Prince George’s gears up — finally — for Westphalia -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated and corrected on July 17, 2012. An explanation follows the story.

Executives with some of Prince George’s small and minority-owned businesses say they welcome efforts by the county and developers to include them in the county’s next major development.

The 6,000-acre Westphalia Project in Upper Marlboro, northwest of the Capital Beltway, is backed by three developers and figures to be Prince George’s biggest development since National Harbor in Oxon Hill opened four years ago. Plans call for 15,000 residences, 1 million square feet of retail, 4 million square feet of office space and centralized recreation amenities.

Development of the main part of the project, including the Westphalia Town Center, stalled soon after it received county approval in 2009 when its original lead developer, Daniel Colton, defaulted on a loan. The site sector plan had been approved in 2007.

Representatives of two developers and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission offered a preliminary briefing on the project July 11 at Prince George’s Community College’s Westphalia Training Center in Upper Marlboro.

Raymond Dubicki Jr., planning coordinator for the commission, compared the project to others in Annapolis and Salisbury. The project’s man-made lake will be comparable to Columbia’s manmade Lake Kittamaqundi and be a “town jewel,” he said.

There will be multiple opportunities for construction companies and other contractors, he said, including four planned road interchanges for the project.

Developers said it still is too early to start seeking contracts, as they still are negotiating with builders. The county council plans another hearing on part of the project Monday.

Smith Home Farms of Upper Marlboro, which is developing 3,600 housing units and the project’s 140-acre central park, hopes to break ground for the park in August, said the company’s Marva Jo Camp.

“This was truly a development between the county, developers and community,” Camp said, adding that Smith Homes mostly has been focusing on infrastructure, not buildings. Smith Homes has worked on the site since 2006.

Emphasizing that she, too, is a minority business owner, Camp said she takes minority business participation “very seriously” and that Smith Homes is committed to a diverse pool of business participation.

Smith Homes’ portion of the development comprises six phases and includes a privately owned local activity center — a 15,000-square-foot community center with a spa and pools.

Walton Development & Management, the U.S. division of the Walton Group of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, plans to bring on more staff to focus on Westphalia, said John Vick, regional vice president for the Washington, D.C., metro area. He said Walton’s biggest regional commitment is in Prince George’s.

Walton is responsible for the 479-acre Westphalia Town Center and plans to break ground in February and open in March 2014. Its vision calls for a “lifestyle center” with an anchor grocery that will be a major highway-oriented retail site. Walton is set to develop 750 units and a hotel, which Vick said is especially needed for nearby Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs.

Walton purchased its portion of the project in March for $29.5 million.

Vick said Walton also is working on a website, Westphalia.com, where businesses can find updates and information on business opportunities.

‘They don’t usually do this’

Although Walton has no minority business participation requirements because Westphalia is a private project and is not receiving county funding, Vick said engaging the local business community should result in minority business contracts.

“I don’t have any opportunities to present to you today. The opportunities will happen as we start construction and then there will be opportunities with builders,” Vick said. “What we want is to give you time to get involved.”

County officials such as Roland Jones, executive director for Prince George’s minority business development division, urged business representatives not to take his opportunity lightly.

“Other jurisdictions don’t do this,” he said. “They’re doing their part so you have to do your part on the behalf of the business to prepare and be ready.”

Many of the 140 in attendance said they found the meeting informative and were pleased that the developers made time to speak with them.

“I think the fact that we had at least two major parties here and with their contacts for a private project says something,” said Juanita Miller, president and CEO of business coaching firm J.D. Associates in Clinton. “They don’t usually do this — open up to the business community at large.”

She said she especially appreciated Dubicki alerting people to the considerations involved in working near Andrews, including the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone. The zone has special noise and height requirements.

“It’s a wonderful thing they’re doing, making a large development available to everyone,” said Ben Robertson of RDA Engineering in Upper Marlboro. “It demonstrates the impact a large development can have on the county. It can transform into something to improve our image.”

Robertson, who is a vendor for another Walton project in Upper Marlboro, called the meeting very effective.

Tisa Clark, president and owner of J.D. Clark Professionals Services in Capitol Heights, said she is excited about collaborating with agencies and developers.

“This gives us an opportunity to get in front of a big initiative,” Clark said. “When the opportunities present themselves, we’ll be in a good position to build on these relationships.”

Other businesspeople agreed the meeting was informative, but lamented that the major developer is from another state and that there is no minority business requirement.

“It’s business as usual,” said Sidney Barbour, project manager for All Star Fence & Construction in Oxon Hill, adding that he wanted to know the developers’ history with minority business participation.

Brenton C. Miller, principal of Maryland Technical Review in Fort Washington, agreed that private projects have no guarantee for minority work.

“It’s really just a formality, but they did their due diligence by coming out,” he said.

Plans for the project are on the county planning department’s website.

The Westphalia Training Center, where the meeting was held, opened in the spring of 2011 as a site for skilled trades instruction. It has 24,000 square feet of training space over five acres and five conventional classrooms, along with numerous skilled trades shops. It offers training for locksmithing; carpentry; electrical work; plumbing; welding; heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; automotive technology and motorcycle repair. More esoteric offerings include hairbraiding and beekeeping.

lrobbins@gazette.net

Explanation: The original version misstated the number of acres in the project.