On Monday, the city of Bowie will face a major policy decision: whether to amend covenants on the Melford property—paving the way for hundreds of new housing and commercial units—or to leave the covenants as they stand.
The Melford development has a nearly 30-year history in Bowie, beginning when the city annexed the property, then known as the University of Maryland Science and Technology Center, in 1985. This annexation put the city into a unique position, giving them zoning authority over the parcel of land.
Amending the covenants will not take away any of Bowie’s control over the uses of the land, according to Mayor G. Frederick Robinson.
“What I expect to happen is we will have a motion on the table to amend the covenants to allow the city to approve retail and residential on the site under very limited conditions and under absolute control of the city,” Robinson said.
The property’s original developers planned to eventually improve the property’s zoning to mixed-use, according to Bowie City Manager David Deutsch, but that didn't happen before the lot was sold to the current owners, St. John Properties, in 2001.
In 2006, the Prince George’s County Planning Department approved the Bowie and Vicinity Master Plan, which recommended residential development at Melford.
So, while the intent of the developer, the county, and even the city has long been to allow residential development at Melford, it was not until St. John Properties’ most recent plans that the city council considered amending the covenants.
“They believe they can present a project that will meet the city’s needs, their needs and hopefully is something we can come together on,” Robinson said.
St. John approached the city council in September, requesting the covenant amendment. The council voted to allowed city staff to enter into discussions with the developer about the future of the property.
On Jan. 7, St. John Properties revealed their plans for a mixed-use development at Melford that would include 2,500 units of housing, a 15,000 square foot grocery store and a variety of service retail to serve the residents.
The proposal presented to the city council, called Melford Village, included:
- Approximately 450 units of dedicated senior housing
- Small scale service retail that could include restaurants, dry cleaners and a community bank
- Townhomes, possibly with retail shops on the first level
- An “office village” that would provide a visual transition between the current residential park and the residential component
- Apartment villas, that would be a transition between podium apartments and townhomes
- High density “wrap” apartment buildings that will have 300-350 units each
- A community building
- A 15,000 square foot grocery store
- A village square with clock town designed to be a place where people congregate
- Walking trails throughout
Robinson thinks the project has real potential, particularly to fill what he sees as a void in housing for the city’s seniors. As of the 2010 census, nearly 42 percent of the city’s population was age 45 or older.
“Right now we are losing a lot of our seniors that are moving to Waugh Chapel and Annapolis,” Robinson said. “To me those are the people who made Bowie and I would like to give them the option to stay here.”
Even if the council does vote in support of the covenant, it will likely be months or years before the Melford property sees any development, said Deutsch, and the developers say the city council will still have final say over any plans before they are submitted to the planning board.
The city of Bowie will have a heavy hand in any development should the covenants be amended, said Robinson.
“The city will have an end veto over anything proposed,” he said.
St. John’s Properties has said they are amenable to the city’s active participation.