La Plata brings in panel to talk redevelopment plans
Focus on area north of Charles Street
Last week the La Plata Town Center Corporation sponsored an independent technical assistance panel in conjunction with Urban Land Institute Washington to discuss how the town can better implement redevelopment in downtown La Plata.
“We really appreciate the panel coming to layout a concept plan,” said La Plata Mayor Roy G. Hale. “I think we’re in the right direction because we have established a separate La Plata Town Center Corporation to guide this project and move it forward.”
The panel presentation, “Implementing Redevelopment in Downtown La Plata,” was put together by the ULI Washington TAP members, Andy Brown of Stanford Properties and chair of this ULI Washington TAP, Melina Duggal from Duggal Real Estate Advisors, Dan Hardy of Renaissance Planning Group, Brian Cullen, Keane Enterprises Inc., Dan Anderton from Dewberry, Donny James, Revenue Authority of Prince George’s County, Julia Koster of National Capital Planning Commission, Paul Moyer of VHB, and Suman Sorg of DLR Group Sorg.
This TAP, a volunteer group of experienced individuals who have been assembled by ULI Washington for their expertise, helped identify the best strategy to shape and focus development in a roughly six-block study area north of Charles Street to make it a more welcoming and vibrant place with a true identity. The goal of the TAP is to visit a jurisdiction and take a look at its particular planning challenges.
The day before the panel’s presentation of its report, it heard from about 30 participants about different perspectives of what La Plata needs, how to catalyze development, where to start, and what is important to the town. The panel also met with many of the town staff to learn their points of view about how they envision the future of La Plata.
After a tour of the study area and various interviews, the panel provided an open press initial presentation of their findings on May 12.
“This is one of the most organized TAPs in terms of presentation and briefing materials that were put together by the sponsor and one the best attended stakeholder meetings,” said Brown, chair of the panel. “The town is really at a crossroads here. They have major employment anchors which is really a positive, because there is the county government building, county social services, hospital, local library, and the town hall. It may not all seem to function together but the development area that you have created here really does benefit from being in the middle of these magnet areas. We see an opportunity within this greater region in La Plata to create a sense of place with a very distinctive image.”
The Town of La Plata plans to improve its downtown area into a place that the community can come together and enhance the economic vitality of the downtown area while preserving its historic character. In 2000, the town published plans to create a town center with government anchors located just north of Charles Street. In 2002, a tornado cut through La Plata leveling much of the downtown area south of Charles Street. As a result, much of the subsequent development in the town shifted to the downtown area.
The technical panel noted some challenges in the town such as transportation, specifically safety, vehicular congestion and difficult pedestrian crossing and retail experience on Charles Street and Washington Avenue; diffusion of priorities for short and long term strategies (prioritizing transportation), particularly bypass, streetscape, and gridding; pass through traffic competing with local circulation; and adherence to the town’s vision plan.
“Some of the important potential partners in implementing La Plata’s vision are either in conflict, such as the hospital, or don’t seem to be coordinating particular well, such as the expansion of the public library and county government building. The existing zoning code for the development area doesn’t support or incentivize redevelopment,” Brown said.
The panel explained the importance of coordination in the town being better implemented.
“The zoning code is a bit restrictive and does not encourage property owners to work together but the development area being owned by two individual corporations, the expansion of the county government building, and the library are all positives,” Brown said.
“A lot of the problems in the town are from the fragmented ownership,” Duggal said. “There are a lot of employees in the area who don’t have a lot of options to live here and there’s a lot of office around. The town can also provide townhouses, office space and hospitality, which is limited. Retail is also lacking in the area. Retailers like a lot of traffic and to be near other retail but there are so many employees here so you can get some boutique retail and restaurants in the downtown area.”
“One of the things we heard a lot about is the traffic on Heritage Green Parkway, Washington Street, and there is a lot happening to the northeast, so we looked for more abilities to create a series of streets or bypasses to help disperse traffic in La Plata,” Hardy said. “The town also needs to improve aggravation and walkability on Washington Avenue. We included some ideas to reduce speeds on Charles Street so that people will drive slower and that will help get people across the street. There are a lot of streets where parking is limited so the town should foster a shared parking environment, something where there is structured organized parking.”
The technical team stressed that the town be very flexible in its concept plan and vision. Brown said the first step would be to develop the master plan as well as the zoning code that incentivize the kind of development that the town wants to see.
“We also spent a lot of time talking about the library and the opportunity they have such as site acquisition and funding to construct a library so there’s funding there,” Duggall said. “The town should work with the Charles County Commissioners to figure out a good spot for the library and not let that opportunity pass this area by.”
Hale said the plans to move the library are only partially funded right now by Charles County but he would like to see more ideas as to how to go about receiving more funding for the library’s relocation and added that he is looking forward to see the TAP report.
“One of the most interesting comments we heard was that we should not be that locked into our plan that was developed many years ago,” Hale said. “We just need to understand what the first steps are and we were given a lot of ideas and we look forward to viewing the report. Transportation is key, specifically how we move traffic through and around La Plata. I think the town as a whole and community is dedicated to making it the best town that we can. We’ve shown resiliency to be able to come back, keep the county going and move in the right direction.”
On May 11, the La Plata Town Center Corporation sponsored an independent technical assistance panel in conjunction with Urban Land Institute Washington to discuss redeveloping downtown La Plata. The panel heard from more than 30 participants about different perspectives of what La Plata needs, how to catalyze development, where to start and what is important to the town. The panel presented its findings the next day, May 12, at La Plata Town Hall.