County releases preliminary plan for Purple Line station area
By Dan Behrend
The same day that University of Maryland (UMD) President Dr. Darryll Pines announced a pause on plans to clear portions of Guilford Woods to build housing, Prince George’s County published a draft of its long-term vision for the area, which includes developing a similar portion of the woods.
Guilford Woods covers roughly 15 acres along Guilford Run, a stream located in College Park just south of UMD. The Western Gateway project would have replaced roughly 9 acres of the woods with 81 townhouses and 300 units of graduate student housing. The university paused the project after community members, with the support of the local Sierra Club, voiced strong opposition.
While community members were voicing their opposition to one Guilford Woods development plan, the Prince George’s County Planning Board was concluding a nearly year-long public engagement process and drafting of another one: the Preliminary Adelphi Road-UMGC-UMD Purple Line Station Area Sector Plan.
This preliminary sector plan represents the county’s long-term plans for the area around the upcoming Purple Line station, which includes Guilford Woods. The plan identifies portions of the woods as the site of future mixed-use buildings or town houses, while also detailing policies designed to preserve the tree canopy and protect natural resources.
Janet Gingold, Prince George’s County Sierra Club executive committee chair, noted in an email that the Sierra Club generally supports the type of transit-oriented development proposed around the Purple Line station. However, according to Gingold, “The few areas where we have mature forest become increasingly precious as we face a future with increasing frequency of excess heat and extreme precipitation events. The Sector Plan should specifically designate Guilford Woods as preserved open space.”
The plan, published in late October, focuses on expected growth around the new Adelphi Road-UMGC-UMD Purple Line station, which will be built in the center of Campus Drive, near its intersection with Adelphi Road.
When completed, the Purple Line, a 16-mile light rail, will connect 21 stations between Bethesda and New Carrollton. Over decades, plans for the Purple Line evolved and expanded from discussions in the 1980s among Montgomery County politicians and planners to build a trolley connecting Bethesda and Silver Spring along an abandoned CSX freight rail right of way. Construction of the Purple Line started in summer 2017. Litigation and contract disputes disrupted the project, however, and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) now expects to resume construction in early 2022 and to begin operations around 2025.
The sector plan area stretches across roughly a mile, from the University Hills Duck Pond Park, through Guilford Woods, to the religious student centers on the southern edge of UMD’s campus. It includes about 100 acres around the future Adelphi Road Purple Line station, and portions of both the City of Hyattsville (around St. Mark’s Catholic Church) and the City of College Park (just south of UMD). The Adelphi Road station will be the closest Purple Line station to the Prince George’s Plaza Metro station in Hyattsville.
Planners recommend the creation of a new walkable neighborhood targeting UMD students, faculty and staff, along with seniors and Purple Line commuters. The county plans to designate most of the land for future mixed-use development, with smaller portions reserved for parks and institutional uses, such as university-related buildings.
Currently, most of the buildings in the area are places of worship and apartment complexes. The proposed sectional map amendment, released with the preliminary plan, would update the zoning for the area to match the uses in the sector plan.
Planners propose constructing the tallest buildings near the Adelphi Purple Line station, with mixed-use multifamily buildings or town houses closer to existing neighborhoods with single-family homes.
The plan incorporates wide sidewalks, marked crosswalks, landscaped buffers from car traffic, bike lanes along several streets and improved bus stops. Planners also recommend installing bike and pedestrian paths separated from car traffic.
The plan aims to promote environmental sustainability by improving stormwater management, expanding the tree canopy over paved surfaces, encouraging the construction of permeable pavement and green roofs, and incentivizing buildings that meet green standards.
Planners recommend expanding the University Hills Duck Pond Park to encompass the forested area to the east, and adding trails, benches and picnic tables.
The county planning board and county council are soliciting additional public feedback on the preliminary area sector plan. To speak at or submit written testimony to the Jan. 18, 2022, joint public hearing, visit the sector plan’s website. One-on-one chats with the project team are available during virtual office hours held every Wednesday and Friday through February 2022.