Smart growth advocates have applauded Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s commitment to support new projects near the county’s 15 Metro stations, but as the county executive considers the best place to put a new $650 million regional hospital, he is making them nervous.
Baker plans to hold a forum Feb. 28 at the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex to begin vetting four possible sites for the hospital. Two of them, the shuttered Landover Mall and the newly built Woodmore Town Centre, are nearly three miles from a Metro station in locations that require pedestrians to cross a Capital Beltway interchange.
To the pro-transit crowd that has backed Baker as he presses the federal government on the importance of locating agencies near Metro stations, choosing either site would be a mistake.
Cheryl Cort, policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the county and hospital needed to consider workers and patients who do not own cars. Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed $200 million in state funds for the 280-bed hospital in his fiscal 2014 budget, and Baker has proposed borrowing another $200 million for the project.
“It just feels like it would be such a missed opportunity for a major facility that requires a tremendous amount of public financing at the state and county level,” Cort said. “That such a major investment would not be at a Metro station — it makes no sense to me.”
Chuck Bean, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said in an e-mail that the hospital decision represented “a great opportunity to exercise best practices in transit-oriented development.”
“A location in an activity center served by transit would be an exclamation point in making our regional vision a reality,” he said.
Other sites county officials are considering, at the Largo Town Center and Morgan Boulevard Metro stations, would provide Metro access. At Largo, a 20-acre site owned by Peter N.G. Schwartz Management Co. nearly won a 1.2 million-square-foot lease from the Department of Health and Human Services. When the lease was awarded to a developer in Rockville instead, Baker bitterly lamented the loss.
Schwartz said in an interview that the hospital represented a second chance to build a mixed-use neighborhood there. “It would be more of an urban format, which I think is the future of hospitals,” he said of his vision for the hospital.
The competition from other developers however, is likely to be stiff. Lerner Cos., owner of Landover Mall, has hired Doug Duncan, former (and maybe future) Montgomery County executive, to help sway the decision its way. Lerner executives did not respond to inquiries, and Duncan declined to comment. “That’s not what they hired me to do,” he said.
Woodmore Town Centre at Glenarden offers far more retail than the others. There are also plans to build about 1,000 homes. Walt Petrie, a principal with Annapolis developer Petrie Ross Ventures, said there is room. “It would be a great hospital site,” he said.
Baker’s staff said transit access was one of many factors. Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison (D-Dist. 5) said it was a top one. “Obviously the most important one is accessibility, but then the other issues are related to the cost of acquiring whatever land where it could possibly go,” she said.
Baker touted the importance of building around Metro stations as a candidate. “We will focus new economic development around the County’s existing and underdeveloped Metro stations,” his campaign Web site states.
The hospital decision may put that mantra to the test. “I am hoping the county will follow through on its often-stated commitment,” Cort said.