Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Counties’ planning boards to kick off Crossroads plan

Prince George’s, Montgomery communities encouraged to give input on future development

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The Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads has posed challenges for planners because it lies in multiple jurisdictions, but on Jan. 16, the planning boards of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will meet to discuss a 15-year vision for the community.

The meeting, to be held 7 p.m. at the Langley Park Community Center, 1500 Merrimac Drive, kicks off a process that will culminate with the creation of a sector plan that will guide development in the Crossroads, where parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, as well as Takoma Park, meet.

The Crossroads, a diverse area crowded with pedestrians and traffic, extends in about a half-mile radius around University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue and comes under the jurisdiction of both planning boards, which regulate development.

The boards will evaluate Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission staff’s recommendations, and determine ways to encourage community participation throughout the process, which is estimated to take about a year, said Glenn Kreger, Park and Planning team leader for Silver Spring and Takoma Park. A bi-county plan has not been done in the Crossroads for about 45 years, he said.

The process has posed challenges. Although the two counties operate under the same planning commission and meet together monthly, they have different ways of operating and have separate databases. Takoma Park, a municipality, also must be accommodated, Kreger said.

‘‘We had to figure out how to do a hybrid plan, or a bi-county plan, and consolidate information,” he said.

Additionally, before the plan is approved, it will have to go before both county councils and planners will have to figure out how to accommodate both bodies should they request any changes, Kreger said.

Takoma Park previewed the recommendations at its Monday night City Council meeting. Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams and City Councilman Doug Barry (Ward 6) will be among those invited to conduct a public hearing on the sector plan, Kreger said.

Aldea Douglas, a planner with Prince George’s County, told the City Council that its members will be sought for help with community outreach in preserving the area’s environmental infrastructure and access to planned transportation sites.

‘‘We’re looking at working with the community to provide access to these facilities,” she said.

The visioning process comes at a time when the community is already poised for several major transportation projects, which the sector plan will be based around, Kreger said. The Purple Line, a mass transit project slated to travel from Bethesda to New Carrollton in either the form of bus rapid transit or light rail, will run through the Crossroads. Additionally, the Maryland Transit Administration plans to construct a $12 million bus transit center in the Crossroads that would consolidate existing bus stops under a canopy in a portion of the Langley Park Shopping Center.

Planners have recommended the area be transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly, Kreger said. What must be determined now is how to accommodate old and new development, he said, and what kind of mix of development the area should have.

For community members, it will be important to be open to ideas, including types of development that are not there currently, like residential buildings with ground-level retail, said Erwin Mack, executive director of the Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads Development Authority Inc.

‘‘The land is too valuable not to consider multi-use possibilities,” he said.

Mack said as plans move forward, it also will be important to keep in mind how they will affect the 158 businesses in the Crossroads, many of which are locally owned shops.

There is potential for gentrification, Mack said, but while it’s a concern, it also could be necessary. For instance, he said, one shopping center in the Crossroads dates back to the 1950s. While it’s affordable for the businesses, it will need to be upgraded. After an upgrade, it may no longer be affordable unless a real estate investor agrees to retain some of those smaller businesses.

The area, which has no real sense of place, can be challenging for authorities, Mack said, because not only do three jurisdictions come together in the Crossroads, the community is bisected by two major state roads.

Staff Writer Mike Meno contributed to this report.

If you go

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will hold a meeting regarding the Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads Sector Plan 7 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Langley Park Community Center, 1500 Merrimac Drive. Spanish interpreters will be available. To learn more about the Crossroads and the sector plan, go to⁄Takoma_Langley_Crossroads.