WMATA is breaking new ground with its New Carrollton Metro station area development plans by doing its own planning, in concert with MDOT and the developer. If successful, this would become a model for future joint development projects.

When WMATA does a joint development project, it’s not as easy as just selling a piece of land for someone to develop. Joint development projects usually happen around Metro stations, where there will continue to be considerable Metro operations.

A lot of buses may stop at the station, and Metro may want some bus bays. There might need to still be parking for riders, though that parking could become shared between commercial and Metro where commuters park during the day and shoppers park at night or on weekends. Pedestrians and cyclists need good ways to reach the station. At New Carrollton, planners also need to design in the Purple Line terminus.

Therefore, WMATA needs to be deeply involved, and a good plan can be much better for riders than a bad one. Traditionally, though, WMATA simply signs up with a developer who actually designs the project, subject to comments and approval by WMATA and the local land use process.

The developer ends up discounting their bid to reflect the uncertainty about what WMATA and local jurisdictions will allow, or what constraints the site will have.

At New Carrollton, instead, WMATA wants to pioneer a “pre-development planning” phase. Instead of the developer working out a bid, getting approved, then starting to plan, WMATA will select a developer and undertake this planning process to inform the final negotiations.

The developer would pay for a community charrette and collaborative process where WMATA’s planners are involved throughout. MDOT is also providing $350,000 of consultant resources for the planning in addition to the developer’s. Both WMATA and the developer will then have a better idea of exactly what they can build, what it will cost, and what it’s worth, to better inform the final price for the land. The developer will get their planning expenditure credited back when they actually pay for the land.

This might all sound like a lot of inside baseball to riders, but planning is a very important important component of a TOD plan. Once something is built, that’s it for a long, long time. This process should ultimately create better development around Metro stations for riders of all modes, and the Board ought to approve trying out the idea for New Carrollton at its meeting tomorrow.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.