Lawmakers ask developer to scuttle College Park plans for shopping center, housing

October 7, 2013

A group of Prince George’s lawmakers is asking developer Brian Gibbons to drop his plans to redevelop the University of Maryland golf course, where they say he is proposing a shopping center with big-box stores and some housing.

“Rather than investing in areas in need of revitalization and with existing infrastructure, this project requires new roads and new stormwater infrastructure. . . . In fact, this development would pave over the most significant green space in the area,” said the letter from three state senators, nine delegates, three Prince George’s County Council members, and the mayor of College Park.

Gibbons, a U-Md. alumnus who is chief executive of Greenberg Gibbons of Owings Mills, could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman, Gillian Pommerhen, said Gibbons had not made a final proposal, and that plans are “very preliminary.” On Gibbons’ behalf, she offered a written statement:

“We approached University of Maryland officials this summer with a conceptual idea for a new, tree-lined gateway entrance to the University and a mixed-use, transit oriented Academic Village on University property. In response, Dr. Wallace Loh wrote to us that if we wished to pursue our idea, we needed to further develop our concept and submit a proposal that addressed numerous details. That proposal would then be shared with the public and elected officials for discussion and consideration.

“To date, we have not submitted a proposal or even released our concepts, which was why we were surprised to receive a letter asking us to withdraw a proposal that we haven’t even submitted. Certainly, academic institutions do not fear, and instinctively embrace the opportunity to receive, review and debate potentially interesting concepts and ideas.

“We look forward to responding and correcting several of the inaccuracies and mischaracterizations the letter made, and further describing our concept for an Academic Village that features a mix of uses and great amenities that reflect a world class University. We look forward to sharing more details about our concept in the coming weeks and believe people will be very excited by what they see.”

Pommerhen did not offer specifics about Gibbons’ claim that there are inaccuracies and mischaracterizations in the lawmakers’ letters. State Sen. James Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s) said Gibbons had shown him informal sketches of his concept for the site, which he said included big-box stores and smaller stores, and some housing.

Gibbons said in an interview last month with The Washington Post that his plan would use about 50 acres of the golf course’s 150 acres, and leave some of the golf course intact. He said he plans to invest about $100 million.

Greenberg Gibbons is the developer of Annapolis Towne Centre among other shopping areas.

U-Md. officials have said the proposal piqued their interest partly because it could also bring a possible connector road from the Capital Beltway to the development, which, if built on the golf course, would be off University Boulevard. Loh has expressed interest in building a new, spiffier entrance to the university somewhere other than its current Route 1 entrance and a new road might help spur that along too. The lawmakers, however, are worried that a new entrance would draw commerce away from Route 1, which has been undergoing substantial revitalization in recent years.

The connector road has been proposed and scuttled several times by state officials, who would have to approve it.

The lawmakers said the proposed connector road would “undermine the vision,” of turning College Park into a more walkable and more attractive university town.

The signers of the letter are:

Democratic State Sens. Paul Pinsky, Jim Rosapepe and Victor Ramirez; Democratic Dels. Ben Barnes, Barbara Frush, Tawanna Gaines, Anne Healey, Jolene Ivey, Doyle Niemann, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Michael Summers, Alonzo Washington; Democratic County Council members Will Campos, Mary Lehman, Eric Olson; and College Park Mayor Andy Fellows.

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