Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Traffic worries temper revitalization excitement

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Residents along the Branch Avenue corridor are generally excited about new development that could revitalize the area, but at a public meeting Tuesday at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro some voiced concerns about increased traffic that the plan could create.

Prince George’s County planners have finished a preliminary proposal to encourage quality economic development and urban design in the Branch Avenue Sector Plan and Sectional Map Amendment. The plan primarily focuses on the Branch Avenue Corridor from the Washington line to St. Barnabas Road — including Iverson Mall, Marlow Heights Shopping Center, Naylor Road Metro Station, Old Silver Hill Road and St. Barnabas Road corridor to the Capital Beltway.

‘‘I love this plan,” Gary Ponds, a Suitland resident said. ‘‘We need to upgrade.”

Ponds, who lives across the street from Iverson Mall near the intersection of Branch Avenue and Silver Hill Road, said he has been to every meeting following the process and he is ready for the improvements to start.

‘‘Some of these stores have been around since the 1960s,” Ponds said. ‘‘They are low-grade stores and they bring suspicious characters.”

William Hutt, a 39-year resident of the Gordon’s Corner community in Temple Hills and president of the civic association, is skeptical about the plan. He has concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety.

‘‘How are people going to be able to cross the street?” he asked. ‘‘I walk 2 to 4 miles every day, and it’s dangerous out there. Cars are constantly running red lights.”

Gloria Dickinson, who lives in the same community as Hutt, said there are many seniors in the community.

‘‘They don’t have cars and it’s not safe for them to walk,” she said.

Dickinson and Hutt agreed that, before these new stores are put into place, the county should consider road improvements and better ways for pedestrians to get around.

Councilman Tony Knotts (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington said he understands the traffic concerns.

‘‘Traffic definitely has to be part of the discussion,” Knotts said. ‘‘We will coordinate with the state to make sure that is addressed.”

The plan would amend a portion of the 2000 Approved Master Plan and Sectional Map Amendment for the Heights and Vicinity Planning Area to allow for the development.

According to the M-NCPPC Web site, a sector plan is a written report approved by the District Council that establishes how the county would like the land in the project area to develop. It establishes recommendations to guide county officials in making decisions on the use of land within the project’s boundaries.

The result of this planning process will be to guide revitalization or redevelopment of the area, to encourage quality economic development and improve the safety and appearance of the community, according to the M-NCPPC Web site.

A sectional map amendment is a process that establishes the zoning of properties in an area. Zoning is the legal power of government to regulate the use of private property. The SMA may change the existing zoning in the area to permit the land use recommendations in the sector plan.

Major goals of the Branch Avenue plan are to encourage quality infill development or use existing structures to develop the area, encourage quality economic development, improve the area’s appearance and safety, promote transit-supporting, mixed-use development, strengthen the mix of commercial uses at appropriate locations along the corridor and ensure that new development is compatible with surrounding neighborhoods.

Councilman David Harrington (D-Dist 5) of Cheverly said Tuesday that final council action on the plan could happen this summer or fall, depending on the possibility of a second public hearing of any additional amendments.

The next step is for county planners to take resident comments into a work session and propose a final plan to the county council for approval. A date has not been set for that work session