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Prince George's council to consider controversial bills as several members prepare to leave office

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 12:13 AM

Prince George's County Council members are planning to vote on several controversial bills just before many of the members leave office in December because of term limits.

The measures would offer tax breaks to developers, implement new stormwater management regulations, make bond financing contingent on minority business participation and give pay raises to nonunionized employees.

The council is to consider the bills during a marathon session Tuesday.

"This is probably the longest physical agenda that I've seen," said Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel), who is leaving.

Two other bills that have created a stir would alter zoning on properties in Fort Washington and Bowie.

Council member Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) has introduced legislation that would allow developer William Chesley of the Fort Washington Acres Partnership to build up to 360 townhouses or condominiums and commercial buildings on vacant land zoned for 72 single-family homes.

"He basically wants a blank check to sell what he can sell without [officials and residents] knowing what that is," William Cavitt, vice president of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, said of Chesley.

Knotts, who is leaving office, did not return calls or an e-mail seeking comment.

Chesley has said he wants to build retail and office space that would draw doctors from Fort Washington Medical Center as customers. If the property is rezoned, Chesley said he will give four acres to the medical center for expansion.

"We thought it was a good idea to work with the hospital to expand and increase the density to pay for roads there," Cavitt said. "If the hospital doesn't come forward and say we need this thing . . . then I'll say, 'Fine, thank you all for your time.'"

In Bowie, developer Ken Michael and the Lansdowne Development Group want to build a residential development known as Karington.

The current plan calls for 170 single-family homes, 275 townhouses, and 850 apartments and condominiums. The legislation would allow the developer to replace the apartments with townhouses, but the developer said it is unclear how many townhouses would be built.

Council member Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie), who introduced the legislation, said the bill has the support of the Karington Advisory Committee. Still, several residents said they think the measure was written to benefit a specific developer.

Turner, who is running for reelection, said the legislation does not increase the density of the project and could reduce the number of residential units.

The council will consider three bills that deal with special taxing districts and the issuance of county bonds totaling $37.6 million. County officials say creating special taxing districts and using tax increment funds, known as TIFs, are a way to stimulate development.

Council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), who introduced a bill to pay for the county to finance the construction and acquisition of public infrastructure at Kingdom Square in Capitol Heights, said he wants to revitalize the county's older communities.

The Sanctuary at Kingdom Square has submitted plans to build a mixed-use development on its property on Central Avenue that would consist of residential units, commercial space, parking and a hotel.

"One of the things that we are trying to do is ensure the development in the established communities, and the Sanctuary falls in that area," said Dean, who is also leaving the council.

Dean has introduced a measure that would require developers who seek bond financing to provide a minority business 5 percent in equity of the total amount of the TIFs it receives.

Petrie-Ross Ventures, the developer of the Woodmore Towne Centre at Glenarden, has asked the county to issue $17 million in bonds for infrastructure costs at the 245-acre site.

Woodmore Towne Centre, which held its grand opening Friday, will eventually consist of 800,000 square feet of retail space, 1 million square feet of office space, two hotels and 1,100 residential units. The bill was introduced by council member Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale), who declined to comment before Tuesday's session. She is running for reelection.

Under a bill submitted by Marilynn M. Bland (D-Clinton), the council will also decide whether the county should finance the construction and acquisition of public infrastructure at Brandywine Crossing, a 480,000-square-foot shopping center off Route 301.

Bland, who also leaves the board in December, did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment.

The building community is in an uproar over a bill introduced by Dernoga that would put Prince George's stormwater management regulations on par with Montgomery County's. Builders say the legislation could halt development.

Dernoga said it has the support of municipal leaders. "It's good enough for Montgomery County, but not good enough for Prince George's?" he asked. The developers "live in Montgomery County, but they want less quality development in Prince George's."

The council, which last week left intact a measure that would allow council members' pay to increase late next year, will also take up a bill that would raise nonunionized employees' pay by 2 percent starting in January. That bill was proposed by County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who leaves office in December. If approved, it would cost the county about $2.4 million a year at a time when county employees and teachers have endured layoffs and furloughs and revenue is flat.

Staff writer Miranda S. Spivack contributed to this report.

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