“It was the perfect little city,” said Kwik, 59, a schoolteacher who raised a son in a red-brick home on Carrollton Parkway.
Each year, the city in Prince George’s County has become greener as it has promoted community gardens and tree planting. It’s also grown more racially diverse with the arrival of immigrants over the past decade. And all the while, it’s maintained a small-town feel, with local police services and a mayor who has been in the office for three decades.
But unlike many other suburban Washington communities, especially those near Metro stations, New Carrollton has yet to enjoy the kind of development that could make it a destination for people who don’t live there. There’s been very little commercial or residential construction since the 1970s.
“Nobody ever leaves the Metro station to come into New Carrollton,” said city manager Graham Waters. “For one reason or another, they don’t step out of the train.”
City and county leaders say they hope that two planned mixed-development projects and the construction of a Purple Line light-rail station in the area will spur the kind of growth needed to transform New Carrollton from what is mostly a transit hub into a vibrant urban center.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has put New Carrollton at the top of the list in his efforts to draw new development around the county’s 15 Metro stations. For its part, Maryland recently approved the relocation of the Department of Housing and Community Development, with its 380 employees, a project that is expected to jump-start development around the New Carrollton Metro station.
The area’s racial diversity, its location as a gateway to the District for travelers coming from the north and east, and its transportation infrastructure have long made New Carrollton a potential economic engine for Prince George’s, county planner Sonja Ewing said at a recent community meeting during which she introduced the New Carrollton area as a possible downtown in Prince George’s.
“There is a lot happening in New Carrollton,” she said. “It is a place that is changing and will change.”
The busiest transit point in Prince George’s County, New Carrollton is the last stop on Metro’s Orange Line and a stop for MARC and Amtrak trains and local and regional bus lines. It is also the site where Maryland plans to build the easternmost stop for the Purple Line between Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. If funding is secured in time, construction could begin in 2015.
Some county leaders and developers say poor early planning, economic downturns and plain bad luck have prevented New Carrollton from realizing its full potential.
An earlier plan for the Maryland housing agency fell apart last year, and one of the developers said it was difficult to finance an upscale development in an unproven commercial market such as Prince George’s. “It seems like every 10 years there is a proposal,” but none pan out, Waters said.