East County doesn't have a boulevard of broken dreams, but it's seen more than a few big ideas fall flat on their faces. The latest and perhaps most elusive big idea has been LifeSci Village, a new community of offices and research facilities, homes and shops in Calverton.
Here, it was said, East County would eat in fancy restaurants and shop in expensive boutiques not seen this side of Montgomery Mall. If you worked at the new Food and Drug Administration campus, you could even walk to work. But in five years of talk about LifeSci Village, very little has surfaced about the project aside from a handful of stories in the Washington Post.
And that's why a month ago I came to Percontee's conference room, located deep within an office park on Tech Road, to find out more about this project that could change the face of East County. In the corner sits a pile of display boards bearing watercolor paintings. They're the only renderings that exist of LifeSci Village, a proposed research park-turned-downtown just a few minutes away. But despite broad community support, the project's still years from being a reality.
You might not have even noticed the empty stretch of Cherry Hill Road across from the Riderwood Village retirement community where LifeSci Village will eventually rise, the name of its developer spelled out in rocks. "It's an old sand and gravel property," says Jonathan Genn, executive vice president of Percontee. He's here with deputy general counsel Ayana Lambert to tell me about the biggest undertaking in the company's history which, for now, is a concrete recycling plant.
"This is part of the business Percontee has been doing for several decades," he explains. Old concrete, say from a building about to be knocked down, is ground up and re-used. And soon, he hopes, the entire property will get recycled into something new.
"Where we see development in the 21st century going," Genn says, "is for people to work in this life sciences cluster and walk or bike or take the electric car to work." There are 9,000 people coming to work at the Food and Drug Administration, an additional 3,000 employees at the future Washington Adventist Hospital on Plum Orchard Drive, and 2,000 more at the East County Center for Science and Technology, a proposed business incubator at the end of Industrial Parkway.
Potentially, that means a lot of cars. "The more mix of uses - including residences - on here, the fewer trips people have to take to work," says Genn. "When gas gets up to four, five dollars a gallon, all that will be driving people to walk to work."
"It's an asset to get skilled medical professionals coming here," he says. "We see this as the most ideal win-win-win-win-win opportunity because each of the major institutions that would be served. The FDA sees this as a tool to recruit the best scientists to come here. Here are the amenities you have for when you're not at work."
Next week, we'll talk more about the project's specifics - and what the community thinks about it - along with have a detailed look at Belcrest Plaza, an ambitious new proposal for Hyattsville.