There are at least two ways of looking at the New Carrollton annexation struggle.
It may be seen as a shrewd land grab designed to improve the finances of the small suburban city by putting the rapidly developing commercial area alongside the New Carrollton Metro stop within easy reach of the municipal tax collector.
Or it may be viewed as a boon tothe residents of two small suburban neighborhoods who get lower effective taxes, but a larger voice about the shape of development around their homes.
Whatever, it is, a handful of voters in West Lanham and West Lanham Hills will decideTuesday whether they want to wrap New Carrollton's city limits around their neighborhoods and the nearby office building boom that followed the opening of Metro.
At stake is a 263-acre triangle bordered by the Beltway, Rte. 50 and Metroand Amtrak tracks, where approximately 410,000 square feet of commercial space has been built in the past few years. Another 60,000 square feet now is under construction by the Digital Equipment Corporation which is already building a second facility.
Incorporating the triangle in New Carrollton's city limits would add a quarter to the area of the city,increase the population by about 10 percent and bring in new taxes equal to approximately 12 percent of the city's budget.
"We're opposed to it," said Paul Weinberg, president of Landmark Associates of Philadelphia. Tenants will be moving into Landmark's 100,000-square-foot Metroplex building almost at the same time Weinberg's suburban neighbors are heading to the polls.
"We don't think we're getting any benefit from it and we get considerable cost," he said.
Generally, the people who built and occupy the office buildings involved oppose the annexation, although some firms have stayed neutral. From that side have come warnings that the annexation may slow development. On the other side are the cityand the residents of West Lanham and West Lanham Hills, of whom 72 percent signed petitions favoring annexation, according to New Carrollton city administrative officer John Brunner.
The initiative for annexation came from the city, notfrom the residents who may begin to call New Carrollton home after Tuesday's vote. In March 1978 city leaders began tomeet with leaders of citizens' groups in the affected area and later authorized a survey of the area. After the meetings, citizens began circulating petitions requesting the annexation -- a necessary step before the advisory referendum could be held.
The City Council authorized an advisory referendum in August 1978, and commercial property owners soughtto block the annexation process in court.
Initial development of the area, known generally as "Metro East" was begunby the Shell Oil Co., which acquired the property and put in curbs, gutters and other infrastructure. 'We have taken the position that we'd rather not be annexed, but we're not going to fight it," said Lloyd Stinson, manager of land investments for the Northeast for Shell.
Shell sold the land in parcels to be developed by organizations including Landmark and Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
The union was able to fill its building completely with tenants within six months without even using a real estate agent, an indication of the attractiveness of the area.
"When we contracted for our property, we were aware of the Prince George's County and Maryland state taxes, and knew that the police and fire protection and road maintenance would be as satisfactory as they are in the area of the county (where the union was previously located,)" union president Thomas McNutt wrote in a 1978 letter opposing annexation.
"It's been an issue that has raised a cloud over the area," said Henry Cord of Metro's real estate development office. Metro has taken no position on the annexation, nor has Prince George's County executive Lawrence Hogan. "Ithink when the area was developed, the developers didn't anticipate that extra level of taxation," said Cord.
Majorcommercial property owners do not seem to stand to gain much through the annexation except higher taxes, although Brunner said they will gain extra police protection. The city contracts with the county for 80 additional hours of police protection a week on top of what the county regularly provides.
But Brunner draws a glowing picture of the benefits to those who fill the residential pockets in the triangle. "Currently they are charged an $.83.39 flat fee for refuse collection by Prince George's County and that fee is going up to$98.64 July 1," said Brunner.
By contract, based on the average assessment, homeowners will pay $65.67 in taxes and receive refuse collection and other services from New Carrollton, he said.
"Our tax rate of 36 cents compares to the county which is close to $4 per $100 of assessed value," Brunner said. "It's the lowest municipal tax rate in the county and one of the lowest in the state, and we've had the sametax rate for the past 10 years.
"One of the concerns of the residents has been the matter of protection of residential areas from commercial intrusion and control over the development that is occurring in the surrounding area," Brunner said. Annexation would give the residents "a greater influence in the destiny of their community," he said.
If the petitions are any indication of popular sentiment, annexationshould sail through in Tuesday's vote. After a 14-day waiting period, the area then would be absorbed. Weinberg said that "there are some indications that the residents are beginning to wonder if they are pawns in the whole issue" and that the outcome may not be a foregone conclusion.
Whateverthe vote, "it appears to be a court-headed thing," said oneobserver.