Prince George’s looks to create a downtown hub -- Gazette.Net


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During the workweek, Reneé Henderson of Fort Washington spends her time showing Prince George’s County teachers how to incorporate technology into education, but Saturday she took up a different job — deciding what part of the county should receive the “downtown” designation.

“There’s a lot you have to anticipate,” Henderson said. “This is interesting, but I’m glad I don’t have to make the final decision.”

Henderson was one of about 400 people who attended Saturday’s forum hosted by the Prince George’s County Planning Department at the University of Maryland, College Park, aimed at soliciting input from the public on the ideal location for the county’s downtown.

County officials are looking to develop up to three sites as downtown hubs for the county. Given Prince George’s County is about 500 square miles, multiple downtowns are under consideration in order to both recognize the different north, central and southern regions of the county, said Kierre McCune, who is managing the county’s new master plan, Plan Prince George’s County 2035. The master plan lays out a general plan for future growth and development across the county to help guide efforts by government and the private sector.

Six sites — centered around the College Park, Prince George’s Plaza, New Carrollton, Largo, Branch Avenue and Greenbelt Metro stations — have emerged as promising places for a downtown area, according to county officials.

Developing a downtown, where people could live, work and play in a walkable urban setting is needed to bring new jobs and to adapt to changing lifestyles, said county officials, who referenced the success of places such as Silver Spring in Montgomery County.

“Our generation of Millennials — those born in the 1980s or early 2000s — they want to be in close proximity to restaurants and retail,” McCune said.

County planners announced at the meeting that they selected the College Park, Prince George’s Plaza and the New Carrollton Metro stations as leading contenders based on factors including the amount of developable land nearby, surrounding population and access to mass transit.

County planners said they have dubbed the other three sites as “game-changers,” should proposed developments occur and increase the suitability for a downtown area by creating a population of people who would work and potentially want to live nearby.

The area around the Largo Metro Station could be in contention as the county’s downtown should the county finalize plans to build a $600 million health care center in the region, according to county officials, and the area around the Greenbelt Metro Station could work as a downtown should the FBI headquarters move to the site. The area surrounding the Branch Avenue Metro Station could work as well should the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority move forward with developing 30 acres of land it owns near the station, county officials said.

The county planning department plans to announce the selected site or sites for the county’s downtown areas in September when it releases the initial draft of the master plan, McCune said. After the draft is released, county officials will incorporate any public comment into it before eventually submitting a final plan for the County Council’s approval. The council is expected to make a decision on the plan in spring 2014, McCune said. The council is then tasked with determining how much support is provided to grow a downtown, McCune said.

Given the county government also has to fund other services such as schools and roads, the cost of creating a downtown should be spread between the county government and private enterprises, said Darrell Odom, a retired county fire chief.

“There has to be some prudence and discretion in that,” said the Brandywine resident. “The predominance of the cost shouldn’t be with the county.”

amccombs@gazette.net