Prince George’s County pushing development around five of its 15 Metro stations

Prince George’s County announced a new strategy Monday that officials say is aimed at spurring development and growth around the county’s transit centers.

Officials plan to focus on five of the county’s 15 Metro stations, using investment in infrastructure, financial incentives and regulatory policies to jump-start development.

The goal, officials say, is to focus on sites that show the most potential to turn into vibrant urban centers where people can work, live and play. The intent also is to send a message to developers and investors that the county is willing to take “dramatic steps” to encourage development around transit.

The county’s Metro stations are largely surrounded by undeveloped property, and therefore untapped economic potential. With the new initiative the county could accelerate projects that are deemed high quality and that promote walkable communities around the Branch Avenue, Largo Town Center, New Carrollton, Prince George’s Plaza and Suitland Metro stations.

“We are the last jurisdiction with this type of acreage and this type of development opportunity by our Metro stations,” said David S. Iannucci, a senior economic development adviser to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).

Targeting a short list of stations is consistent with the county’s Plan 2035 recommendation to focus on public investment at a handful of transit sites and methodically build downtowns similar to the one near the Silver Spring Metro station. Planners and county leaders say significant public investment can produce greater returns in job creation and tax revenue.

“It gives us a better shot at actually getting something done,” said Prince George’s County Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville). “We are putting our money where we know we need to.”

Iannucci said the county will offer financial incentives such as relief from fees and taxes for projects proposed for the sites. It also will make county land available at competitive prices. Qualifying projects could potentially get up to $5 million in conditional grants through the county’s economic development incentive fund.

Officials say they also plan to make use of new legislation that speeds the review and approval process of projects within a half-mile of Metro stations.

Infrastructure plans will be developed for the priority sites and, when appropriate, the county will commit to work with private developers to build roads and street grids, sidewalks, bus shelters and bike lanes to create walkable communities.

The commitment to improving public infrastructure is an essential piece in supporting redevelopment around transit, said Cheryl Cort, policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The county’s capital investments have in the past focused on roads and “a lot of new infrastructure that is just feeding sprawl development,” she said.

“Here is the county saying, ‘We are bringing down barriers to attract investment,’ ” Cort said. “That is a very important step forward for the county.”

Metro, which owns property around many of its stations, views the initiative as a way to help its own development plans, providing better opportunities to market its property.

“It makes our property more attractive to know that there’s county incentives that can help development. We will benefit in terms of revenue from the property, but also in terms of the additional ridership at each of those stations,” said Stan Wall, director of real estate and station planning at Metro.

At Prince George’s Plaza, where the initiative was unveiled Monday and the county’s only site with transit-oriented development, the county has already made a significant investment in revitalizing the area. In November, officials announced a $3.5 million subsidy package for a project at the University Town Center. The construction of a Safeway store there is expected to provide an anchor for more retail in an area that was hard hit by the recession.

In Largo, where the county already has many of its county offices, officials hope a proposed $645 million regional medical center, could revitalize the Largo Town Center area. The 80 acres of vacant land within a half-mile of the Metro station presents an opportunity to create a true town center with the new hospital anchoring other medical offices, long-term care and rehabilitation facilities, hotels and housing, Iannucci said.

In New Carrollton, officials say the wide range of transportation options there — Metro, MARC, Amtrak, regional and local bus service, and a future Purple Line terminal — makes the site attractive for development. They hope the construction of a $165 million mixed-use project to be anchored by the new Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development headquarters will be the start. Construction of that project is expected to begin this month .

Also at New Carrollton, Metro is working with the firms Forest City Washington and Urban Atlantic to develop a 39-acre site into a $1 billion mixed-use development to include residential, office, retail and hotel space.

The Branch Avenue Metro station is destined to be the downtown of southern Prince George’s, officials say, while Suitland offers potential for more growth with the presence of about 10,000 federal workers at the Suitland Federal Center.

“These are areas where we think we have the greatest opportunities to make things happen,” Iannucci said. Still, he said, focusing on these areas won’t distract the county from important projects elsewhere, including the possibility of the FBI relocating its headquarters to a site near the Greenbelt Metro station.

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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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