Federal land that few people outside Prince George’s County have heard of is the focus of a brewing political squabble in Maryland.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) wants the Washington Redskins to build a stadium in Oxon Cove Park — and he has taken a key step to gain control of the land from the federal government. Environmentalists and many residents are livid, demanding that the park on the banks of the Potomac River be left untouched.
Local officials, who were blindsided by Hogan’s plans, are mostly playing catch-up.
What everyone agrees on: Oxon Cove is valuable real estate, regardless of whether Redskins owner Daniel Snyder wants to build a stadium there or in the District, which so far seems to be his top choice.
The park, which since 1959 has been controlled by the National Park Service, borders the District’s southern tip and is just across the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge from Northern Virginia — not far from Crystal City, which will soon be the home of Amazon’s second headquarters. Clearly visible from a cluster of picnic benches is the glowing sign atop MGM National Harbor. Across the Beltway are the Tanger Outlets.
“This is a beautiful, 300-acre property, a gateway to Maryland in Prince George’s County that the federal government is really not using,” Hogan said at a recent news conference.
Former Park Service ranger Jim Rosenstock said he finds it “outrageous” that Hogan wants a National Football League stadium on the site. Rosenstock, who worked at the park for nearly two decades, said local officials have long been eyeing it for development. But the park has remained an oasis of green space in the rapidly developing area.
“This is a beautiful, bucolic place,” Rosenstock said. “They’re not running thousands of people through the turnstiles like at Disneyland, but it needs to be preserved.”
William Nuckols, who lives in a townhouse at the National Harbor development and frequently takes his 7-year-old daughter to see the farm at Oxon Cove, said he disagrees with the governor’s assessment that the land is underutilized.
“It’s not like an abandoned warehouse. . . . I get that version of redevelopment,” Nuckols said. “It’s the people’s land — we’re losing something.”
Hogan, who has a background in land development and real estate, said he began discussing Oxon Cove with the federal government shortly after taking office in 2015 and last year signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Interior Department for a “land swap” that would trade the site for state-owned land in Western Maryland. The deal is not final, the governor said, and the land must undergo an environmental assessment and appraisal.
His office declined to make the memorandum of understanding available, saying it was part of privileged economic development deliberations and in draft form.
Hogan said the land swap is necessary so “we can control our own destiny in Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland.” He would not provide information about the land in Western Maryland.
The state is “completely open to working with local residents and interested parties to preserve existing historical features and public park spaces on this beautiful piece of land,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said in a statement. “We believe that it can support exciting economic development projects while continuing to preserve and honor its unique natural and historical character.”
The Interior Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Marc Weller, the lead developer of Port Covington in Baltimore, said Oxon Cove would be an “incredible” choice for a Redskins stadium, especially if mixed-use development in the area is built around it. Weller — whose overhaul of an industrial area with Kevin Plank, founder of sportswear company Under Armour, received more than $650 million in public financing — said: “You need to balance what the community needs and wants. . . . The way to do that is engaging residents.”
Any proposal for new roads or other improvements could face opposition in the Democratic-majority General Assembly, where Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said funding for infrastructure improvements would be “way down the list of priorities.”
“I’ve been through the stadium wars in Baltimore and in Prince George’s,” Busch said, recalling construction of Oriole Park, M&T Bank Stadium (the home of the Baltimore Ravens) and FedEx Field in Landover, which the Redskins built in 1997 in conjunction with state-funded infrastructure projects.
Although the Redskins have made it clear that they are looking for a new home, Busch said, FedEx Field “is a relatively new stadium, and I don’t know why we’re building another.”
Hogan has said Marylanders would not spend “one penny” of tax dollars on the stadium. But he has also acknowledged that some infrastructure improvements would probably be necessary. The area is not served by Metro and already suffers from heavy traffic.
Local officials, including recently inaugurated Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks and her predecessor, Rushern L. Baker III, say they were unaware of Hogan’s plan for Oxon Cove until a Dec. 7 report in The Washington Post.
Alsobrooks (D), who was sworn in Dec. 3, said she has talked with Hogan about their shared desire to keep the Redskins in Prince George’s. But they did not discuss specific sites, and Alsobrooks said she wants community input on Oxon Cove before taking action.
Last year, Baker (D) sent a letter to President Trump requesting control of the Oxon Cove land so it could be a contender for a Redskins stadium, said David Iannucci, Baker’s top economic development aide. Baker never received a response.
Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) said he is waiting to hear what residents think before drawing a conclusion on whether Oxon Cove should be developed — into a stadium or something else.
“I’m about a community-first strategy,” Brown said, adding that he plans to meet with Hogan and Alsobrooks to discuss the issue.
On neighborhood electronic mailing lists and in Facebook groups, concerns about developing Oxon Cove run from worsening traffic to a loss of an educational resource to a negative environmental impact on the Potomac River watershed.
The park is frequented by students on school trips, joggers in the morning and families on the weekends.
Exhibits highlight its history, dating back to the Piscataway Indians who farmed the land before the 1600s.
During the War of 1812, the owner of the Mount Welby Plantation watched from her home as the British set fire to the District, said local historian Aaron Marcavitch.
From the late 1800s until the late 1950s, patients at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Southeast Washington worked on the farm.
“People may say it’s not Yellowstone or Yosemite,” Marcavitch said. “But there is a value in even the smallest of these areas.”