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P.G. looks to revamp Branch Avenue

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Photo - Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker at the Branch Avenue Metro station (Examiner file photo)
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker at the Branch Avenue Metro station (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

Prince George's County's plan to turn Branch Avenue from a string of shopping centers to a transportation hub is heading for a public hearing Tuesday.

The plan addresses the "Branch Ave. Corridor," a designated area that runs from Route 414 to Southern Maryland Hospital. Under the proposal, the corridor's suburban sprawl would be curtailed with walkable neighborhood centers, more concentrated retail space and stops for a bus rapid transit or light rail line.

Lee Quill, a principal of the Cunningham Quill architecture firm who has worked on the plan as a consultant, called it "retrofitting suburbia."

"The goal is to take a suburban development model and try to create new, compact central places focused on these transit stops," Quill said. "People can come together at a new neighborhood center that's not just focused on the car."

If approved, though, changes may be slow-going. Much of the area is zoned for suburban retail space, which means the county needs landowner cooperation.

"Having a willing property owner is key," said Teri Bond, the project's facilitator. "Some shopping centers are doing quite well, and they're not interested in changing right now."

Another issue comes in pushing for roads that accommodate cars, cyclists and pedestrians. The county's plan to reinvent the area around the Greenbelt Metro station was met with criticism for widening roadways to make them less pedestrian-friendly.

Bond said some roadways would be widened under the plan, but most of that would be to make space for cycling lanes and sidewalks. "Traffic congestion is a big problem out there," she said. "If we want people to walk, we need to make an environment where people feel safe."

The plan also looks to expand local economic opportunity by capitalizing on the growth of Joint Base Andrews, proposed expansion of Southern Maryland Hospital and potential transit-oriented development at the Branch Avenue Metro station.

This is good news to Teena Green, a Camp Springs resident who is chair of the Branch Avenue Focus Group.

"The county needs to take advantage of all opportunities to bring more employment," she said.

Green added that turning parts of the corridor into mixed-use neighborhood centers would get people to stop in the area instead of passing through. It's a good plan, she said, but she wishes the process would move faster.

"I'd like to see this come to fruition," Green said. "We've been working on these things for a few decades now."

Quill said the plan may take 20 or 30 years to fully implement, though gradual improvements would be made throughout that time. "The community is very interested in this not being a plan that just sits on the shelf," he said. "They want to implement it. They want to move forward."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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