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).

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.

9 thoughts on “Greenbelt Sector Plan: North Core Concepts and Design”

  1. I am a North College Park resident, and I fully support moving the FBI to Greenbelt Metro. I don’t think their HQ would need to take up the entire space, especially if they build down rather than out (which they can certainly do.) And who says it needs to be in the north core? The last thing the region needs is more housing on the market… why not put it in the south area, where it can have its own bridge from 193 and also access from a new Beltway interchange? Perhaps even a new Metro stop that would also be convenient to the old Washington Post plant and a revitalized Greenbelt mall? Employees could walk to lunch on 193. And the community (both North CP and the Springhill Lake / Berwyn Heights area) would certainly benefit from an influx of armed federal law enforcement personnel living in the area.

  2. .. or put a new FBI HQ just north of the Beltway, next to the Metro rail yard. They could extend the platform at Greenbelt north by the length of 4 cars, build a new stop at the HQ, and run two or four-car trains between the two points every 10 minutes all day long. Probably wouldn’t require that much new track either.

  3. CP Resident, that would be a good idea, and it was actually suggested by Greater Greater Washington: “In the case of Greenbelt, there’s a site near the Federal Courthouse on Cherrywood Lane that could be suitable. It’s within easy cycling distance of the Greenbelt Metro/MARC station and has multiple bus lines serving it. A shuttle bus could easily provide frequent service.” http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/12845/for-the-fbi-a-suburban-metro-station-site-is-not-ideal/

    However, a later post on GGW stated: “It appears that one of those [greenfield sites near the federal courthouse] is not large enough to meet the GSA requirements, and the other site is already committed for another use.”
    http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/13681/to-lure-the-fbi-prince-georges-must-be-more-nimble/

    A follow-up post made a good case for Morgan Boulevard to take the FBI: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/13705/morgan-boulevard-metro-is-the-best-site-for-the-fbi/

  4. Very interesting links. I’m curious what other use the site near the courthouse is already “committed” to. Looking at the PG Atlas (http://pgatlas.com/) I’m specifically referring to the property that is tax acct 2410793, which is next to the Metro yard along Edmonston, and over 150 acres. It looks like a small corner is currently being used by USDA, but the rest is forested.

    As for the case for Morgan Boulevard: There are a couple assumptions in play there. The first is that the new HQ doesn’t need to be adjacent to a Metro stop. This is crazy – I know from experience that most Gov employees, being fairly affluent, will not take Metro rail to a stop only to have to transfer to a bus to go the rest of the way. Look at places like CIA HQ – it’s within a few minute bus ride of a Metro stop, yet virtually nobody takes the bus there – and it’s not because traffic isn’t terrible in that area. Add in the facet that the bus (or even a private shuttle run by the agency) can only take you as far as the Visitor Control Center (from which point you must walk) and any benefit of taking transit vanishes. It’s a time investment calculation – Metro rail is fairly easy, and walking to a building a few blocks away is no problem, but as soon as you add another form of public transit, it no longer attractive and most people will just drive. The Pentagon is a great example of a Fed HQ done right (and still their parking lots are packed…)

    The other thing I thought was amusing was the postulation that Morgan Blvd. is superior because it is “underdeveloped” (which I can only assume is code for “scary neighborhood.”) The author seems to seriously think that plopping a major government HQ in the middle of a bad neighborhood will automatically transform it into an upper-middle-class wonderland. I’d like to see examples of this actually occurring in PG county before. My guess is, employees would mostly drive to work, not leave the compound during the day, and then head home (to the nicer areas of PG Co, or Montgomery or Anne Arundel or NoVA) after work. I don’t think the assumed influx of affluent government employees living nearby would materialize. Look at the failed redevelopment of the old Capital Center just across the beltway from the site, and see how well that worked out.

    The Greenbelt site I mentioned, however, has several things going for it:
    – Metro adjacent (and could have direct Metro rail service for little additional cost.)
    – Beltway adjacent (could have its own interchange)
    – Already government owned with no existing development (the Morgan Boulevard site identified by GGW consists of several privately owned, developed parcels – any redevelopment would require eminent domain action, which can add years to the process.)
    – Pre-existing adjacent office park (contractors need nearby offices too.)
    – A neighborhood that I feel is more welcoming and attractive to FBI employees considering relocation.

  5. @CP Resident

    “The author seems to seriously think that plopping a major government HQ in the middle of a bad neighborhood will automatically transform it into an upper-middle-class wonderland.”

    You forgot the census Bureau in Suitland and the IRS in New Carrollton. Those large federal offices didn’t do much for those areas either. While I do feel that there will be some local drawbacks to creating a high security work environments, I think it really doesn’t have to be that way. There are many federal buildings that exist within high retail and residential areas in downtown D.C. The FBI building doesn’t have to be a concrete monstrosity. It can be built to blend into the neighborhood. Like CP Resident said, they can build down. Look at Archives II. It’s a warehouse, yet, it blends in with the Neighborhood. Most people don’t know it’s there. There can be a buffer between the FBI building and retail like a park or a stream/pond or something where FBI employees can walk across a pedestrian bridge to go to lunch or whatever. There are ways to be creative.

  6. I am not sure why you think north College Park is a “bad neighborhood.” It had an influx of new property owners who overpaid for their properties, but the moderate foreclosure mess and subsequent vacant properties there are largely in the past.

    The commercial area struggles; too much space for too small a market. But two good anchors in MOMs and REI.

    All in all a solid middle class neighborhood, with a fairly good elementary school (Hollywood ES)and reasonable home prices, mostly convenient to Metro.

  7. John E – Completely agree! We already have some high-security environments around (albeit on a much smaller scale) like NASA Goddard, Archives II, and the Secret Service training facility. For the most part, people don’t know they’re there unless they drive past the sign.

    Bob – I wasn’t saying that North CP is a bad neighborhood – I live there! I was referring to the area around the Morgan Blvd. metro stop that the author of the Greater Greater Washington blog was advocating as a preferred location for a new FBI HQ. I think adding a large federal tenant like FBI near North College Park would be a great way to fire up some retail redevelopment in the Hollywood area, increase our property values and get some new neighbors who will be upstanding citizens and fine additions to the community.

  8. Bob Caitlin, CP Resident was referring to Landover (as defined by the census) as the bad neighborhood, not north College Park. Actually, he says that the neighborhood around the Greenbelt site is “more welcoming and attractive.”

    But I wouldn’t call Landover a bad neighborhood; I would call it underdeveloped because the neighborhood that does exist there actually seems quite decent. The author of the GGW article was more likely referring to the lack of density around the Morgan Blvd metro station. And there is a lot of space surrounding the Morgan Blvd station that is available for dense development.

    Also, an FBI site by Morgan Blvd would be only 1/2 or 2/3 mile walking distance from the metro station, which is shorter than the walking distance from the Greenbelt station to the Greenbelt site. The CIA, on the other hand, is located 4 miles away from the closest metro station (West Falls Church). The difference is that CIA employees who take the metro cannot walk to the CIA, whereas FBI employees who would take the metro for the Morgan Blvd site could walk. The Greenbelt site would also allow for pedestrians, but a shuttle would be more competitive as the walking distance approaches a full mile.

    Of course, this is assuming that the Greenbelt site north of the Beltway is even available. One possible problem is that a significant part of it lies in a floodplain on either side of Indian Creek.

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