Greenbelt: town center or big boxes?
Mike Sunnucks Staff Reporter, Washington Business Journal

When developers announced plans for a $1 billion mixed-use project in Greenbelt in 1998, Prince George's County leaders envisioned a Nordstrom or Macy's at the end of Metro's Green Line. Two years later, the county could end up with a Lowe's, a Wal-Mart and storage lots instead. That notion sends shivers through some in a county that desperately wants upscale retail and Class A office space to help shake its wrong-side-of-the-tracks image.

Earlier this year, plans for a 1.4 million-square-foot megamall and office complex were scaled back to a town center after concerns from the city ( and environmentalists. Despite those changes, development of the site still runs into opposition from neighbors concerned about traffic and greens. Opponents are led by the Citizens to Conserve & Restore Indian Creek (CCRIC).
But in recent meetings with local officials, representatives of Metroland Developers -- the partnership developing the 240-acre site -- have been talking about two options: an upscale Reston Town Center-type development or a bevy of big-box retailers and industrial users. CCRIC ( is concerned new development will hurt wetlands areas and the Anacostia River watershed. Metroland -- which is made up of Clark Realty, Petrie Dierman and Kugh, and A.H. Smith & Associates -- also is in negotiations with state officials over about purchasing 111 acres of the wetlands for preservation purposes. Gov. Parris Glendening toured the site earlier this month, and sources say a deal could be finalized soon.

The big-box alternative Plans for the big-box alternative have been filed with local officials. Reed says more in-depth plans for an upscale town center project, which might include a high-end department store, also will be submitted in the next 30 to 60 days. Under the big-box alternative, retailers such as Lowe's and Wal-Mart could take locations on Cherrywood Lane on the Greenbelt Metro land. Those two companies' main competitors -- Home Depot and Target -- have nearby stores in College Park and Beltway Plaza, respectively. Reed would not comment on the status of any land negotiations with state officials. Glendening has supported developing the site as part of his smart-growth initiatives encouraging transit-oriented development.

Advocates on both sides of the development issue agree: A town center project is preferable to a big-box row. "I would not mind seeing controlled development there," says CCRIC Chairwoman Pat Blankenship, who favors a smaller-scale village center project. Amassing support Wendi Williams, executive vice president of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce (, says the 700-member group may lobby on behalf of an upscale town center in Greenbelt. "Our preference is focusing it on the upscale model and keeping it focused on that concept," Williams says. The chamber's legislative committee, which determines the group's lobbying efforts with the county council and Annapolis, will be discussing the issue in the next few weeks. Proponents of the town center concept also argue that other large, upscale projects slated for National Harbor and the US Airways Arena site, do not diminish chances for an upscale development in Greenbelt. "We're very excited and optimistic about the level of interest," Reed says. "This is a perfect anchor for the north part of the county. I don't seem them as at all competitive."

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