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Forum explores outlook for ‘smart growth’ in Prince George’s

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Nicola Taveres enjoyed walking to stores and restaurants in her neighborhood in Arlington County. But when she began a search for a house in Northern Virginia, she was priced out of the market, so she bought a townhouse near a Metro station in Prince George’s County.

Taveres said she traded her walkable community in Northern Virginia for the promise of a new one in the Maryland suburbs.

But on Friday, she told Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) that she wonders whether the transit-oriented development she expected at the Morgan Boulevard Metro station in Landover — one of the newest stops in the rail system — will ever be built.

More than 200 residents, planners and government officials met at the Maryland Forward forum on “smart growth,” an urban planning philosophy that focuses on creating walkable neighborhoods where people can live, work, shop and play. It was one in a series of meetings established by O’Malley to gather public comment about such issues as the economy, education, public safety and smart growth.

Taveres was one of many residents who said they worry about the lack of development around the county’s Metro stations and the county’s apparent inability to attract quality retail along its travel corridors.

“I was spoiled living in a walkable community,” said Taveres, who lives in a two-bedroom townhouse. “Where I live now, I can go to work [by getting on the Metro]. But what is lacking from that station is my ability to [walk] to businesses, services and restaurants.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said the recent announcement of a development team for a project in New Carrollton is just the beginning. Forest City Enterprises plans to build a mixed-use development of homes, shops, restaurants and entertainment venues near one of the region’s busiest transit hubs.

Baker said he looks forward to working with the state to initiate a rebirth of many of the county’s older communities, such as New Carrollton.

“As Prince George’s goes, that’s where the state goes,” Baker said.

Prince George’s has fewer transit-oriented developments than some other jurisdictions in the region. But O’Malley said residents should be heartened by the county’s new leadership.

“Leadership matters,” he said. “Having a new county executive can not be underestimated.”

State officials said they are negotiating with the General Serv­ices Administration, which man­ages real estate for the federal government, to attract federal tenants to the county.

Prince George’s recently lost a bid for the relocation of Department of Health and Human Services offices when the GSA decided to keep that agency’s offices in Rockville.

“We can’t tell the federal government what to do,” O’Malley said, “but we can lead by example.”

Last year, he announced plans to move the state Department of Housing and Community Development, now at a private campus in Crownsville, to a Metro station in the county. A request for bid proposals has been issued.

County Council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) said he was pleased that the governor chose to hold the forum in Prince George’s.

“I think it shows that the governor is very serious about bringing transit-oriented development to Prince George’s,” Franklin said. “I really do think that we’re seeing momentum generated.”

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