A Crossroads for the Greenbelt Metro
Very soon, the Prince George's County Council will choose between two development schemes for the Greenbelt Metro Station. One involves a good attempt at urban planning, while the other involves good old Prince George's County politics. What is at stake is one of the largest stations on the Metro system and possibly the largest block of undeveloped land inside the beltway. Altogether, nearly 240 acres are involved in a project that might best be compared to Pentagon City. It's a complicated tale, of course.
On one side is the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and the municipalities of Greenbelt, Berwyn Heights, and College Park. Over a period of three years and countless public meetings, nearly 40 people worked together to draft a zoning and land use plan to protect the environment and local communities surrounding the Greenbelt Metro station. When it was done they called it the Greenbelt Metro Area Sector Plan and Sectional Map Amendment. It's a free document, published a year ago.
On the other side are Councilman Thomas Hendershot of New Carrolton, Audrey Scott of Bowie, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (Metro), one large property owner (Metrolands, LLC), and several lawyers. They worked mostly with their own consultants and made their own plans. They never asked for public comment or held a public meeting until they filed their plans with the County two months ago.
As you might expect, there are significant differences between the Greenbelt Sector Plan and the Conceptual Site Plan and Preliminary Plan of Subdivision filed by Metrolands, LLC. Here are a few:
The Sector Plan encourages protection for most of the wetland and floodplain on the site, while the Metrolands plan destroys nearly 35 acres of floodplain and wetlands. Besides the obvious damage to Indian Creek, there is widespread concern that the losses may increase the risk of flooding in College Park and Berwyn Heights.
The Sector Plan proposes bike trails along Indian Creek and pedestrian paths and bridges over the CSX railroad tracks into North College Park. The Metrolands plan provides for neither.
The Sector Plan calls for the development of new schools, public spaces, recreational opportunities and other amenities to enable the development of a true 'Metro-Planned Community'. The Metrolands plan does none of this, but at the June 5th College Park Council Worksession, their representatives did express interest in building two 20 story towers as a 'Chinese World Trade Center'.
Although the Sector Plan allows for several million square feet of development and one additional road to serve the area, the Metrolands Conceptual Site Plan projects several times more construction but with no more road service than the Sector Plan. To those who now struggle along Beltway or Greenbelt Road at rush hour, the folly of such over-development would seem obvious. The Metrolands plan may produce 70,000 new car trips per day!
In the case of the Greenbelt Metro, there is good reason to believe that the M-NCPPC planning process was just a smokescreen for the real plan being developed in secret. Through special interest legislation (CB-35), Councilman Hendershot and the County Council effectively sidestepped the zoning laws on the books and took the Greenbelt Metro development out of the public review process. And later, as if that maneuver was not shameless enough, the Council replaced it (ostensibly to suit the developer) with a new version, CB-47.
In a week or so, the County Council will hold a public hearing on the Greenbelt Sector Plan. The main thrust, of course, is planning for the Metro Station and the surrounding area. If the Sector Plan is approved, then Metrolands would be subjected to its requirements. But no… Mr. Hendershot is not done! He has now introduced an amendment to the Sector Plan that would exempt the 240 acres involved in the Greenbelt Metro site from abiding by the requirements of the Sector Plan and thus allow Metrolands, LLC to build what they want and cut M-NCPPC and virtually everyone else out of the process.
The fate of both the M-NCPPC Greenbelt Sector Plan and the Metrolands Conceptual Site Plan will soon be decided. The Greenbelt Sector Plan represents one of the most intense planning projects ever undertaken by this County. It should be passed without further delay or foolish amendment by the County Council, not only because it is a good plan, but because doing so affirms the importance of honest government and sound urban planning. The Metrolands Conceptual Site should be rejected because it is neither.
John M. Krouse
Member, Greenbelt Metro Area Sector Planning Group
Chair, City of College Park Committee for a Better Environment