Pr. George’s officials welcome developer’s decision to abandon plan for Md. golf course

October 24, 2013

Prince George’s County officials say now that a developer has abandoned a plan to re-purpose the University of Maryland Golf Course, the focus can return to revitalizing Route 1.

Baltimore area developer Brian Gibbons said in a letter sent Wednesday to U-Md. President Wallace Loh that his firm, Greenberg Gibbons, is backing off a proposal to build an academic village on one-third of the golf course, ending what had become a growing political battle in Prince George’s.

State, county and local legislators had called the plan a distraction. Any new construction at the golf course, off Route 193 on the west side of the university, would have hurt efforts to improve the campus’s east entrance and downtown College Park along U.S. Route 1, they said..

Mounting pressure from local and state officials led to Gibbons’s sudden announcement Wednesday, a day before his firm was expected to make its concept plan official. In his letter, Gibbons said he reconsidered submitting a development proposal after hearing from several elected officials who had “come out in opposition of our idea, although none of them have seen our conceptual plan.”

Wednesday night, golf course users and supporters, who had formed a coalition to save the facility and secured the support of many elected officials, celebrated the victory. Tweets were sent out saying “golf is saved at UMD” and “We Won.”

Some Prince George’s officials said they see an opportunity to partner with Gibbons in creating the grand university entrance that Gibbons envisioned in his golf course proposal.

Prince George’s County Council member Eric Olson (D-College Park), who opposed the plan, said everyone’s efforts can return to building around the existing infrastructure.

“I look forward to focusing our energy back where it belongs in College Park — revitalizing and redeveloping our downtown, the Route 1 corridor and our area’s Metro stations,” he said. “We will further reduce traffic when the Purple Line opens and by placing development around existing infrastructure and transit, and building upon our progress, making the community even more walkable and bikeable.”

College Park has seen about $500 million in construction along Route 1, including nearly 3,500 student beds, 500 apartment units and a 50-room Best Western hotel that opened this year. The city and the university are launching the popular bike-sharing network, Capital Bikeshare, early next year to provide another transit alternative. Officials say they can build on the progress and work with Greenberg Gibbons in doing so.

In the letter to Loh, in which Gibbons said the plan had become a “political football” and led to “political theatre,” he also said his firm plans to devote energy to analyzing the challenges along Route 1, and consider opportunities to contribute to solutions.

Gibbons had wanted to build a “Terrapin-themed” parkway from Interstate 95 to the university, and a community with housing, stores and office space.

State Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s) called Gibbons’ s decision “a major step forward” for Loh’s and College Park’s plans to make the area a top 20 college town.

“It’s great to hear Mr. Gibbons is ready to join . . . in working together to redevelop Route 1, East Campus and the College Park Metro stop into a walkable, 21st-century college town,” Rosapepe said.

Scott L. Peterson, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), said Baker “thanks Loh and Greenberg Gibbons for their interest in making the College Park community a better place to live and work. County Executive Baker believes now is the time to focus our efforts on continuing and expanding economic growth on the Route 1 corridor.”

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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