Wilmer C. Dutton Jr. Dies; Chairman of Md. Planning Agencies

As a member of the Prince George's County Planning Board, Wilmer C.
As a member of the Prince George's County Planning Board, Wilmer C. "Bud" Dutton Jr. worked to acquire parkland. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wilmer C. "Bud" Dutton Jr., 88, a retired urban planner who served as chairman of the Prince George's County Planning Board and chairman of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, died Feb. 28 of complications from a stroke at Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Mitchellville, where he lived.

During his two four-year terms as chairman of the Prince George's Planning Board, he served -- in the words of a 1970 Washington Post article -- as "public relations man, promoter, drum beater and lightning rod for citizen reaction." He served as chairman from 1966 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1978 and as a board member from 1970 to 1974.

The planning boards of Prince George's and Montgomery counties make up the 10-member Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which was established in 1927 to oversee planning and zoning decisions and administer parks. The chairmanship of the commission rotates each year between the chairmen of the planning boards, so during his two terms as chairman of the Prince George's group, Mr. Dutton also served as chairman of the commission.

"County government was undergoing significant change at that time, and he was trying to bring a more professional approach to planning that had not existed before," said Royce Hanson, chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board and Mr. Dutton's former colleague on the commission.

As a Prince George's planning board member, Mr. Dutton helped create a formal public-participation process for the Prince George's Master Plan program. He also worked to acquire parkland and in 1970 brought the Prince George's Parks and Recreation program under the commission's oversight.

Prince George's "built a really first-rate parks and recreation system during his time on the board," Hanson said.

As planning board chairman, Mr. Dutton often found himself in the midst of controversy, as growth and development issues in both counties began to heat up.

A former board member who often disagreed with him told The Post in 1970 that he was "the hardest-working Prince George's County employee we have here today. I think he goes to every group's breakfast, lunch and dinner." Another colleague noted that "Dutton's policies are fully as bad as [his predecessor's], but he has carried them out with vigor." Others credited him with opening lines of communication with community groups and attracting young, talented planners to the planning board.

Wilmer Coffman Dutton Jr. was born in Ridgewood, N.J., and graduated in 1942 with a degree in government from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. During World War II, he served in the Army as an engineering officer and a paratrooper with the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime forerunner of the CIA. After the war, he studied city and regional planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He worked as a planner in Greensboro, N.C., Knoxville, Tenn., Chicago and Charleston, S.C., before becoming executive director of the American Institute of Planners in 1958. He served for two years as staff director of the National Capital Planning Commission, resigning in 1965 over policy differences with the chairman.

He retired in 1978 from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission but continued to consult with public and private clients in planning, urban development and land-use capability. He enjoyed his home on the Patuxent River, as well as gardening and travel. The Prince George's Chamber of Commerce named him one of its Prince Georgians of the year in 1989.

His marriage to Ann Pickells Dutton ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 51 years, Frances Wilson Zerbst Dutton of Mitchellville; a son from his first marriage, Christopher Dutton of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; three daughters from his second marriage, Sherri Earman of Rockville, Jan Landsberg of Frederick and Karen Burns of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and five grandsons.

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