each scenario, see our post on the North Core Concepts and Design meeting.

Continue reading Greenbelt Sector Plan: Preferred Alternatives

Greenbelt Sector Plan: Conceptual Alternatives Workshop

Yesterday, a workshop was held for the Greenbelt Metro Area and MD 193 Corridor Sector Plan, which covered land use scenarios for several areas of the sector plan, known as “focus areas.” Three time frames (short-term, medium-term, and long-term) were used to describe when these scenarios could be realized. Short-term is meant to be 1 to 6 years, medium-term is 7 to 15 years, and long-term is 15 to 30 years.
Greenbelt Sector Plan Focus Areas

Focus Area 1: Greenway Center

This area has poor connectivity with a sea of parking and limited entrance points that hinders transit and walkability. The sector plan will call for a reduction in the parking lots through enhancing existing environmental amenities and incorporating new public/open spaces. The project team proposed filling in the parking area with a modest amount of retail and housing over the long-term (market constraints would likely prevent this from occurring sooner). Introducing residential units would allow activity to be maintained outside of working hours and thus provide support for more retail. It is assumed that there will be a lack of funds needed to support the demolition and replacement of the current buildings. But with the gradual infill of new development, a grid pattern would still be created that would bring connectivity and a new sense of place to the area.

Focus Area 2: Capital Office Park, Golden Triangle, Belle Point, and University Square

With the presence of the Beltway and Kenilworth Avenue, this area is divided into three pods that are fairly isolated from the rest of the sector plan area. This separation is unfortunate because it promotes auto traffic and acts as a resistance to mixed-use development opportunities and general connectivity. Thus, office parks exist where a variety of businesses and dwelling units could have been brought together. Building better sidewalks and adding a designated bike path along Greenbelt Road can help alleviate some of this isolation, but the interchanges and grade separation of the Beltway and Kenilworth Avenue would be very difficult and costly to overcome. The plan supports modest retail/office infill in the office parks, as well as improving the Lakecrest Drive and American Legion intersection by University Square. But overall, it supports retaining existing uses.

Focus Area 3: Greenbelt station’s North Core and South Core

As discussed in last week’s meeting, the north core could see either mixed-use development or a major employer by the Greenbelt station. If a major employer moves in, it may induce contractors to locate in the Greenway Center, Capital Office Park, or Golden Triangle. If the employer was GSA, it would probably not bring many employees to the south core. The plan could call for building a trail along Indian Creek, which would act as an extension of Indian Creek trail and run adjacent to the north and south core. A pedestrian path could be built over Indian Creek that would connect Breezewood Drive to the south core. Because of the sensitive nature of Indian Creek, it would probably not be a road. However, a road is proposed to connect the north and south core, and a shuttle system could run between them. A pedestrian bridge is also proposed, bringing another connection with Hollywood, although the location for it has not been confirmed (it was suggested that it could be located near Huron Street, between the north and south core). For the south core, it is likely that the southern portion would be multi-family residential and the northern portion would be townhouses. Potentially, this could be built in the short-term. In total, about 1,000 dwelling units and 115,000 square feet of retail and/or office space are proposed for the south core.

Focus Area 4: Franklin Park, Beltway Plaza, and MD 193 Corridor

With the lack of obstacles such as a creek or a highway, this area probably has the most potential in the sector plan area to become a walkable and well-connected place. Beltway Plaza could see its rear parking lot filled in with multi-family housing in the short to medium-term. Beltway Plaza itself could redevelop over the long-term, with the existing mall being replaced with smaller, mixed-use development. This would create a town center atmosphere with a more grid-like pattern that would provide at least one direct connection from Greenbelt Road to the rear of the plaza. If a major employer moved into Greenbelt Station’s north core, it could bring a greater incentive to redevelop this area, but it would also bring more traffic. Overall, we would like to see a general grid pattern take over this area, with stronger pedestrian connections linking Berwyn Heights, Beltway Plaza, Springhill Lake, and Greenbelt Middle School more closely together.

Other Issues

There was a general consensus to relocate the fire station to near the MD-193/BW Parkway interchange, which would reduce response times. There was also support for replacing surface parking with structured parking throughout the sector plan area, but the project team noted that the cost was too high to justify the demand for the short-term. Finally, a suggestion was made to shift transit stops from the periphery to the center of the focus areas to encourage more pedestrians.

The next meeting will be held on Thursday, April 19, at 6:30pm at Springhill Lake Elementary School. It will be a workshop that will present and discuss the preferred alternative for the future of the sector plan area.

Greenbelt Sector Plan: North Core Concepts and Design

Prince George’s County’s Planning Department is in the process of creating a new plan for the city of Greenbelt, called the Greenbelt Metro Area and MD 193 Corridor Sector Plan. The goal of the plan is to guide transit-oriented development around Greenbelt Metro Station and commercial revitalization and pedestrian-oriented improvements along the MD 193 (Greenbelt Road) corridor. In January, there was a meeting on existing transportation conditions within the sector plan area, which we reported on here.
Greenbelt Sector Plan Area

On Thursday, a workshop focused on design issues specifically for the Greenbelt station, which is considered the north core of the sector plan. As project leader Chad Williams put it, the north core is “a linchpin” for College Park and Greenbelt. It arguably has the most potential of area covered by the sector plan.

The north core, which currently is filled with more than 3,000 parking spaces, has been zoned for mixed-use for years. In fact, the County approved a concept site plan a few years ago for the area that includes 1.1 million square feet of retail, 1.2 million square feet of office space, 1267 dwelling units, and 300 hotel rooms. Yet the site still remains a parking lot, mainly because one of the developers, Patrick Ricker, was caught bribing county officials (including former county executive Jack Johnson) in exchange for favoring his projects (You can read a more in-depth history of the Greenbelt station plan here). Continue reading Greenbelt Sector Plan: North Core Concepts and Design

Greenbelt Sector Plan: Existing Transportation

Prince George’s County’s planning department is in the early stages of creating a new sector plan for the city of Greenbelt, called the Greenbelt Metro Area and MD 193 Corridor Sector Plan. The goal of the sector plan is to guide transit-oriented development around the Greenbelt Metro Station and commercial revitalization and pedestrian-oriented improvements along the MD 193 (Greenbelt Road) corridor. The last sector plan for Greenbelt was completed back in 2001, before Prince George’s County released a few key publications concerning growth and development: the General Plan (2002), the Countywide Green Infrastructure Plan (2005), and the Countywide Master Plan of Transportation (2009). The county is looking to incorporate these more recent publications into a new sector plan for Greenbelt. It hopes to have a preliminary plan ready by this fall.

Greenbelt Sector Plan Area

This plan is important to College Park because it will guide development in an adjacent city that attracts many of College Park’s residents. Yesterday, a presentation of existing transportation conditions was led by project manager Chad Williams at Greenbelt Middle School. Transportation in Greenbelt is certainly a relevant issue; the city is also strongly connected to the Beltway and has a metro station that a significant portion of College Park residents use regularly.

The presentation focused mainly on existing car traffic conditions, describing current levels of congestion on key roads within the sector plan area. These roads include the Beltway, Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Kenilworth Avenue, Greenbelt Road, Cherrywood Lane, and Hanover Parkway. Levels of service (LOS) ranging from A to F for peak hours were discussed, and it was explained that a LOS D is really not much “worse” than a LOS A, because traffic can move freely for the A, B,C, and D levels. The Beltway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway had the lowest level of service (E), although I was surprised it wasn’t even lower.

The presentation also discussed who uses the Greenbelt Metro Station, with the data coming from the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA). It was found that about 69% of users drive to the station, with a large majority coming from origins 5 to 20 miles away, typically north and west of the station. A low but significant percentage come from 30 miles away or farther. This data was based on the home address of users’ Smart Trip Cards, and a couple of audience members noted that this source may not correspond well to where the users actually came from. Nonetheless, given that a lot of traffic entering the Greenbelt station can typically be seen coming from I-95 north of the Beltway, this data seems at least reasonably accurate.

Bus routes were discussed briefly with a map that showed all the bus routes (including 2 UM shuttle routes) in the sector plan area. Audience members noted that the map failed to indicate the quality of service that these routes provide. A lot of members were not satisfied with the weekend bus service and hope that it can be expanded.

Audience members requested that a study of pedestrian and bicycle LOS be attempted for several intersections, and the presenter responded that some data has been collected for this during peak periods. I hope that data can be presented at some point; it could be valuable in helping to expand Greenbelt’s bike and pedestrian traffic while taking some cars off the road. Greenbelt is considering a bike sharing program, which could potentially fit well next to College Park’s planned program.

A PowerPoint presentation of this event should be available next week on the sector plan website.

On Greenbelt Sector Plan, Krouse Asks Residents to Get Involved

Observing the Balloons
John Krouse at the 2007 Greenbelt development balloon demonstration (RethinkCollegePark)

Former city councilmember John Krouse recently gave us an interview on why he is so troubled by the proposed Greenbelt development and why he thinks north College Park residents should get more involved in the process.

Along with other City officials, he is organizing a town hall meeting this Thursday (7 pm, March 31, 2011) at Davis Hall. Please spread tthe word and try to attend.

In terms of proposed Greenbelt development, there seems to be a lot of ambiguity. Can you please elaborate this?

The process of discussion and planning really only ends when something is built (and even then, it’s never really ‘over’).   So far, nothing has been built.

Greenbelt, Berwyn Heights and College Park (including NCPCA) all supported the 2001 Sector Plan.  Since that time, the County supported a different ‘vision’ for the area near the station that did not conform with the Sector Plan that we all worked on, and agreed with.

The approved conceptual site plan of the Developer allowed much taller buildings than the Sector Plan, and did not conform to the step-back in building heights required by the Sector Plan.  Thus, the conceptual plan allowed much greater sight impacts and reflected noise impacts on the community.  It also proposed greater density, and had greater traffic impacts.

The issue of the enormous parking garage at the end of Lackawanna Street was another major problem.  Metro insisted upon construction of it’s own garage, just south of the station, which ended up as a proposed building about the size of the Washington Post Plant (!)

Is that the kind of building that we all want to see at the end of Lackawanna Street Street… and all the way down to Iroquios Street and beyond?

If not, then we might have to be involved in a process to ‘encourage’ the construction of smaller garages on the property, and less enormous buildings right next to our homes.

And there were other problems, too.  It’s a long list, really.

Continue reading On Greenbelt Sector Plan, Krouse Asks Residents to Get Involved

Greenbelt Metro Deal Leads to Johnson’s Arrest

The bribery related charges surrounding the Greenbelt Metro station development could be one of the reasons why the current county executive Jack B. Johnson, who will be leaving office after this term,  was arrested yesterday.

WTOP reported that a source close to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore says the investigation is linked to a developer who sought to involve Johnson in a land deal at the Greenbelt Metro station. The investigation is also linked to the transfer of a residential property involving Johnson, the source says.

As reported by The Washington Post:

“Since taking office in 2002, Johnson has been linked to investigations by various authorities, including a pay-to-play accusation involving a county contract to lease office space and a broad FBI investigation involving a massive development project near the Greenbelt Metro station that Johnson had strongly backed.

“Both investigations have involved a number of Johnson associates either requesting payment or receiving strong government support. A Washington Post investigation of Johnson’s first term in office found that he had given 15 friends and allies 51 county contracts totaling nearly $3.3 million.

“In all, Johnson has come under scrutiny for county development deals worth millions of dollars that have gone to people with ties to the county executive. Several of those people had little or no development experience or were given no-bid contracts, according to government records.”

The U.S. attorney investigating the case called it the “tip of the iceberg” and part of a broader corruption investigation in Prince George’s county.

You can see the original Jack and Leslie Johnson affidavit here.

Greener Greenbelt Initiative Launched

This coming weekend the city of Greenbelt will open its doors to local residents, business owners, design professionals, and architecture students by hosting a three day charrette focusing on current and future challenges faced by the city on its 70th anniversary. The session is a component of the “Greener Greenbelt Initiative”, a working partnership between the Potomac Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA-PV) and Greenbelt Homes Inc. (GHI), the housing cooperative that owns and operates Greenbelt’s original New Deal-era homes.

Officials hope the three day charrette, or interactive brainstorming and design session, will foster a creative dialog and result in the development of a long-range plan to help ensure old Greenbelt will continue to serve as a national model for livable communities as it has since its dedication in 1937.

Specifically, a list of prepared goals on the initiative’s website include maintaining the appeal of families, enabling older residents to remain at home in the city, making original housing more energy efficient, and protecting Greenbelt’s nature and open spaces while preserving the community’s character. The “Greener Greenbelt” charrette will occur between Friday, September 28 and Sunday, September 30 at Greenbelt Elementary school, located at 66 Ridge Road.

For more information or to get involved, visit http://www.greenergreenbelt.org.

Friends Community School – Past, Present & Future

old FCS

The Friends Community School (FCS) has been located on 4601 Calvert Road for 21 years, since it was established by the Adelphi Friends [Quaker] Meeting. It has taught K-6 grades, and recently expanded to teach 7th and 8th grades. This past school year was the final term for FCS at Calvert Road. They will move to their new site in Westchester Park on Kenilworth Avenue in the fall. FCS has been leasing the Calvert Road building since its establishment in 1985. The Westchester Park school is being built by FCS through contributions from the FCS community in its Grounding Our Future Campaign. The new site will be the permanent home for the school.
new FCS elevation
There is strong community interest in Calvert Hills for the old school to remain a school.  College Park City Council voted this past week to explore for 120 days a lab school concept (in partnership with the Prince George’s County School District and the University of Maryland) for the Calvert Road site.   If a lab school does not pan out, the city may consider other options for the use of that site including other school options. The latter scenario would fall in line with an interest from new Prince George’s County superintendent John E. Deasy for more small local community schools.

The new school is 27,000 square feet and sits on 17 wooded acres adjacent to Greenbelt National Park. It will be LEED certified and employ non-load-bearing straw bale technology. Straw is a renewable building resource that acts as superior insulation and is fairly easy to build with. It is equally impervious to fires, insects, high winds and heavy rains as traditional insulation. Straw bale structures typically save on 15% of wood used in a conventional structure. The new FCS is now the largest known straw bale structure in the world.

The new FCS will also feature a vegetated roof, a rain garden designed to limit soil erosion and filter pollutants from rainwater, and flooring that absorbs sunlight and stays warm during winter months. On cloudy days, floors will be heated by water pipes installed underneath.

new FCS and surrounding

There is presently a FCS summer camp still at the old Calvert Road school.

See the Gazette’s report on the FCS move.

Planning for a ‘Greener Greenbelt’

Old GreenbeltThis Saturday community leaders in Greenbelt will launch a major 3-year effort to create a vision and strategic plan for the future of old Greenbelt. Called the Greener Greenbelt Initiative, the project is a a joint partnership between the city and the Potomac Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, with involvement from the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Greenbelt was built in 1937 by the federal government as a New Deal project. Recently, major redevelopment projects at Beltway Plaza, Springhill Lake Apartments, and the Greenbelt Station could transform the town.

The project kicks off this Saturday with an open house at the Roosevelt Center from 10:00 a.m. until 2 p.m. where residents can learn more about the project and how they can get involved in the effort to ensure Greenbelt remains “a national model of an attractive, livable, affordable and healthy community.” The effort will begin with several community events this summer leading up to a design charrette with AIA members in September where architects will work with community members to put ideas to paper. For more information about the project, contact UMD Professor and Greenbelt resident Jim Cohen at jimcohen at umd.edu.

> > Download an informational flyer about the project (PDF)

‘Greenbelt Station’ Proposal Now Includes Four 18-Story Towers

Observing the Balloons

A small group of city officials and citizens gathered at the Greenbelt Metro station this morning to observe a balloon demonstration intended to provide residents with a way to gauge the potential impact of the Greenbelt Towne Center project. According to the latest plans provided to demonstration attendees, the current proposal includes over a dozen buildings ranging up to 18 stories. The demonstration included 6 balloons, designed to provide a sense of size to neighborhood residents. The entire complex will include over 2 million square feet of retail and office space, two 150 room hotels, over 1,200 residential units, and a whopping 14,000 parking spaces. The project also includes a section containing townhomes now under construction south of the station along the railroad tracks.

In the photo above, city staff and residents stand in the backyard of city Councilmember John Krouse, who is concerned about the increased density of the project. The view from his backyard (seen below) directly overlooks the Metro and project site. Krouse and other neighborhood residents object to recent changes to the plan that has introduced two 12-story buildings immediately at the Metro Station, instead of making those buildings four stories and “stepping up” to the taller buildings farther into the site.

Balloon Demonstration

As we have previously reported the plans we have obtained show the project will contain a one acre park at the exit of the station, and will involve reconfiguring the ramps connecting it to the beltway. Click here for a closer look at the open space site plan shown below.

Greenbelt Station Open Space Plan

More images from the balloon demonstration and related to the project are available here.