Friday, November 6, 2009

percontee: trying to feed the FDA

LifeSci Village Center
part TWO of a series about new development proposals in Calverton and Hyattsville by Percontee.

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.

The Food and Drug Administration campus in White Oak under construction. Photo courtesy of Evan Glass.

"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.

1 comment:

Thomas Hardman said...

> Dan's original article
> quotes, in part:
> 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."

Once again we have people failing to look into the future as an evolving thing... a sort of conceptual death-knell for a Planner.

Once you get your mind locked into the mindset that only one variable at a time can change -- I've been guilty of it, myself -- you fail to see how other things can chance.

Note, if you will, that despite the advent of $4.00/gallon gasoline being the trigger that put enough people out of work to default on enough mortgages to stagnate and then decline housing prices, precipitating the global economic calamity call "the Great Recession", the advent of $4.00/gallon gasoline also launched a Green Revolution in transportation... or maybe you could better say it gave that Revolution a push down the road.

That the Green Revolution got stalled -- due to the fact that the cash-rich corporations are sitting on their money rather than lending it to new industry in the Green sectors -- doesn't mean that the second that money becomes available, that development along Green lines will not take off.

For example, the Pickens Plan is still there. If I ever buy a new car, it will run on Natural Gas among other fuels, but those other fuels will be emergency stopgaps. We have immense North American reserves of natural gas. If foreign oil becomes too expensive to burn for transportation, I'll burn something else. How about a new Honda with an efficient gas-turbine driving the Hybrid power-plant's electrical co-generation system? Seems reasonable to me... and I can still drive everywhere I want to go... just not with expensive gasoline.

Look at how effective the Cash for Clunkers program was. That shows that people wanted to trade up to more efficient models. They will continue to do so.

What this means is that you cannot discount the driver.

This does not mean, either, that we shouldn't make communities "walkable".

Just don't try to design the car out of the equation, even if the "car" is a 4-wheel SegWay that runs on methanol, natural gas, ethanol, propane, and/or gasoline.

The car is evolving... and probably it can evolve faster than cities can.

So, Dan, when will you write a critique of my plans for the 263,000 square feet of commercial space -- with very ample parking and about 6 bus-routes already running by -- at 4115 Aspen Hill Road? In April 2010 BAE Systems will move out of the last remnant of the old Vitro campus.

How should we develop that to maximize Aspen Hill's 6400 single-family detached dwellings and a comparable number of high-density condos, townhomes, and apartments? Lee Development Group has been getting big favors from the County and the County has been getting big favors from LDG.

400 jobs -- and all of the businesses they support -- are about to leave "downtown Aspen Hill".

260,000 square feet of commercial office space -- the largest single vacant usable block of such in Montgomery County -- is about to hit a grossly oversaturated market.

The faster we populate the place after the current tenants vacate, the more we prop up the commercial real-estate market. And the faster we save jobs catering to that facility's lunch hour.

Ideas, please. Comments, please.

Or is there already a Stealth Deal in the works? And why isn't Adam Pagnucco all over this like a cheap suit on a used-car salesman?

Big money and potentially big politics are blowing in the wind... and I'd really like to have something shiny and walkable in the heart of Aspen Hill.

Wouldn't you?