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Officials: Amazon exploring a massive logistics center in Prince George’s County

The model for townhouses at Westphalia Town Center in Upper Marlboro, Md. The project broke ground in 2013 but has struggled to attract retailers and office clients. (Benjamin C. Tankersley for The Washington Post)

Amazon is pursuing plans to open a giant logistics and supply center in Prince George’s County, Md., a relatively short distance from its new Northern Virginia headquarters, according to two government officials familiar with the discussions.

Zoning changes made by the county in recent weeks would pave the way for the facility to open in Westphalia Town Center, a mixed-use project in Upper Marlboro that broke ground in 2013 but has struggled to attract retailers and office clients. Those changes were first reported by the Washington Business Journal.

Amazon declined to comment on Wednesday, and a spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) declined to confirm the project. County officials have said in the past that they want the Maryland suburb to benefit from Amazon’s decision to build its second headquarters in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Va., and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has said he is committed to luring Amazon to the state.

The two officials, who were privy to state- and county-level discussions about the project, said the timeline for construction of the facility is unclear. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential business dealings and said it would employ about 1,500 people.

Prince George’s didn’t make Amazon’s list. But the county could still be a winner.

As word spread in recent days about the possibility of Amazon’s arrival, some residents expressed opposition, citing concerns about pollution, traffic and property values. Others welcomed the possibility of new jobs and said the facility could be a catalyst for the 6,000-acre Westphalia project, which developers said would include shops, restaurants and offices. (Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

Prince George’s County Council member Derrick Leon Davis (D-District 6), who represents the area that includes Westphalia, sponsored legislation passed last month that adds a “merchandise logistics center” to the county’s zoning ordinance and allows such a center to be located in a “regional urban community.”

The county planning board last week approved a change to Westphalia’s conceptual plan that would allow such a facility to be built there.

Davis’s legislation defines a merchandise logistics center as a facility “where goods or products are received and may be sorted, packed and stored for the purpose of distribution to parcel carriers or delivery directly to a customer.”

He said he could not comment on the possibility of Amazon’s arrival because of the pending application process.

The developer of the site, the Walton Group, has submitted an application for a 4-million-square-foot merchandise logistics center, said Derick Berlage, the county’s deputy planning director. The board will consider that application at its meeting July 18.

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Westphalia has received a $42 million tax-increment financing package from the council. When the project is complete, officials say, it will have 15,000 homes, 1 million square feet of retail and office space and three hotels, in addition to the new distribution center.

Briana Bostic, whose family bought a home in Westphalia last year, said she has been frustrated by the lack of transparency and community engagement surrounding the process.

“People thought there was going to be a library, a school, restaurants and a lot of green spaces to raise families in,” said Bostic, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University. “This is not what people who bought in this neighborhood were told they would be getting.”

She and other residents have raised concerns about pollution and traffic that a distribution center would bring, noting that Westphalia is not on a Metro line. Bostic started a petition on Monday opposing the arrival of a logistics center, and more than 60 people had signed it by midday Wednesday.

Davis said plans for a town center with retail at Westphalia remain unchanged — he wants it to be the “Columbia, Maryland, or Reston, Virginia, of the future — just like I have since the beginning.”

He encouraged all residents to stay involved in the process as it moves forward.

Ron Lester, a political consultant who lives in nearby Marlboro Ridge, said Amazon’s arrival would mean new jobs and could attract other businesses residents want.

“They would be lining up if they could get the traffic from a logistics center with hundreds of employees,” he said.

Council member Mel Franklin (D-At Large) said he did not have any direct information about Amazon’s potential arrival, “but I know they are a business that we want to see in the county in a big way.”

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