By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010; B05
Metro's board of directors approved an agreement Thursday that will allow Maryland and the transit authority to develop 41 acres they own around the New Carrollton Metro station, a first step in transforming the area into an urban center.
Last month, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) stood outside the Naylor Road Station and announced plans for a state agency to relocate near a Metro station in Prince George's County.
Each action is noteworthy in Prince George's, which has 2,200 acres of undeveloped land around its stations -- more than any other jurisdiction in the region.
But the decisions together signal a significant change in Prince George's, which for years has run into obstacles trying to lure developers and government entities to the county and working with Metro to create quality mixed-use development around its stations.
"It's a major shift," said Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "We're finally getting the attention . . . And we're hopeful that now with better support from Metro and the state . . . Prince George's can make good on these important assets."
Under the agreement approved Thursday, Metro will work with the county and the Maryland Department of Transportation to select a private team to redevelop 41 acres adjacent to the New Carrollton station. The bid is expected to be issued this summer and a development team should be selected by fall, according to state officials.
Kwasi Holman, president of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp., credited the coordination between the state, Metro and county in recent months and the inclusion of the state property as being critical to transforming the area into the "crown jewel" of the county's transportation system.
"There has been office development at the site, but it sorely needs retail and restaurants to create the lively place that it should be," he said.
The development on the property will be part of sweeping changes for New Carrollton, transforming an area of single-family homes and six-lane roadways into an urban center with 6.1 million square feet of office and retail space and 5,500 residential units.
Earlier this year, the Prince George's County Council, which sits as the District Council on zoning matters, approved a new transit district development plan and zoning overlay for the New Carrollton Station.
During O'Malley's announcement about the relocation of the state agency, he identified 14 transit stations throughout the state, including four in Prince George's, that would be designated as sites for transit-oriented development. New Carrollton, Naylor Road and Branch Avenue Metro stations and the Laurel MARC station received the designation, which includes priority consideration for state offices and financial opportunities through the state Economic Development Corp.
Many welcome the partnerships, but others say history with Metro and the upcoming county elections make them wonder if there will be a continued focus on development around the stations.
Attorney John Lally, who has represented clients who have watched deals sour because of lengthy legal battles with Metro, said the transit authority has "de-emphasized Prince George's County" for decades.
"We had projects steered away to Bethesda and Ballston," Lally said.
Some County Council members have said that Metro has costly requirements for parking that have made developers unwilling to build near the stations.
Steve Goldin, director of real estate in the Department of Planning and Joint Development at Metro, said he heard similar complaints when he met with elected officials and senior management in Prince George's earlier this year. Goldin started at Metro about eight months ago.
"They said they were treated like the stepchild," he said. "I told them, 'I'm here to push the restart button.' . . . Our palette of opportunity is by and large in Prince George's County."
Goldin said he is working closely with the General Services Administration, trying to alter what he considers to be misconceptions about moving to Prince George's.
The biggest concern, he said, is that people think the county has a high crime rate. Goldin counters by providing them with official data.
Council member Eric Olson (D-College Park) said he has been encouraged by the changes and the open dialogue.
Metro "is getting more attuned to working through some of the stumbling blocks that have stood in the way of creating good development around Metro stations," he said. "The state has taken an interest in Naylor Road. . . . I'm confident that we can work through the [past problems]."