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HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY SPRINGHILL LAKE, GREENBELT, MD - page 3 / 20

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HABS NO. MD-1216 Page 4

I. Introduction

Springhill Lake is a large garden apartment development with integrated community services on the northeastern edge of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. It is part of the city of Greenbelt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a community originally developed from 1935 to 1937 by the federal government as a means of combating urban poverty and relieving unemployment during the Depression. Part of a transitional period in the development of Greenbelt, Springhill Lake is the product of a combination of development pressures from the growth of the national capital region; post-war forms of suburbanization; and community involvement in planning issues.

The southwest edge of Greenbelt lies approximately five miles from the northeast border of the District of Columbia. As the activities of the nation’s capital began moving into suburban Virginia and Maryland in the middle of the twentieth century, residential and commercial developments moved closer to the suburban enclave. The federal government heavily influenced this process by building the Capital Beltway around the District in the 1960s, which both facilitated the movement of residents and workers around the capital city and promoted additional development near and beyond the Beltway.

After the federal government’s sale of Greenbelt in 1952, the city faced the same state and local regulations and hierarchy of authorities as other Maryland cities. Thus, Prince George’s County became the planning and zoning authority for Greenbelt. City residents, city government, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC), and the county commission then began a multilateral debate on the future development of Greenbelt. This community negotiation lasted for more than twenty years and shaped the post-war expansion of Greenbelt as private developers built residential neighborhoods, shopping centers, and office parks on formerly open space within Greenbelt. Residents of the city fought to maintain the planned principles of their community and participated in vigorous debates with the MNCPPC and the Prince George’s County Commission.

Anticipating growth beyond the District of Columbia borders, Edward Perkins, a member of a partnership of suburban Maryland developers, purchased a large tract of undeveloped land west of the original federal Resettlement Administration (RA) section of Greenbelt. The partners of Community Builders, Inc., were individual metro Washington builders who formed a firm to collaborate on large-scale suburban developments.2 Community Builders sought a zoning change for the tract from the 1957 Prince George’s County plan. The original zoning had called for industrial development and the builders sought multi-family housing. While the process was contentious, the county approved the change in early 1959; planning and design commenced for a 300-acre, 5000-unit garden apartment complex. 3

A noted DC-area architectural firm, Cohen Haft & Associates, and a local landscape architecture firm, T. D. Donovan and Associates, collaborated on the design of the Springhill Lake development. The master plan, devised by Cohen Haft, included ten developed sections and integrated commercial, retail, educational, and recreational features into the relatively dense

2 3

John B. Willmann. “4 Builders Carry the Ball.” Washington Post. 24 June 1961: B14 _____ “County Board Rezones Lots At Greenbelt.” Washington Post and Times Herald. 19 Feb 1959: 28.

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