County request to lease space resurrected
Proposal to relocate housing department previously failed to receive support
Prince George's County Council members are reconsidering a $1 million-per-year lease for office space in a New Carrollton office building — three months after the proposal died amid questions about need and cost.
The lease, which would allow 300 workers with the county's departments of Housing and Community Development and Housing Authority to move from Largo to a building at 8500 Annapolis Road, is scheduled for a public hearing at 10 a.m. July 21. County Councilman Eric C. Olson (D-Dist. 3) of College Park introduced the bill on June 23.
Olson, whose district includes the new office site, said he introduced the bill at the request of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) because he supports the boost it would give the local economy.
"It anchors the revitalization of the Annapolis Road corridor and the New Carrollton Metro area with 300 jobs," the councilman said.
Supporters say the move will free space in the county-owned office building at 9400 Peppercorn Place in Largo, where housing needs are dealt with in the same building as the county's permitting office.
"Right now, you have two groups that are combing that building, looking for services," Jim Keary, spokesman for Johnson, said of the housing department's current location. "Everything's cramped right now."
Thousands of people come to the permits office every year, and the volume is so great that the elevator to the fifth floor office has broken down several times, Keary said.
If approved, housing officials would spend $1 million from their budget to move to the New Carrollton facility, which is closer to a Metro station and shuttle bus route, officials said. The move would empty the first floor in the Largo building, which would allow the county permit offices currently located on the fifth floor to move downstairs, Keary said.
"We're providing a service where people can be better served," he said. "We'll have [the offices] to where people can get access more easily."
But the proposal is again raising concerns that it is not needed in light of the recession. County officials voted last month to fire 55 workers, furlough all employees for 10 days and cut back spending in all departments to make up for a $113 million deficit.
Fraternal Order of Police union president Vince Canales called the move unnecessary in the current budget climate.
"They're making a move based on convenience," he said. "I'm sure if you asked any worker in the housing department, they would rather take fewer furlough hours or prefer to actually keep their jobs rather than move to a new office."
The first proposal for the lease died in committee this spring for lack of approval.
The New Carrollton building is part of the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, one of several redevelopment projects Johnson has supported.
Keary said the relocation was also chosen to benefit the local economy in New Carrollton, which the government has been trying to improve. The $1 million annual lease cost for the 38,000 square feet of office space is just below the going rate for office space in the county, according to recent real estate figures.
"It's not a bad deal for the residents of Prince George's County," Keary said.
Councilwoman Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie said last week that she is still undecided.
"I'm sure we'll learn more at the public hearing," Turner said. "I'm going to go and check out the site for myself."
The lease for the New Carrollton building will total $10 million over the next decade. Council members are also approving a $500,000 annual lease in Landover for police to open a new forensics unit, which will be paid for by seized drug assets.
Leases have been a source of contention in the past year. When school board members decided last summer to rent out a new office building for their headquarters at a cost of $36 million over 10 years, state officials and residents chided the group for wasteful spending. In the last General Assembly session, the Legislature barred the board from spending money on the facility, forcing the school board to retract the contract.
Keary said the new leases by the county for the housing and permit departments are not the same.
"This is more akin to building a new classroom or school than to a headquarters," Keary said. "We're talking about the efficiency of government here."
E-mail Daniel Valentine at email@example.com.