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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