Prince George’s OKs housing complex in Bowie business park

The Prince George’s County Planning Board has approved a housing development in a nearly 500-acre Bowie office park that some residents hoped would be used to bolster the local job market and shorten commute times.

The planning board approved a site plan on Nov. 13 from Baltimore-based developer St. John Properties for a retail and residential complex that could include up to 2,500 homes and apartments at the Melford property off U.S. Route 301.

At the planning board hearing, several residents shared concerns about building a residential complex in a location originally designated for business use, but Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said Bowie staff and council members believe it is the best use of the property.

“The city and this site has had some friction. As a result of that, we did an incredibly robust review of this project,” Robinson said. “We believe this is a great project, we fully endorse this project.”

The Melford Village project is scheduled to include up to 100,000 square feet of retail space and more than twice that much employment and office space, said Robert Antonetti Jr., an attorney for St. John Properties.

Martha Ainsworth of Bowie presented testimony at the planning board hearing on behalf of the Prince George’s Sierra Club and said the site would be a greater asset as a business park.

“This Melford office park, which is surrounded already by residential development, holds the promise of good jobs and shorter commutes for county residents,” Ainsworth said. “We don’t believe this is the best reasonable alternative.”

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a Washington, D.C.-based economic development organization, also opposed Melford Village, stating that the project’s location would increase auto dependency and put too much residential development in the wrong place.

“This proposal will perpetuate more residents driving long distances to get to work rather than focusing new housing closer to transit and concentrations of jobs,” the coalition’s policy director, Cheryl Cort, wrote in a statement.

Baltimore-based consulting firm Sage Policy Group Inc. was hired by St. John to evaluate the property and concluded that Melford is not thriving as a business park, with vacancy currently around 30 percent, said Sage CEO Anirban Basu.

Antonetti pointed out that a combination of retail, office space and housing at the Melford property could reduce traffic and auto dependence by allowing residents to live, work and play in the same area.

“The mixed-use project is intended to take trips off the road,” Antonetti said. “The criticism I think is unfair and it’s people either not understanding or not accepting the benefits of mixed-use developments.”

Antonetti said a timeline has not been set for construction of the complex, but that St. John plans to pursue additional site approvals in 2015.

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