Pr. George’s presents new option to allow most landslide victims to stay in homes


Cherie Cullen and her daughter Kayla, 2, attend a meeting to discuss options to save their home and the neighborhood of Piscataway Hills at Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington on Wednesday. (J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post)

Prince George’s County officials presented a plan late Wednesday that could save most of the homes in a Fort Washington neighborhood imperiled by a landslide, but the residents demanded a greater level of cooperation and inclusion in the decision-making process.

At a meeting at the Harmony Hall Regional Center, county officials said the new option would be a cost-effective way of fixing the sloping hillside. The plan would require Prince George’s to acquire the six homes most directly impacted.

Darrell Mobley, director of the county Department of Public Works and Transportation, said the proposal would cost about $15 million and involve driving structural beams known as H-piles into the ground on either side of the road.

Since a slope moved in early May, destabilizing a road and part of the neighborhood, affected residents of Piscataway Hills have sat through weeks of meetings with county officials about how, when, where and what they were going to do to help.

The newly formed Save Piscataway Hills residents group arrived at the meeting Wednesday night with renewed purpose and a set of demands that set a businesslike tone at meetings that in the past had meandered aimlessly.

Wearing white shirts and stickers bearing their logo, the Fort Washington residents are leveraging their neighborly unity and fellowship toward a cause for action.

They have formed committees, siphoned communication through a spokeswoman and regularly update their Facebook page with videos, testimonials and links that drive their message. To the tune of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday,” they’ve written their own lyrics.

Speaking for the group, homeowner Mike Kutzleb made three demands of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and his administration.

The residents want the road fixed and any construction plan to allow them to remain in their homes before, during and after the work.

They also requested a closed-door meeting with Baker’s senior staff to “establish a close working relationship.”

Baker, in response, asked his chief administrative officer, Nicholas A. Majett, to go into a corner and determine a meeting time in the next week with the residents’ communications director, Dawn Taylor. They came up with July 24.

The ideal scenario, organizers and officials say, is for the state to help Prince George’s find $22 million to completely reconstruct the unstable slope and save all the homes.

But with only $11 million to spare, officials would need the other half to come from the state. Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) told residents that officials are exploring funding options with the office of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). So far, nothing solid has materialized.

U.S. Air Force veterans Cherie and Myles Cullen own one of those homes that would be acquired by the county. At the meeting, officials outlined the process they might have to use to buy the home the family bought in 2008. Cherie Cullen has worked with her neighbors to organize, but she said, “We have to do what’s best for us and our families.”

The construction project would also repair Piscataway Drive for residents in the 22 remaining homes and the work would take about six months to complete, Mobley said. If the state provided $4 million to support the project, construction would probably begin in spring 2015.

The option “may not be a silver bullet,” said Baker spokesman Barry Hudson, but it’s a possible solution that could save a majority of the homes.

Meanwhile, Baker said Prince George’s is moving forward on the worst-case scenario: buying all 28 properties with the $11 million the county has dedicated to the problem.

The homes would eventually be destroyed — an unimaginable proposition for many residents.

Losing their homes would destroy the bonds, dreams and community that members of the close-knit neighborhood say is worth saving.

Arelis Hernández covers Prince George’s County as part of The Washington Post's local staff.
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