Mount Rainier officials to finalize plans for vacant lot in September

August 22, 2012

Mount Rainier officials are close to approving a new housing project within its borders — a decision that is being met with mixed reactions from residents.

The City Council plans to vote in September on selecting one of three bids to redevelop a vacant lot owned by the city along its central thoroughfares.

AHC of Baltimore, a company that specializes in affordable housing, formally was announced as the leading contender to redevelop a 33,000-square-foot plot of land in the 3200 block of Rhode Island Avenue during a council meeting Aug. 8. AHC’s bid included a plan to create an apartment complex with 62 one- to two-bedroom rental units at the site, with about 40 parking spaces. The project was valued at about $15 million and would be AHC’s first in Prince George’s County, said Andrew Vincent, Greater Baltimore AHC director.

AHC’s bid was deemed the strongest by a city committee that judged the entries. Bids were evaluated based on a variety of criteria including design, a proven ability to implement the project and use of environmentally friendly construction practices. The city will provide the land to whichever developer wins the request for proposal.

Due to the nature of the tax-exempt bonds Mount Rainier used to purchase the property, the city essentially is selling the land to a developer who will develop it. The cost of each developer’s project doesn’t matter as much as whether each developer has the financial strength to support its plans, said Council member Ivy Thompson (Ward 2).

With AHC having multiple properties across the Washington region and the company offering to pay the city the roughly $1.8 million the city spent on purchasing the land, the developer emerged as the strongest bidder among the three companies, according to a city report.

The council will meet in September for a final vote on whether to award the land to AHC or one of its competitors.

Streetsense, a Bethesda-based developer that redeveloped part of Hyattsville’s downtown area, proposed building a five-story, mixed-use facility that would include retail and eateries on the ground floor and loft-style residences on the upper floors. Med-Ped, a medical practice based in College Park, proposed a four-story health-care center, which would have included a retail pharmacy, office space, a restaurant and a 24-hour urgent-care clinic.

A date for the vote has not been scheduled, said Council member Brent Bolin (Ward 2).

The council initially planned to have a final vote on the matter at an Aug. 9 meeting, but the decision was pushed back to allow for further public input and deliberation, said Council member Jimmy Tarlau (Ward 2).

“It’s on the top of our agenda,” said Tarlau, who said he hadn’t yet decided which bid he would support.

Anthony Mayo, a social worker who has an office in the 3400 block of Perry Street near the proposed redevelopment, said he was disappointed that the site wouldn’t bring new places such as restaurants to the community.

“Mixed-use seems to be the most appropriate thing for Mount Rainier,” Mayo said. “You can’t take your family out to anything here.”

MaryLee Haughtwout of the 4000 block of 31st Street initially hoped Streetsense would redevelop that parcel of Mount Rainier as it had done to a similar section of Hyattsville, she said. After hearing of AHC’s plan, she was more comfortable with the developers’ proposal, Haughtwout said.

“We already have a downtown that is floundering,” she said. “Increasing the density of people who are going to demand amenities seems like the right step.”

Mount Rainier spends about $180,000 yearly on debt service and taxes on the property as long as it continues to own it, Thompson said.

The city has struggled to maintain a balanced budget in recent years, and city officials briefly considered a tax increase this year to close a roughly $200,000 budget gap. Ultimately, in June, the council opted to lay off a code enforcement officer and not hire two police officers. Still, the city had to draw about $30,000 of its reserve funding to balance its books for the fiscal 2012-13 budget that began in July.

Relinquishing the property to a private developer would add flexibility in the city’s budget, Thompson said.

“It will have a very positive impact on our financial strength and next year’s budget,” Thompson said. “It frees up money for other projects.”

The public has until 5 p.m. Thursday to submit comments concerning the selection process. Comments may be mailed to Mount Rainier’s city hall at 1 Municipal Pl., Mount Rainier, Md. 20712, or e-mailed to residents’ respective council members.

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