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GREENBELT – Tension clouded the Greenbelt City Council work session on Feb. 5, as representatives from Rodgers Consulting and Quantum Development found themselves on the hot seat as their Master Development Plan for the Beltway Plaza Mall faced serious questioning.
“My skepticism is based upon the past…the past lack of trust,” said Councilmember Edward V.J. Putens. “I am happy you’re doing it. I even told you, ‘Get it done,’ five years ago…ten years ago. I want everyone here to know why some of us are skeptical.”
Opened in 1963, Beltway Plaza Mall is one of the few remaining indoor shopping malls in the metropolitan area. In an era when online shopping and dollar stores are consigning the shopping mall to the history books, Beltway Plaza has managed to stay afloat, thanks to its combination of big-box chain anchor stores and small, immigrant-run shops.
However, Quantum Companies – the owners of Beltway Plaza’s property – are not optimistic for the future of the mall in its current state. In December, plans were filed with the Prince George’s County Planning Commission showing that the mall would be torn down to create a more modern mixed-use development featuring a smaller shopping center, retail shops, office space and townhomes.
This is not the first time Beltway Plaza’s owners have put forward a plan to redevelop the property as Quantum have been pushing to revamp the property since 2005. Their first attempt went before the Planning Commission in 2011, with the vote ending in a tie.
As Quantum tried to resolve the issues with the city and county, outside events put a stop to the prospect of any future development for the time being.
“The FBI threatened to come to Greenbelt Station north,” Quantum’s Marc Kapastin said, referring to the failed plans to bring the federal agency’s FBI headquarters in Greenbelt.
At the meeting, the development team was at odds with the City Council over many of the same issues that prevented them from securing the vote in 2011 – namely, the gradual, step-by-step nature of the development which has some councilmembers suspicious and desiring more information.
“This is a piecemeal plan that you’re putting together,” said Putens. “This may be the concept plan on this parcel, but just like the Greenbelt [Metro] Station…we saw piecemealing when the station was being built, between those parcels, the maintenance working area, and another parcel. We, the city took them to court. We won.”
Both Putens and fellow Councilmember Rodney Roberts took issue with what they see as the plan’s lack of open space.
“There’s no open space around that property, and what you’re proposing isn’t usable open space,” said Roberts. “So you’re going have a big square piece of green, surrounded by roads and a mall.”
Another key sticking point for the council was whether the planned townhomes would cram more children into Greenbelt’s already-overcrowded school system. According to a city memorandum, Springhill Lake is already at 150 percent capacity, with Greenbelt Elementary at 107 percent.
“We have to worry about it today,” said Putens. “We really have to worry about it when you start breaking ground and start building your first townhouse.”
However, Kapastin insisted that the project would come through for the city of Greenbelt, citing that Beltway Plaza – even in its current state – has paid $2.7 million worth of real estate tax in the last three years.
“I want you to try and imagine this community without Beltway Plaza…without the amenity, without all of the stores, the places to get your haircut, the Giant food, the Target. It all can disappear if we don’t do something about it,” said Kapastin.
The redevelopment also targets Greenbelt Road, the major artery connecting automobile traffic to the Beltway Plaza Mall and the Greenbelt Metro Station, as well as other shops, offices, and residential communities in the county.
The street, geared more toward passing traffic, is plagued with inconveniences such as incomplete pedestrian and bicycle lanes, making it an unpleasant experience for residents not traveling by car. However, according to Kapastin, that may be the final phase of the project.
At meeting’s end, all parties agreed that the best chance for the project’s success is if everyone works together in the cooperative spirit of Greenbelt.
“Everyone involved in this city… have been extremely helpful and informative, and for that we thank them,” said Matthew Tedesco, an attorney working on behalf of the project team.