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Bowie City Staff to Draft Amendment to Melford Covenants

The amendment, which could clear the way for thousands of new homes, will be discussed at a public hearing March 4.

Thousands of homes as well as retail and service stores may be built on the large Melford property in Bowie after the city council voted to allow its staff to draft an amendement to covenants that currently restrict how that land can be developed.  The amendment allowing for new types of development will be discussed at a public hearing on March 4.

The city council move comes after St. John Properties, the developer of the office campus already at the Melford tract, said it was having trouble leasing commercial space due to a lack of nearby amenities. 

“We need to provide amenities to the (office) park,” said Andrew Roud, development director with St. John Properties who urged council to expand the uses of the land.

However, the city council's decision to move ahead was criticized by one councilman who said that the process so far has failed to include the public.

"To me it's troubling because we’ve had almost no public discussion on this. Much of what we’ve acted on has been through executive session or the exchange of emails. I’m troubled by that, I’m troubled because we are not being transparent and I will not support this motion," said Councilman  Dennis Brady (At-large), who was the lone dissenter on the vote allowing for the covenant amendment to be drafted.

The office campus located at Rt. 50 and Rt. 301 is currently home to hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space with about 90 acres of land unoccupied. But the occupancy rate for Melford is in the low 60 percent. It is the company’s hope that a new mixed-use development of residential and retail would stimulate the flex and office space rental on the property.

The restricting covenants on the land currently prohibit residential development, giving the city considerable say in how the property is developed.

In September, the council authorized its staff to begin discussions with St. John Properties about the Melford property’s future. At Monday’s council meeting, St. John Properties revealed the results of those discussions in a lengthy presentation and once again asked for an amendment to the covenants.

The concept plan that resulted from the developer's discussions with the city council staff calls for 2,500 units of housing that includes 500 units for seniors,  with parking on grade and underneath the building; an “office village concept” to complement the Melford house and about 200,000 square feet of retail. Before the project could be built, city and county approvals would be needed.

The housing is essential to successful retail in the proposed development, said Roud of St. John Properties, remarking that “retail is not coming without rooftops.”

Although residents raised concerns about the impact of the new housing units on traffic, schools and other infrastructure, the council decided to allow staff to draft an amendment to the covenants on the Melford property. 

Several residents were also concerned that the process thus far had not been transparent, a view shared by Brady.

As part of the proposed covenant amendment, Robert Antonetti, Jr., a lawyer for St. John Properties, said the company would give the city council full design approval. 

“We anticipate our design team working collaboratively with city staff,” Antonetti said. 

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bob clore January 09, 2013 at 11:43 AM
they better think about building another high school and middle school if they put in new homes
Barbara DeShong January 09, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Seriously, Bowie City Council, hasn't this issue been raised multiple times? There is still no planning or preparation for the effects of this development on the city of Bowie. Fire, police, schools - how are they to keep up? Aren't our public resources stretched pretty thin already? Aren't the middle schools overcrowded. Isn't Bowie High School overcrowded? Perhaps St John's would be willing to start their construction plans by building a new K-12 learning complex before building anything else? And a big 'Thank You' to Councilman Brady for actually caring about and supporting the best interests of the people of Bowie!
michael mcardle January 10, 2013 at 12:21 AM
Exactly correct, Barbara. Like a bad penny, the plan to abandon the Maryland Science and Technology Center concept featuring signature office buildings that would add to the tax base without further damaging the quality of life in and around Bowie turns up yet again. Mr. St. John took the property subject to the covenants; as such, he and his partners have suffered no loss of value associated with their investment. There is NO reason for the covenants to be materially changed or removed, but unless the citizens of Bowie arise in serious opposition to this latest effort, Mr. St. John's cynical attempt to surreptitiously push this through could actually succeed. My suggestion is to get as many council members and the mayor on record now, opposing a non-transparent process is commendable but not the leadership we need to successfully oppose this.
Ed Leyden January 11, 2013 at 09:40 PM
As a City resident of twenty-years tenure with a demonstrated long-term interest in matters of Economic Development here in Bowie and intimate familiarity with the evolution of the City's posture concerning the Melford center, I can, hopefully, add some clarity to these discussions by pointing out (strictly in my capacity as a private citizen and NOT as Chair Emeritus of the City's Economic Development Committee), the following: 1/ The essential purpose for the City's successful legal effort to protect the existing covenants was to retain for the Council the right to exercise a dispositive influence over land-use decisions at Melford, the sole unrealized opportunity within the City's physical limits for enhancing our commercial tax base; 2/ Far from representing a "surrender" of some sort, the position recently taken by Mayor Robinson and City Staff in successfully negotiating with St. John's Properties for a vision of Melford intended to bring the center to its full current potential as an employment center, instead, fulfills the Council's long-standing goal of having vital land-use decisions made right here in Bowie, rather than dictated from Upper Marlboro; 3/ It is understood by ALL involved that ANY residential component to Melford is justifiable NOT as an end in itself but rather, as a means for assuring the success of Melford as a vibrant commercial/employment center; and 4/ This process is but a necessary step toward securing full zoning power for Bowie.

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