The standing room only Route 1 Development Forum hosted by Council Members Campos, Dernoga and Olson began a conversation that is long overdue in our area, gathering our elected representatives with planners, school and state highway officials in one room to talk with their constituents about growth. Unsurprisingly, schools and traffic surfaced as the community’s main concerns.
M-NCPPC Planner Coordinator Chad Williams quickly ran down the numbers for the 7-miles of the Route 1 corridor: 61,630 well-educated people in 20,790 dwelling units spread across stable neighborhoods. While unemployment is lower than the county average, the poverty level is above average. According to M-NCPPC, due to the University of Maryland, the area’s demographic skews younger and in some cases, poorer, than the county average.
Filed and in the development pipeline, 7,600 more units, with perhaps a total of 15,000 dwelling units including residential or mixed use projects still in the early planning stages (Cafritz, East Campus, etc.). Over 7 million square feet of retail and office space is built, under construction or planned.
While some student housing will be excluded from the school surcharge meant to fund new schools, PGCPS uses this student yield formula: multiply .44 by the number of residential units. Using the conservative number of 7,600 units, we get a yield of 3,344 new students in an already overcrowded region.
During the presentation and audience Q & A, the State Highway Administration SHA) and Prince George’s County Public Schools representatives indicated what a huge disconnect there is between our planners’ priorities and the community’s. The SHA rep suggested that traffic might be best alleviated by support for the I-95/UMD Connector, a remark that went over like a lead balloon. County and state traffic planners acknowledged that with upgrades proposed for Route 1 between Eastern Avenue and the Beltway take place, no new capacity will be gained for the corridor.
The planned improvements do not include the entire Route 1 corridor or where major new developments are under consideration, e.g., between Riverdale Park/Hyattsville and College Park. Failed intersections such as Route 1 and 410 also will not be addressed.
PGCPS needs to do their homework on our region prior to attending future forums. Bureaucratic mumbo jumbo and “choice” programs (and the necessary busing) will not solve the pressing need for more school seats now, much less address the overwhelming demand that will exist shortly. Do the math–our overcrowding cannot be alleviated through choice programs or the promising small schools proposal.
School Board Member Heather Iliff stated clearly that the school system “is not ready to handle the student population of the proposed residential developments,” a refreshingly forthright admission. We need several new school sites immediately and probably not the usual PGCPS model. We simply do not have the space.
Dernoga made some good points regarding traffic and the necessity of encouraging and investing in transit. Olson strongly stated that Maryland SHA must listen to and fund projects the Route 1 community wants. The importance of increasing the business community’s presence in the county to generate tax revenues cannot be argued: we need more residents living near their workplaces. (Dernoga contrasted the revenue from business-related taxes with the relatively low tax revenue derived from multifamily residential.) But let’s keep an eye on the accompanying trip generation.
Whether we can, as an audience member suggested, get all the developers in one room next remains to be seen, especially since those developers reps present failed to identify themselves when asked. But such a meeting should become part of the “Route 1 Process,” if only for business reasons: a glut of retail space and condos/apartments is not in anyone’s best interest.
We hope to share the PowerPoint presentation with you next week. But Williams touched on a portion of our dilemma when he mentioned that 13 of the county’s 27 municipalities are in the Route 1 corridor. Until real school, traffic and transit solutions are found, shaping a sustainable whole from these pieces is our challenge. Bridging the disconnect between constituents and planners is our elected officials‘ job: make sure they know what you are thinking.