How can a 1960s suburban strip find new life in the 21st century? This summer, a Technical Assistance Panel of planners, architects, and developers helped craft a vision for Greenbelt Road, a Prince George’s County corridor with trying to reimagine itself as a new Main Street. View the full Technical Assistance Panel report here.
Located just inside the Beltway in northern Prince George’s County, Greenbelt Road (Maryland Route 193) is a major east-west road connecting the municipalities of College Park, Greenbelt, and Berwyn Heights.
Greenbelt Road is close to extensive open spaces including Greenbelt Park, a national park with recreation and camping sites; major activity centers and employers including the University of Maryland and NASA Goddard; and the Route 1 corridor, which has seen an influx of new investment in recent years. The Greenbelt Metro station is three-fourths of a mile away, and builders are completing Greenbelt Station, a new neighborhood with 1200 apartments and townhomes.
However, Greenbelt Road itself hasn’t seen much change in recent decades. Today, it’s characterized by auto-oriented retail, like drive-thru restaurants and gas stations, aimed at travelers passing through the area. The road is wide and fast, with incomplete sidewalks and bicycle lanes that discourage people from walking and bicycling, despite the presence of extensive parks and open space nearby.
Over two days in June, a group of planners, architects, and developers worked with community leaders from College Park, Greenbelt, and Berwyn Heights to envision a new future for the corridor as part of the Urban Land Institute’s Technical Assistance Panel program. The panelists heard from local leaders who celebrated the area’s diversity and accessibility to the region, but ere anxious for more places to shop and eat, and wanted to the area to have a walkable Main Street.
At the same time, it was clear that the broader community may have a variety of conflicting wants and needs. The three cities of Berwyn Heights, College Park, and Greenbelt have a range of age, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity. Likewise, the Greenbelt Road corridor serves a variety of different needs: it’s a regional shopping destination, a gateway to the area from the highway, and a large residential community as well. Any development that occurs here will be responsible for simultaneously meeting the needs of many different populations, but there is also a risk of political gridlock as different constituencies struggle to find common ground.
Panelists heard four common themes from stakeholders that could become guiding principles for future development. They wanted to emphasize pedestrian and bicycle improvements, such as making Greenbelt Road a safer, more comfortable place to walk and bike and improving connections to surrounding residential areas, nearby parks such as Greenbelt Park and Lake Artemesia, and the area’s extensive trail network. Additionally, there was a desire for quality open space where the community can gather informally or for programmed events such as farmers’ markets, festivals, and concerts, as opposed to area parks which are intended for recreation or preserving land in a natural state.
In terms of private investment, community members wanted to introduce different kinds of retail that could allow residents to do more shopping in their community, as well as providing more opportunities for residents to dine out or be entertained without leaving. And they wanted to allow residents to age in place by providing a wider mix of housing options, including apartments that seniors can downsize into from larger single-family homes.
In the coming years, the corridor could change dramatically due to development at two catalyst sites, including “the Triangle” at Route 1 and Greenbelt Road, where retail and housing is planned and at Beltway Plaza, a 1960s-era enclosed shopping mall whose owner, Quantum Companies, intends to renovate and add housing around it. These developments are opportunities to reshape Greenbelt Road itself and set the area on the path that community members envision.
During the workshop, the panel developed recommendations for improving the area’s transportation, land use, and local economy to help achieve community leaders’ goals. Some of those recommendations included:
- Designating Greenbelt Road a WMATA Bus Priority Corridor, which would make it eligible for improvements that can speed up buses, like transit signal priority and dedicated bus lanes.
- Making local bus service more frequent and run longer hours to attract more riders.
- Developing a bicycle network in the area by creating protected bike lanes along Greenbelt Road, either along the curbside or in the median, that would connect nearby off-street trails such as the Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail, Indian Creek Trail, and Paint Branch Trail.
- Giving Greenbelt Road a “road diet,” reallocating the road space within the existing curbs to make room for protected bike lanes, wide sidewalks with planting buffers, and a landscaped median with pedestrian refuges.
- Redeveloping Beltway Plaza as a town center-style shopping center, with street-facing retail, a mix of housing over shops, and structured parking, with a open plaza or green for community events.
- Encouraging mixed-use development at “the Triangle,” including housing, shops, and office or research development to capitalize on the growth of the University of Maryland campus.
- Starting an Economic Development Organization (EDO) for the three municipalities to craft a shared brand for marketing the area, and allowing them to advocate for their shared goals.
- Using public financing, such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a tax incentive, or municipal bonding, to help pay for improvements to Greenbelt Road itself that can catalyze private investment.
- Working with Prince George’s County to protect naturally occurring affordable housing in the area to ensure that current residents can afford to stay with redevelopment.
Like many suburban commercial corridors, Greenbelt Road must decide on an answer to this question: are you bringing people through you, or to you? Is this community a place where people stop on their way to somewhere else, or a destination for local residents and the region as a whole?
What happens here depends on the three communities along the Greenbelt Road corridor coming together to articulate a shared vision for the area. If they can do that, they can help answer this question, revitalize their community, and help provide an example of other suburban places facing the same challenges.
Technical Assistance Panels provide expert, multidisciplinary advice to sponsors facing complex land use and real estate issues in the Washington metropolitan area. Drawing from ULI Washington’s extensive membership base, panels to offer objective and responsible advice on a wide variety of land use and real estate issues ranging from site-specific projects to public policy questions. ULI Washington is grateful to the following individuals for serving on this Panel: Marsha Kaiser (Chair), WSP; Nicole McCall, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments; Dan Reed, Toole Design Group; Merrill St. Leter, SmithGroup JJR: Nkosi Yearwood, Montgomery County Planning Department; Paul Moyer, Jacobs; Kyle Talente, RKG Assocites; Suzette Goldstein, HOK; Josh Olsen, Monument Realty; Lora Byala, Foursquare ITP. To view the full report detailing the panel’s recommendations on creating a future for Greenbelt Road, click here.