By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 9, 2007
Prince George's County officials are pushing an ambitious plan to transform downtown Landover, home of the Washington Redskins, into a Bethesda-like space where people can sip lattes at sidewalk cafes and dine at upscale restaurants.
A rubble-filled lot just inside the Capital Beltway where the bustling Landover Mall once stood would be replaced with luxury townhouses, trendy stores and office buildings. Two nearby apartment buildings, built nearly four decades ago, would be demolished. New construction would replace them, and the residents who occupy the 1,000 units would be relocated.
"This is going to be a major project," said County Council member David Harrington (D-Cheverly), who represents the Landover area. "The importance of this plan is that it sets in motion a vision for this area."
The development, which is in the very early planning stages, is the latest attempt to breathe new life into the inner and older suburbs of Prince George's, where District residents flocked in the 1960s and '70s for sprawling green lawns, trees and affordable housing. The area has changed, however, in the past couple of decades: Crime rates have risen, housing stock has eroded and student academic performance has slipped.
"We have some of the crime stuff, the transient kind of moving," said Sylvester Vaughns, 71, a member of the county planning board and longtime Landover resident.
The proposal to transform Landover into a residential and cultural hub is an example of what is happening in inside-the-Beltway communities throughout the county, with private-public development projects boosting the profiles of areas including Hyattsville and Suitland.
For example, a two-mile strip in Hyattsville that was once filled with auto repair shops and liquor stores is being reshaped into an arts and entertainment district, where condominiums with lofts are being marketed to artists.
Farther south, Suitland Manor, a 33-acre complex of barracks-style apartments, is being demolished, and an $80 million development of single-family houses, condominiums and rental apartments will be built. County officials say a developer will soon be selected for the project, part of an overall residential and commercial center in Suitland.
Harrington said the Landover development hinges on a commitment from Lerner Corp., which owns the mall property. Lerner's 88 acres cover more than two-thirds of the area being considered for development.
"We're very much on board," said Joel Rozner, an attorney for Lerner.
Over the years, Lerner has been approached at different times with proposals to relocate the county seat, school board headquarters and Prince George's Hospital Center to its site off Brightseat Road. Lerner showed interest, but none of the proposals came to fruition.
Rozner said that the company wants a "vibrant mixed-used development" on the property and that the current plans are a "work in progress."
Planners are drafting the Landover Gateway Sector Plan, which would cover the demolished mall site, two aging apartment complexes, the Landover Crossing Shopping Center -- a half-empty complex with a liquor store, nail salon and barbecue takeout restaurant -- and a nearby abandoned used-car dealership. The county would need to make a zoning change in the area from commercial and residential to mixed use.
For years, community activists and residents of Landover, which includes the neighborhoods of Palmer Park, Kentland, Glenarden and Brightseat, have urged the county to push for revitalization of the area.
Diane McGlone, 53, said she wants beauty and jobs brought back to the area.
The Palmer Park resident remembers shopping, going to dinner and seeing movies at Landover Mall, which sits at the Capital Beltway and Landover Road, during its heyday in the mid-1970s.
The mall, with Garfinckels, Woodward & Lothrop and Hecht's as its anchors, was a landmark in the county for three decades. Before Bowie Town Center was built, people from across the region converged on the mall, which provided shoppers with the type of quality stores offered in nearby Montgomery and Fairfax counties.
But a stabbing on mall property, a shooting at a nearby apartment complex that left five people dead and a surge in overall crime in the area in the late 1980s and early 1990s frightened shoppers and eventually helped fuel the mall's rapid decline.
By the time the mall closed in 2002, it had been reduced to a shell of its former self, its fashionable stores replaced with others selling items for a dollar, McGlone said. Only Sears remains of what used to be Landover Mall.
"Whatever they do, it will be beneficial for the community," McGlone said.
But not everyone is so certain.
Glenarden Mayor John W. Anderson said he is worried about the thousands of people, many of them low-income, who will be forced from their homes.
"Where are they going to go?" Anderson asked. "Somebody needs to be concerned about that. . . . It's not that I'm not advocating for development, but you have to also be concerned about the people who are going to be displaced."
Arthur Berlin, general partner of the Maple Ridge Apartments, which has more than 400 units, said he is interested not in selling his property, but in improving it. Berlin said he'd like to see a more upscale community, but he also wants "to make sure long-term tenants are able to react to the situation."
Harrington said the redevelopment of the area is designed to complement the nearly $1 billion mixed-use development being built less than two miles away, known as Woodmore Towne Centre at Glenarden. The 245-acre development, set to open next year, will include condominiums, a hotel, office space and a Wegmans grocery store.
"The two areas would strengthen each other," said Christine Osei, a county planner who is working on the Landover plan.
Osei said an outline of the development should be finished by the end of the year. A public hearing is expected to be held in February, and the council will consider it for final approval at the end of next year, according to the projected timetable.