Metro Fails To Nurture Development, Report Finds

Many of the undeveloped Metro stations lie east of the Anacostia River, including Anacostia Station, above. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Lisa Rein and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 2, 2007

Metro's 86 rail stations sit on some of the Washington region's most valuable real estate. But the transit agency has failed to encourage developers to build homes, offices and stores at the trains' doorsteps, projects that might coax more commuters from their cars and provide the system with needed cash.

That's the assessment of a scathing report by a panel of experts Metro appointed in the hope of revamping its widely criticized land-use program.

The report blames Metro's hands-off approach for a "paucity" of interest from developers, confusion in communities near stations because of "interminable reviews often at odds with community concerns," and "frequent disconnect" with local governments. It calls Metro's process broken.

Years ago, jobs and aggressive local governments propelled construction of towers at stations in downtown Washington, as well as in Montgomery and Arlington counties and Alexandria. But the report contends Metro's bureaucracy has been largely absent and sometimes obstructionist in planning development at dozens of other sites, particularly in Prince George's County and at D.C. stations east of the Anacostia River.

So as the real estate market sizzled in the past decade, many developers steered clear of investing at Metro stations -- often in traffic-choked areas where new urban neighborhoods might attract residents, the report and panel members said.

"Metro has been totally ineffective and counterproductive to any decent development at Metro stations," said Gus Bauman, a former chairman of the regional land-use and parks authority for Montgomery and Prince George's counties, who led the task force.

"This is the national capital region of the free world. If you put up a sign and said, 'Hey, we're the government. We're opening the door for proposals for development,' you would think you'd get 10 or 20 proposals." Instead, in recent years, the average was 2.1 per station, the report says.

The analysis of Metro's "joint development" program was commissioned last year by then-interim general manager Dan Tangherlini in part because of complaints from Maryland officials. It is set to go before the board of directors this fall.

A copy of the report -- by a task force that included citizen activists, developers and professional planners -- was obtained by The Washington Post.

About a quarter of the stations have property available for development, including six acres at Capitol Heights on the Blue Line and more than 35 acres at New Carrollton on the Orange Line.

Many of the undeveloped stations lie east of the Anacostia River: Cheverly, Landover and New Carrollton on the Orange Line and Naylor Road, Anacostia, Congress Heights, Branch Avenue and Southern Avenue on the Green Line. A few are in Virginia, including Van Dorn Street on the edge of Alexandria and East Falls Church.

It is the lack of progress at Prince George's stations that infuriates Maryland state transportation officials. "The communities that could benefit the most are the ones that have gotten nothing," said Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari. "It has not been a clear priority. It's unacceptable."

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