One of the oft-repeated tenets of the "smart growth" movement is that vast public expenditures on mass transit will practically guarantee "transit-oriented development" around the stations. Proponents paint a rosy picture of "walkable, sustainable" communities where residents live, work and play without needing a car. If only it were that easy.
National Harbor, Prince George's County's massive new development, lacks Metro access, and even the Coalition for Smarter Growth refers to the "untapped potential" surrounding the county's 15 existing Metro stations. The latest blow to the "smart growth" dream came last week, when the U.S. Treasury Department announced it will relocate 450 employees from Hyattsville to Parkersburg, W.Va., starting in November 2013.
The move, part of a consolidation of the Bureau of the Public Debt and the Financial Management Service, currently located near the Prince George's Plaza Metro station, is expected to save $36 million over the next five years. This the second time in two years that Prince George's County has lost a possible federal tenant. Last year, the General Services Administration decided to keep a $450 million Health and Human Services lease in Rockville instead of moving to one of three potential sites in Prince George's with nearby Metro stations.
At the time, County Executive Rushern Baker stated he was "confident" that Prince George's -- which has 33 percent of the Washington region's land area and 23 percent of the regional population but gets only 3.7 percent of its federal leasing dollars -- would be next in line for a major federal tenant. The latest Treasury announcement dashed those hopes.
That's because federal agencies are required to balance the competing demands of making more efficient use of their space with locating federal jobs near public transit. This dynamic played out in 2011, when the GSA wound up leasing 400,000 square feet for a Social Security Administration office and a $500 million data center in Metro-less Frederick County.
Members of Maryland's congressional delegation -- including Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, and Reps. Donna Edwards, Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen and Elijah Cummings -- have all expressed their "disappointment" with the Obama administration's decision to send 450 workers to another state. They should be equally disappointed that the reality of "smart growth" -- particularly in Prince George's County -- has not lived up to the hype.