Prince George's, Md., Decision Allows More Development in Some Rural Areas

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

Despite the concerns of some residents about traffic and crowded schools, the Prince George's County Council on Wednesday night approved legislation to allow more development in some rural parts of the county.

The 6 to 3 vote followed a rally outside the county administration building during which residents -- holding signs that read "Accokeek Needs Schools Not A Shopping Center" and "Stop Zoning Madness" -- protested two major projects included in the legislation, known as the Subregion 5 Master Plan.

The residents oppose a developer's plans to construct a shopping center in Accokeek on property where houses on half-acre lots have been allowed and a proposal to rezone the Hyde Field airport in Clinton and replace it with 2,100 housing units and about 300,000 square feet of retail space.

The residents said the decision to allow a shopping center on 62 acres zoned rural residential in Accokeek and to allow a large housing development off a two-lane road in Clinton signals a major shift in the county's growth policy that will hurt the quality of life in the southern part of the county.

"This is not smart growth. It's dumb growth," Mel Franklin, a community activist, said during the rally.

He said the council should concentrate on developing land near Metro stations, instead of bringing additional traffic to already clogged roads and more students to crowded schools.

"They have not talked about a new fire station or a new police station, but they are talking about adding more homes," said Pat O'Neal, president of the Windbrook Area Citizens Association. "To me, that's ridiculous."

At least two community groups said they plan to appeal the vote taken by the council. They even threatened legal action.

Council members who supported the rezoning said the changes to the master plan should be looked at collectively, noting the approved proposals promote retail and commercial development.

"We are just a one-business county, and that's housing, and when that goes down it explodes," said council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville). "We have to begin looking at developing this county in such a way that makes sense."

Chip Reid, an attorney for Nabil Asterbadi, the owner and developer of Hyde Field, said the developer has tried to reach an understanding with residents and that many support the proposal.

"We agreed to go through the master plan process," he said, "and we had two planning board hearings."

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