|Image by M-NCPPC|
More than 100 Prince George’s County residents and municipal officials have signed onto a petition urging County Council members and planning commissioners to revise the current draft of the county’s General Plan. They are advocating for increased focus on developing neighborhood transit station areas and revitalizing existing older communities inside the Beltway, rather than on pursing new suburban sprawl projects.
The General Plan is the county’s long-range comprehensive roadmap that guides future growth and development. Maryland law requires counties to update their general plans at least once a decade, following the census. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) published the preliminary draft of “Plan Prince George’s 2035” last fall and held an initial joint public hearing with the County Council in November. Planners have spent the past several weeks reviewing and responding to oral and written public comments received through mid-December.
The preliminary plan draft recommends that 50% of the county’s future growth over the next 20 years should go to eight “Regional Transit Centers,” including National Harbor (which currently lacks a rapid transit connection) and seven of the county’s 15 Metrorail stations. But the plan also recommends that 30-40% of the county’s future growth should go to greenfield suburban developments outside of the Beltway and away from transit, such as the planned Westphalia Town Center near Upper Marlboro. Only 15% of future growth is recommended to go to the county’s remaining 20 Metro, MARC, and future Purple Line stations.
Many citizens and public officials have expressed concern that the preliminary plan unwisely prioritizes outer-Beltway sprawl over transit-oriented development (TOD) and revitalization. Lillie Thompson-Martin, mayor of the town of Fairmount Heights, charged that the plan was “starving the older established communities” by refusing them any meaningful revitalization assistance. She urged the county to designate her town and the surrounding unincorporated communities as “Neighborhood Revitalization Areas.”
Eugene W. Grant, mayor of the nearby city of Seat Pleasant, agrees. His petition comments urged the county to reevaluate how the plan treats Metrorail-accessible communities like his, saying they had been “overlooked” for “far too long” and that they have "tremendous potential." Grant further noted that refocusing on transit-oriented development around Metro stations would “stabilize our economy, create jobs, offer opportunities for local entrepreneurship … and so much more.”
Striking a similar tone, Capitol Heights mayor Kito James stated that inner-Beltway communities are the “future economic engine for Prince George's County,” and that reinvesting in the county's transit-rich core would elevate the county to “a new level of prosperity.” James noted that Montgomery County and Northern Virginia often outpace Prince George's because they have pursued an economic and land development strategy centered on "focused inner core reinvestment."
Rev. Douglas Edwards, president of the Coalition of Central Prince George's County Community organizations, echoed the mayors' sentiments in his petition comments. "The inner-Beltway has been ignored far too long," Edwards said, citing specifically to the county's failure to develop the Addison Road and Morgan Boulevard Metro stations on the Blue Line. Those stations and the Capitol Heights station all have a number of redevelopment opportunity areas, including vacant parcels, within easy walking distance.
Even suburban county residents support a refocusing of the plan’s development priorities inside the Beltway, close to transit. Clinton resident Mary Forsht-Tucker lamented that creating additional automobile-oriented suburban town centers, as contemplated by the preliminary plan, would further clog already-overcrowded roads and make the quality of life “unbearable” for existing residents. “Doing away with the goal of having large developments built near mass transit makes a mockery of the decades of planning that preceded this Plan 2035,” she said.
Michael Hethmon, spokesperson for the Friends of Croom in southern Prince George’s County, argued that “rural tier preservation cannot occur without inside-[Beltway] TOD as the top goal of county planning.” Another civic leader, Indian Head Highway Area Action Council president William Cavitt, remarked that suburban sprawl was "self-defeating" and put the county in a "deeper financial hole."
The petition was created by Capitol Heights resident Bradley Heard, an attorney and civic activist who runs the smart growth-oriented blog Prince George’s Urbanist. It urges county leaders to revise the General Plan to direct 25-30% of future growth to local transit, neighborhood, or campus centers; to limit outer-Beltway suburban development to 10-15% of future growth; and to designate all areas designated as a Maryland Sustainable Community, Targeted Area, or Enterprise Zone as “Neighborhood Revitalization Areas.”
The preliminary draft of Plan Prince George’s 2035 is not yet final. M-NCPPC will consider the public comments received thus far and may make additional revisions to the preliminary plan before formally adopting it and sending it on to the County Council for further hearings. The County Council, which sits as the “District Council” when it considers land use matters, may make further revisions before approving the final General Plan sometime later this spring or summer.
To view the petition, click here. For more information on the preliminary plan draft, click here.