Less than one mile from the District of Columbia stands acres of vacant land. Wildflowers and grasses have gone to seed on a long-abandoned playing field (above). Weeds sprout in a dry, sun-drenched lot (below). An abandoned warehouse sits on land abutting picturesque parkland. Although large lots of undeveloped land inside the beltway are rare enough, these photos are even more remarkable if one considers the land is surrounding a Metro station.
This curious phenomenon is not due to inadequate zoning or neighborhood resistance. The area has been zoned for transit oriented development since the 1990s, and the Prince George’s County Planning Department recently published a special transit district plan for the area, that would accommodate thousands of housing units, a million square feet of office and retail space, and a system of public parks and open space.
There are a myriad of causes for the lack of development. The suburban jurisdictions most successful at cultivating transit oriented development, Montgomery County and Arlington County, revised their zoning codes early after the advent of Metro and even there it has taken decades to realize transit oriented developments. (Despite decades zoned for high density development, almost all of the buildings near the Ballston Metro Station were built in the last ten years.) Prince George’s County has taken a more piecemeal approach, creating small transit districts instead of revising the entire county’s plans. A recent Washington Post story suggests political leaders and Metro itself may share part of the blame. Furthermore, this area has significantly lower incomes than Arlington or Montgomery, and the county as a whole hasn’t seen the same amount of investment as elsewhere in the region.
Regardless of the precise causes, our region has already spent billions constructing a transit system and suffers some of the worst traffic and sprawl of any city in America. We have a mandate to realize development at sites as well-situated as the West Hyattsville Station.