Author: Mitch Margolis

Dedicated lanes are integral to Montgomery BRT

Following two well-attended public hearings last week on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, the Montgomery County Council will now consider transit routes, approximate station locations, and rights-of-way. But one of the most significant policy issues will be whether the county gives transit priority on key routes with bus-only lanes.

Dedicated lanes allow for much faster, much more reliable service, which in turn attracts more riders and lowers costs per passenger. They make rapid transit a real alternative to driving in traffic, but removing general travel lanes to create bus-only lanes can be a hard sell to some members of the public. After all, many people consider it common sense that eliminating a lane of traffic will cause traffic to exponentially worsen.

Fortunately, evidence suggests that eliminating a lane often has no serious adverse effect on traffic. It may seem counter-intuitive, but removing a lane can occasionally cause traffic to flow better than it did before.

In 2002, a team of researchers looked at hundreds of situations where transportation planners reallocated roadspace away from general car travel. Most situations they examined experienced little to no increase in traffic, and in many cases local transportation planners reported, “the traffic has disappeared and we simply don’t know where it has gone to.”

The empirical evidence from dozens of case studies demonstrates that reducing roadspace for cars, especially when paired with providing better transit options for residents, can actually improve traffic operations. All of the case studies looked at affected and surrounding roads, and over half the cases saw more than a 10% reduction in traffic in the area.

Of the bus lanes studied in their report, there was an average 5% decrease in overall traffic. The study concludes that people make a much wider range of behavioral responses in these cases, including switching modes from driving to transit, chaining trips, or shifting their travel times away from peak hours.

Other recent traffic studies on repurposing lanes for transit have predicted a similar result. In Alexandria and Arlington, where the Potomac Yard-Crystal City BRT line will open in 2014, the traffic analysis for the environmental impact statement indicated that dedicating one curb lane in each direction to transit vehicles would cause no significant change in traffic flow.

In fact, modeling indicates that where repurposed curbside lanes are planned in Crystal City, exclusive lanes for buses help to channelize automobile flow and reduce traffic delays compared to not doing anything at all. In other parts of the corridor, the modeling predicted minor increases in traffic at a few intersections, balanced out by reductions in traffic at other intersections. Meanwhile, transit planners from Seattle tell us that their traffic study predicts a similar result on Aurora Avenue where plans call for repurposing two curb lanes for transit service.

In New York, data on traffic flow following the creation of bike lanes and bus lanes, as well as closing some streets to car traffic completely, indicates that traffic speeds have actually improved. The data matches similar observations in Brooklyn that travel times on Prospect Park West decreased after city planners converted a car lane to a bike lane several years ago.

The Maryland State Highway Administration is already planning on giving lane repurposing a try along the Purple Line on University Boulevard. SHA will reallocate two center lanes to the light rail line instead of widening an already large arterial road. The agency will make other improvements in the surrounding area to mitigate potential traffic impacts and keep people moving.

Planners and traffic engineers will be able to learn from that experience as they implement BRT in Montgomery County. The BRT plan recommends repurposed lanes where forecast transit ridership exceeds the capacity of a general traffic lane to move single occupant vehicles, a simple but sensible threshold.

While there are choke points along some of the corridors, in general, the proposed BRT routes are wide roads with six or more lanes. Montgomery planners and transportation officials alike seem to understand that continuing to widen these roads forever is not desirable, given the negative impact on neighborhoods and the long-term ineffectiveness of such an approach.

Lane repurposing offers the opportunity to move more people in Montgomery County’s limited road space. When combined with simultaneous improvements to bike and pedestrian networks that connect neighborhoods and work centers to the BRT stations, dedicated bus lanes offer Montgomery its best chance to create safer roadways that encourage walking, biking, and transit use.

Experience from other cities show that we can’t assume that traffic will increase. If we build a great system that can actually attract riders, traffic may not change much at all, and in fact may even decrease.

Photo courtesy of Oran Viriyincy. Click here to read the original story.

Parking Changes Possible for Montgomery County Restaurants

Prospective restaurant owners in Montgomery County soon may have a less thorny zoning code to contend with that includes much lower parking requirements.

New restaurants would only have to build four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet as opposed to 25 spaces, a restriction that may leave some businesses with empty lots and deter new development.

“You have big parking lots at shopping centers with a lot of empty spaces,” said Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D- At Large) of Garrett Park, who chairs the committee.

“That’s a foolish use of limited resources,” she said. “And our goal in urban redevelopment is certainly to encourage less driving and more alternative modes of transportation.”

The zoning code update is part of a three-year modernization effort to simplify its language and adjust a few other policies, including taking neighboring priorities into consideration for new and re-development.

Those changes are in the hands of Montgomery County’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.

A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for Nov. 12, after which the matter will likely go to the full council, said Jeffrey Zyontz, legislative attorney for the County Council.

One aspect of the policy remains the same. Building owners may pay a fee rather than provide parking if they are in one of Montgomery’s parking districts: Bethesda, North Bethesda, Wheaton, Silver Spring or Montgomery Hills.

New restaurants in mixed-use buildings have even lower requirements, Zyontz said.

Restaurants can choose to supply as much parking as they want because there is no maximum.

The policy will only apply to new structures, Zyontz added.

“An old restaurant would just have too much parking. A tragedy,” he said. “But surface parking in some places really isn’t a good thing if you want people to walk around in that environment.”

Several groups, the Montgomery County Sierra Club, Coalition for Smarter Growth and Action Committee for Transit applauded the proposed lower requirements but said they don’t go far enough in shifting focus away from cars.

The county’s urban pockets will still have ample parking if the council does away with any minimums, said Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“There’s a lot of parking available and a lot of parking sitting empty because it’s not available to a certain type of user at a certain time of day,” Cort said. “It needs to be managed more effectively and lot of these zoning requirements are producing too much parking and subsidizing driving and car ownership.”

Restaurants and the building owners they rent from would still provide spaces if it was in their best interest, said Ethan Goffman, transit chairman of the Montgomery County Sierra Club.

“You don’t want to distort the market to encourage more driving and more parking,” he said. “We want to move away from a jump-in-the-car oriented society.”

Outside the fold of parking districts, new businesses shouldn’t see much impact from the new policy, said Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.

Click here to read the original story. 

Montgomery BRT Supporters Unveil Coalition at Hearing

Last night, a coalition of 32 civic, business, activist and environmental organizations announced their support for Montgomery County’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit network at the first of two public hearings on the issue at the County Council in Rockville.

After 5 years of study, this fall the Council will consider a plan to build an 82-mile rapid transit network on several major roads, including Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road, and Columbia Pike. Planners say that BRT will allow us to move more people on existing roads as the county grows from 1 million residents today to 1.2 million in 2040.

David Moon of advocacy group Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth unveiled their list of “strange bedfellows” who support the plan, ranging from the Sierra Club to ULI Washington and CASA de Maryland. Before the hearing, they held a press conference to call for a BRT network that has dedicated lanes, frequent and reliable service, bike and pedestrian improvements along transit corridors, and “Metro-like features,” which include widely spaced stops, stations with safe, comfortable waiting areas, and fare collection at the station.

The Montgomery County Young Democrats have also lent their support. “We hosted a forum this summer about what young people need in order to settle down in Montgomery County,” said Katie Mullen, a Young Dems member who lives in Burtonsville. “Of the almost 100 people in attendance, the #1 priority wasn’t more night life, affordable housing, or new industry. The #1 priority was to greatly expand public transit across the county, in particular a comprehensive Bus Rapid Transit network with dedicated lanes.”

Opponents of the BRT plan who spoke at the meeting came primarily from two neighborhoods: Chevy Chase West, which is adjacent to a proposed route along Wisconsin Avenue, and the Four Corners area of Silver Spring, near proposed routes along Route 29 and University Boulevard. They cited concerns about the cost of building BRT, the inconvenience to drivers if the county repurposes existing lanes for buses, and claimed that public hadn’t gotten enough opportunities to give feedback.

Councilmember Marc Elrich, who first proposed a BRT network, contested claims that the county was preparing to condemn 3,000 properties for a system that hasn’t been fully designed, or that it was a “sellout” to real estate developers.

“I’m probably the last person on earth, or at least in this room, that would do something on behalf of developers,” he said. “It happens that [development] serves the rest of county residents in the ability to grow our tax base and deal with county traffic. There is no way to not see the development that is coming in the plans.”

Click here to read the original story.

Montgomery County groups Speak out in Favor of 80-Mile Bus Rapid Transit System

A coalition of 32 groups representing civic associations, environmental activists, smart growth advocates, and real estate developers testified in favor of constructing an 80-mile bus rapid transit (BRT) network in Montgomery County over the next decade during the first public hearing held on the issue by the County Council Tuesday night.

The hearing officially began what will be a months-long public process that will culminate in county legislators deciding whether to build what observers say is the most cost-effective way to cope with crushing traffic congestion. Montgomery County’s population—already bulging at one million people in 500 square miles—is expected to grow substantially.

“Our task force recommended a 160-mile system. An [80-mile] system is a good start. We hope it gets fully implemented and when it is successful the county will add additional corridors,” said Mark Winston, the chair of county executive Ike Leggett’s transit task force and chairman of the group Communities For Transit.

While building heavy Metro rail costs hundreds of millions per mile (see: Silver Line; 23 miles, $6 billion) or a light rail system costs tens of millions per mile (see: Purple Line; 16 miles, $2.2 billion), bus rapid transit is relatively cheap. Winston estimates the county’s BRT network could run $15 to $25 million per mile in capital costs. During the hearing a representative of Leggett’s office was unable to provide a cost estimate.

The BRT network will require building new lanes for buses as well as repurposing existing car lanes with traffic signal prioritization, otherwise the express buses would just sit in traffic with everyone else.

“Dedicated lanes allow for the fastest, more reliable service and the most effective alternative to sitting in traffic,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, who said the region is at a “crossroads” when it comes to dealing with growth, congestion, and climate change.

“On a day to day basis our suburban transportation networks are in gridlock due to the pattern of development and lack of adequate transit options. With expected population growth, conditions will get worse unless we change course,” Schwartz said in his testimony.

Several opponents of the BRT network raised a range of issues in their testimony: whether the county would displace homes and businesses to clear the way for the bus lanes, the unknown cost of construction, and whether it’s fair to take away car lanes.

“It won’t reduce crime. It won’t increase employment. It won’t lessen the effects of global warming. It won’t promote gay marriage and it most assuredly will not reduce traffic congestion,” said Silver Spring resident James Williamson, sarcastically mocking supporters’ claims about the benefits of BRT.

Paula Bienenfeld of North Bethesda Neighborhoods said the county is aiming to displace thousands of homeowners and businesses to acquire right-of-way for the bus lanes and stations.

“We have learned that over 3,000 properties have already been assessed for taking along Colesville Road, New Hampshire Avenue, Rockville Pike and Georgia Avenue,” she said. “All will be cleared wholesale if you approve this plan.”

Her claim was strongly dismissed by County Council member Marc Elrich, who said no decisions about right-of-way or eminent domain have been made.

“Nothing is going to be taken and nothing is going to be done until we get down to the level of looking at every single route,” said Elrich as Bienenfeld repeatedly tried to interrupt him.

“You need to listen because you had your chance to speak and I want to be clear from my end so people can hear a different perspective,” Elrich said to Bienenfeld. “I’m probably on the minimalist side of taking right of way… repurposing lanes and minimizing any intrusion on residential communities.”

The Council has scheduled the first of several work sessions Oct. 7. The public process is expected to take months with a vote possible by the end of the year.

Because of the excessive cost and impracticality of building heavy underground rail throughout the suburbs, BRT is emerging as a preferred alternative. Alexandria is constructing a BRT network which is set to open in 2014 consisting of a new median bus lane along most of the route and repurposed curb lanes within Crystal City. Other major cities are pursuing BRT; Cleveland, Oakland, and Los Angeles have decided to dedicate general traffic lanes just to transit.

Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Planning Department. Click here to read the original story.

Inclusionary Zoning making slow progress

After a rocky start, DC’s new affordable housing program, Inclusionary Zoning (IZ), is getting on track. It’s one of many policies needed to address DC’s growing affordability gap. In many affluent parts of town, it may be the only new affordable housing available.

IZ requires developers to set aside 8 to 10% of new housing in projects with more than 10 units for households making between 50 and 80% of the area median income (AMI), or incomes of $42,778 and $69,530 for a household of two. One-bedroom apartments in the program rent for between $1,006 and $1,610 a month, while similar condos sell for between $116,600 and $220,100. It’s similar to Montgomery County’s Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program, which began in 1974.

Of 28 available units, one for-sale unit had been sold and 14 rentals had leased by July. According to the Office of Planning, another 262 IZ units are in the pipeline as part of 24 different projects, and more than 1,000 IZ units may enter the market in coming years.

How it works

Inclusionary Zoning, a national best practice, uses a zoning bonus to pay for additional affordable units in new residential developments. The subsidy for the affordable units is created through a density bonus, allowing more units than could otherwise be built there. This compensates the developer while saving the city money.

IZ also integrates below-market-rate homes into a larger, market-rate development as a matter of course. Mixed-income housing has long been recognized as having many advantages over exclusively affordable developments. Mixed-income housing in high-demand areas offer lower-income residents access to a higher level of services and amenities than is usually available in areas where affordable housing is concentrated.

It offers an important tool for creating and sustaining economically integrated neighborhoods. It helps ensure some level of diversity of housing choices in areas where demand is strong and growing, such as close to Metro stations, major bus or streetcar corridors; areas with good public schools, or close to downtown DC. The policy is designed to create below-market rate units wherever new housing is being built and keeps them affordable for the life of the building.

Unlike many other affordable housing programs, where low income housing tends to cluster in high poverty areas, IZ units around the country are predominately located in low-poverty neighborhoods. In DC’s Ward 8, home to many low-income residents, as much as 90% of the housing in some census tracts is subsidized. But a 2012 study of Montgomery County demonstrates that IZ enables children from low-income families to live in more affluent neighborhoods and have access to high-performing schools.

Barriers to implementation

For all its benefits, DC has struggled to implement IZ since units began coming onto the market two years ago. The program’s rigid implementation regulations made it cumbersome for the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to administer, and the program was severely understaffed as well. In addition, more restrictive Federal Housing Administration (FHA) lending standards made it next to impossible for buyers to obtain mortgages for affordable housing. The first two units to come on the market didn’t sell after sitting on the market, and the developer responded by suing the city.

But today, the city is making progress. DC has changed the standard covenant in mortgages for IZ units that release any price constraints in the event of a foreclosure, as required by the FHA. DHCD is considering measures to recoup the public subsidy in the unit that would be consistent with FHA rules.

The city is also making the process for marketing and awarding IZ units to buyers and renters more flexible. Today, DHCD awards units through a lottery, which the agency has struggled to implement, finding it to be a time-consuming process and has failed to build a sufficient list of eligible and interested applicants. Under the new regulations, developers can use the lottery or create their own DHCD-approved marketing plan to find and select applicants for IZ units.

Finally, the city is moving to address the program’s staffing issues by getting additional assistance from nonprofits. DHCD plans to add capacity from experienced nonprofits to give low-income home buyers more help during the buying or renting process as well as long-term stewardship of the units. DHCD hopes to have new nonprofit assistance in place by October 1.

The construction pipeline is swelling with residential projects subject to IZ requirements, and IZ units are starting to enter the market in large numbers. We have proof that private residential projects with IZ units can get financed, and that IZ units can be leased and sold. While the program still faces many challenges, we can learn how to make it perform better and deliver more mixed-income housing opportunities throughout the city.

Looking ahead

Like other IZ programs across the country, DC’s faces many challenges. Montgomery County’s nearly 40 years of experience shows that programs need adjusting and refining over time. One of the key concerns for future action in DC is getting more deeply affordable housing.

In the current pipeline, just 15% of IZ units will be set aside for households making less than 50% of AMI, far short of the 50% housing advocates had originally hoped for. Once the program is running smoothly, the Zoning Commission should consider ways to create more “very affordable” units.

Some of the program’s challenges don’t have easy fixes, but DC can find reasonable solutions. Addressing these challenges will take the hard work and good will of activists, developers and public officials. Given the benefits of mixed income housing in walkable, bikeable neighborhoods close to transit, and the growing need for more affordable housing choices, making IZ in DC work is worth the effort.

Photo courtesy of Dan Reed. Click hear to read the original story. 

D.C. Unrolls Citywide Visitor Passes Amid Criticism

All residents of blocks with Residential Permit Parking can soon request a free visitor parking placard that will be good for a year starting Oct. 1, the D.C. Department of Transportation announced last week.

The program refines a system that was already in use in wards 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6, in which the one-year passes were mailed automatically to every eligible household. Now, residents must specifically order the passes, which waive two-hour parking restrictions within the boundaries of a particular advisory neighborhood commission.

The Transportation Department had said last summer that it intended to roll out a version of the program citywide this fall, when the already-issued passes are set to expire. But officials also indicated they wanted to make changes to protect against overuse or abuse, particularly before introducing the passes to the parking-starved neighborhoods of Ward 2. A popular proposal was a “coupon book” allowing for a set number of free uses while charging for additional days of guest parking.

Last week’s announcement that the program would change little as it grew citywide has attracted some criticism. Opponents argued that making it easier for visitors to park for free will only make it harder for everyone else to find a spot in crowded blocks.

“We’re disappointed to see DDOT take a step in the wrong direction after it seemed to signal it was going to be looking at comprehensively re-evaluating the [Residential Parking Permit] program,” said Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Just mailing out a lot of free parking passes to most households in the city is not a good approach.”

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, who chairs the committee overseeing the Transportation Department, said requiring residents to explicitly request a visitor pass is an improvement. But she agreed that further reform of D.C. parking programs would be valuable.

“I love the visitor parking program,” Cheh said. “It’s important and well-used by people who need it for regular visitors. … I just want to see a more comprehensive, thoughtful approach.”

A common fear has been abuse of the passes, particularly in parts of Ward 2, where several advisory neighborhood commissions voted against receiving visitor parking passes, in part due to concerns that they would be sold to commuters. The Georgetown commission had been working with the Transportation Department on a customized solution.

“DDOT’s announcement was a surprise to everyone,” said Ron Lewis, chair of the Georgetown commission. “We’ve been working with DDOT all along on parking issues, including sponsoring two well-attended public meetings. We learned that there are a lot of possibilities for improving visitor parking. Some of these are more flexible than the proposal of one placard per household.”

Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans echoed that surprise, noting the opposition from his constituents. “It’s been made clear to DDOT that the leadership in Ward 2 doesn’t want these,” Evans said of the passes. “I thought this was a settled issue.”

Transportation Department spokesperson Reggie Sanders said the latest reforms will help prevent misuse of the passes, such as sale or duplication, while retaining the convenience and simplicity of the earlier system.

For instance, requiring residents to request a pass will reduce the number of passes in circulation and link each one to a particular person rather than an address. Furthermore, the new passes will have a scannable code associated with an individual and address, easing enforcement efforts, according to Sanders. The scan will also show whether the pass is being used in the wrong neighborhood — a common issue, he said.

Requested replacements of a lost or stolen pass will also be tracked more easily, Sanders said, and duplications or other misuses could mean a $300 fine. Owners of cars regularly spotted overnight, even with a visitor pass, will also be asked to register locally or demonstrate that they live elsewhere.

“Once the enforcement piece of it is established, they will see that people will be very careful about how they use these passes,” he said. He also urged residents to file a 311 report of a car they suspect of improper use of a pass.

“We hope that the residents will be our eyes and ears; we hope that the residents who apply for these visitor passes will use the honor code to do the right thing,” said Sanders.

Dupont Circle neighborhood commissioner Noah Smith said that although his commission had opposed the visitor passes previously, the new changes to the system are significant. In requiring orders, “they’re adding in a barrier to entry … and hopefully that will reduce the amount of visitor parking permits that are actually out there,” he said.

Sanders of the Transportation Department said that simply expanding the existing visitor parking program could have increased parking pressures. But he said the revisions have addressed the issue, and he doesn’t believe that making passes more available will increase parking demand from legitimate guests.

Responding to the coupon-book proposal, he said such a system would be more expensive to manage, for little gain. “Our feeling is and our feedback has been that paying for the pass is not necessarily a deterrent,” Sanders said.

Cort disagreed. “Pricing is a very efficient tool for allocating something that is in demand,” she said.

Cheh predicted that the city will move in that direction eventually. “I think even though [the visitor passes are] going to be free this coming year, [the Transportation Department] ought to signal somehow that it’s not always going to be free.”

Sanders said the agency will continue to modify its programs.

“This is not an end point,” he said. “We will continue to hear feedback from residents … and we will continue to design this to help get us to a system where there aren’t any abuses.”

The Transportation Department is accepting comments on the visitor parking pass modifications at

Photo courtesy of Bill Petros. Click here to read the original story.

Prince George’s New Hospital Will be in Largo

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has decided that the county’s new regional medical center will be placed at the Largo Town Center, according to NBC4.

The property owned by Lerner Enterprises, just east of the Beltway, has been sitting vacant for years. It was chosen because its proximity to the metro, NBC4 reported.

Coalition for Smarter Growth Policy Director Cheryl Cort agreed with Baker’s decision to place the new 700,000 square-foot hospital near the metro.

“Locating this new state-of-the-art healthcare complex at the Largo Metro station fulfills the Executive’s often stated intention to leverage the value of the county’s 15 Metro stations,” Cort said in a statement. “A Metro-accessible regional medical center helps Prince George’s catalyze transit-oriented economic development and capture a larger share of the region’s growth.”

Cort also said the $645 million hospital would bring “thousands of jobs” to Prince George’s County in addition to healthcare.

Read Cort’s full statement on the coalition’s website.

The 259-bed hospital will house a full-service medical campus as well as a private practice.

It’s set to open in 2017.

Read the original story here.

Largo Wins New $645M Hospital over Landover

A new $654 million regional hospital will be built near the Largo Town Center Metro station, the Dimensions Healthcare System Board of Directors announced Aug. 22 during a news conference at the Prince George’s County Hospital Center in Cheverly.

The board for Dimensions, a nonprofit organization operating four hospitals in Prince George’s County, voted unanimously in favor of building the 280-bed hospital at the Largo site over another site at the former Landover Mall property, citing walkable Metro access and existing solid infrastructure.

“The site that was most ready to go was Largo,” said Prince George’s County Chief Administrative Officer Brad Seaman.

“The Landover site was going to require tens of millions of dollars in [infrastructure] improvements,” he said, as well as being a 1.5-mile walk to the Metro.

The new hospital, expected to open in 2017, will replace the outdated and financially ailing Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, which is run by Dimensions. State and county officials have been working to resolve the hospital’s problems for years.

“We’ve been trying to find a permanent solution to the Prince George’s County hospital problem, and this is it,” said County Executive Rushern Baker (D), who attended the news conference.

The “killer” of the hospital in Cheverly is that residents who can afford health insurance go outside the county for care because the Cheverly hospital, with outdated equipment and an old building, has a poor reputation when it comes to services, said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D), who was also at the news conference.

Scott Peterson, spokesman for the county executive, said 32,000 state residents leave Maryland each year to stay overnight at hospitals in other states, and 25,000 of those residents are from Prince George’s County.

The Largo site consists of 70 acres of property owned by Oak Brook, III.-based Retail Properties of America Inc., as well as several other privately-owned properties and is next to the Boulevard at Capital Centre shopping center and the Largo Town Center Metro station.

“[The decision] showcases that when you buy the right real estate, its highest and best use will be realized,” Shane Garrison, executive vice president and chief operating officer at RPAI, stated in a news release.

Largo Metro officials also showed enthusiasm for the coming hospital.

“We like to see large-scale employment centers at the end of our line,” said Stan Wall, director of real estate and station planning at Largo Town Center, referring to Metro’s Blue Line, which ends at the center.

Wall said he thinks the hospital will not only increase Metro ridership but also increase property values and chances of future development in the station’s surrounding areas.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes transit-oriented development and walkable communities, has been pushing the county to recommend the Largo site to Dimensions for the past two years, which the county did Aug. 21, said the organization’s director, Cheryl Cort.

“We’re ecstatic,” Cort said. “The next step is to design [the hospital] right and take advantage of the synergy of a mixed-use area … . So many employees will be coming to the area. We want to encourage people to live nearby, to walk to stores and walk to work.”

Click here to read the original story.

Baker Recommends Largo as Site of New Hospital

County Executive Rushern Baker accepted the recommendation of Largo Town Center in Largo, Md., as the site of the region’s newest hospital, Prince George’s County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins reported Wednesday.

Dimensions Healthcare System, which oversees county-owned medical facilities, made it official Thursday.

Largo Town Center, just east of the Beltway, was reportedly chosen for its proximity to a Metro station. The $645 million hospital will house 259 beds, a full-service medical campus and a private practice. The 700,000-plus-square-foot hospital is expected to open in 2017.

Transportation planning group the Coalition for Smarter Growth praised the choice, saying it will give 2,000 employees better options for getting to work thanks to a nearby Metro station, Wilkins reported. The group also hopes it becomes an anchor for economic development.

A 90-acre site at the old Landover Mall just off the Beltway was being considered as well.

Click here to read the original story.

For Prince George’s Hospital, Urban Growth Vision Wins the Day

Prince George’s County’s decision to build a new hospital at the Largo Town Center Metro station is a decisive win for backers of transit-oriented, high-density development over a more traditional vision for health care.

When County Executive Rushern Baker first cobbled together the large partnership that’s now working on the hospital plan, officials at the University of Maryland Medical System were thinking big. They asked for up to 120 acres to accomodate a 259-bed hospital.

But the plan will now proceed with only about one-fifth of that, after Dimensions Healthcare System board members approved a county proposal to acquire more than 25 acres wedged between the Metro site and the existing Boulevard at the Capital Centre development. Dimensions manages county-owned hospitals.

“They made a great decision,” said an effusive Cheryl Cort, policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which made steering the hospital to Largo a top priority. “This is going to be really good for the county.”

The smaller footprint will be able to accommodate the exact same health care programming than a larger campus would hold, said Mark Wasserman, senior vice president of external affairs for the University of Maryland system. But, as developers said Thursday, the smaller footprint puts it closer to adjacent developments and still allows for expansion.

As planning developed over the last two years, UMMS quickly abandoned its original hopes for a big site. First, county officials asked them to think more vertical, Wasserman said. Then, it became clear that surrounding retailers, office and residential buildings would also have a need for parking, which means the county parking authority will likely build a structure to serve all those entities.

In the final analysis, the transit-oriented development concept proved decisive. Even though real estate mogul Ted Lerner personally lobbied for the hospital to be built on his land at Landover Mall, no deal he could have offered made up for its lack of Metro accessibility. (Lerner was unwilling to cover any of the costly infrastructure improvements his site would have needed, too.)

“We have a vision for a walkable, urban environment,” said David Iannucci, the county’s top economic development expert.

That vision played an important role in the final deal that came together with Retail Properties of America Inc., which holds a long-term lease on the county land at Largo Town Center.

Because the future development potential is so enticing, RPAI walked away from its lease rights on 16 acres — and even volunteered to acquire nine more from a private landowner on behalf of the county — in exchange for ownership of the remaining 50 acres or so. There, RPAI believes it can further develop the site, doing well for itself and kicking more money to the county under a profit-sharing agreement.

County Chief Administrative Officer Brad Seamon said the site could end up being the county’s second largest mixed-use development, with the hospital as a powerful anchor. Right now, 7.4 million square feet of development is in the pipeline for plots near the hospital proposal.

University of Maryland Medical System experts are happy with the solution, but couldn’t go any smaller, Wasserman said. “We would have had some real difficulties” without at least 25 acres, he told me.

Cort’s group, the smart-growth advocates, take much of the credit for steering the hospital to the Largo site. Her group published case studies last December showing examples of hospitals bigger than the 259-bed Prince George’s proposal going on plots much smaller than 25 acres.

“This idea that we need 100 acres, we refuted that,” Cort said. “We provided that evidence, and I think that was persuasive.”

Early on, the smart money was on the sprawling, long-vacant Landover Mall location, several politicians said today. But the process proved the smart growth proponents’ ideas essentially dovetailed with the county’s.

Click here to read the original story.