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.
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).
Potential drawbacks to the concept plan include a large parking requirement of up to 12,000 spaces (which would be satisfied with parking garages), the inability to draw large numbers of Metro riders from DC and closer in metro stations out to Greenbelt, and competition with other shopping destinations (such as PG Plaza, Beltway Plaza, and the future East Campus, Brick Yard, and Konterra projects). Given the market constraints and the current lack of funds, it will likely take many years – even a couple of decades – before development a Greenbelt Metro is fully realized. The timeline could be accelerated if public investment is made, or if a major employer moves to the site. To that end, the project team stated that the site could instead support 2.2 million square feet of office space with 12,000 employees.
The FBI, currently located in downtown DC, has outgrown the J. Edgar Hoover building and is looking to enhance its security. Last November, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report to Congress stating that relocating the FBI headquarters to another transit-accessible location in the region was both the cheapest and quickest option to allow the FBI to consolidate its workforce and maintain operational security. The relocation would require a space of 55 to 65 acres and be located on federal property, to be leased to a developer.
Although the Greenbelt station would provide the necessary space, we (and many others who attended the meeting) think it would be a detriment to the area. The FBI requires its buildings to have a level five security, which is equal to that of the Pentagon and CIA and would necessitate a 300-foot security buffer. Given that the FBI is looking to build a campus that would fill a space nearly as large as the north core, it would leave little room to the public for retail or even parking. Such a federal presence would severely restrict any attempt to bring connectivity and walkability to the station. In addition, the tax benefits from this project would be relatively small and finite compared to the mixed-use scenario.
Other issues discussed included height transition, with many people at the meeting favoring buildings no higher than 7 or 8 stories. Buildings that are 10 to 12 stories high would cast a morning shadow over homes on the eastern edge of the Hollywood neighborhood and would block views of the surrounding environment. There was general agreement that all buildings should pursue LEED certification.
Regardless of the final outcome, the project team said they will recommend the following for the sector plan:
- A full interchange with the Beltway so that the outer loop has access to the station
- Preservation of Indian Creek, which runs just east of the Greenbelt station
- A pedestrian bridge to north College Park
- Enhanced connectivity and incorporation of public spaces
- Reduction of the impervious parking spaces
The next meeting will be held on Thursday, March 22, at 6:30pm at Springhill Lake Elementary School. It will cover concepts and design for the rest of the sector area.