Monday, September 28, 2015

Prince George’s Should Allow Dead Sprawl Projects to Rest in Peace

Photo by Seamoor on Flickr
Ever since 2009, the Prince George’s County Council has continually extended the approval periods for unbuilt development projects, mostly consisting of single-family residential subdivisions located outside of the Beltway and away from transit.

Now, council members are considering legislation that would give these long-dead projects yet another two-year extension, through the end of 2017. It’s time for the council to give up the ghost on these projects.

Originally, the council granted these extensions to provide temporary relief to distressed developers in the wake of the Great Recession. But the recession is over. And while housing prices continue to rebound in Prince George’s, there is no current market demand for massive new single-family subdivisions outside of the Beltway. Indeed, buyers are still able to garner great deals on many spacious suburban homes that went into foreclosure during the housing bust.

These Zombie Projects Are Clogging the County's Pipeline

As I noted in 2013, it makes no sense for the council to extend the approval windows for these types of scattered sprawl projects. County planners have already concluded that such development is unhelpful for the county because it makes it “difficult to establish a critical mass of high-density development around any existing Metro station, as envisioned by the General Plan.”

More importantly, planners note that the county’s continuing lack of focus on high-quality mixed-use transit-oriented development puts it “at a continued disadvantage relative to its neighbors when it comes to attracting residents and employers who value the connectivity and amenities that other such communities provide.”

Despite those exhortations against sprawl development, the existing pipeline of approved-but-unbuilt projects outside of the Beltway led planners and the council to conclude in its current General Plan that the county actually has “too many” Metro stations, even before taking into account the future Purple Line light rail stations, and that developing all of them would “undermine economic growth.”

But if the council would instead just allow these old projects to die a natural death, the projected pipeline of residential development would dramatically decrease, and the county could readjust its long-term growth projections to include more transit-oriented development inside the Beltway. In particular, the county could decide to direct some much-needed attention toward its gateway neighborhoods and Metro stations near the D.C. border.

TAKE ACTION: The council’s Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development (PZED) Committee will consider the latest extension bills, CB-80-2015 and CB-81-2015, on Wednesday, September 30, at 1:30 pm in Room 2027 of the County Administration Building. You can use this link to address your comments to PZED Chair Andrea Harrison, with copies to committee director Jackie Brown and committee administrative aide Barbara Stone.