The Prince George's Planning Board faced with heavy opposition from residents over its proposed Patuxent River scenic park, had made major concessions to affected landowners along the largely rural riverbanks.
The concessions include greatly reducing the amount of land that would be acquired from residents for the park, accepting the opponents' own proposal for smaller park "enclaves," and placing leading critics of the original plan on the Patuxent Park Citizens Advisory Committee."I would say it's a very definite strategic retreat and is based on the original premises of developing a plan with the (affected) people that they would accept," said W. C. Dutton Jr., chairman of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The 22,000-acre park would have involved the acquisition of nearly 7,000 acres outright from landowners and the additional acquisition of another 1,600 acres in scenic easements, most of which would have been used to construct a continous 55-mile hiking trail along the Prince George's County side of the river.
Park and planning and other public agencies already own 12,000 acres of land and 2,400 acres described as "surface waters."
At its executive session last Thursday, the planning board, admittedly reacting to public pressure, directed its staff to re-evaluate the 22,000-acre plan "to consider alternatives with a view toward protecting the rights of the landowners as well as preserving the river and its environs."
The staff was directed to "develop a plan which may well include substantial reduction in the acquisition of lands than present propose," and "to explore the feasibility of creating enclaves along the river (primarily) in areas that are (already) commission or other public ownership."
The staff will also analyze the potential traffic generated by the proposed recreational facilities and assess their overall environmental impact.
The planning board said its objectives include "the retention of maximum land in private ownership and the possible deletion of the full length trail system along the river, with provisions for hiking and biking traisl within enclave parks."
The Patuxent Park, in both its originally approved 1964 version and the expanded version proposed last fall, has stirred strong feelings among families whose roots go back several generations on the river.
The residents have opposed the plan because it would prevent them from passing on property many have held for generations to future generations while at the same time creating severe weekend overcrowding in an area that is now isolated from the metropolitan mainstream.
Park planners, on the other hand, have viewed the proposed park as a necessary scenic buffer between the growing urban areas of Baltimore and Washington and as needed recreation space for Prince George's 700,000 residents.
Dutton said the planning board intends to nominate to the Patuxent park citizens' advisory committee Diane McClary, of the Queen Anne section of the river near Mitchellville, and M. Dent Downing, of Nottingham, president of the Southern Patuxent Concerned Citizens' Association. The nominations must be acted upon by the Country Council.
Dutton, who has come to symbolize the park and planning commission among many of its detractors, characterized the board's actions as "major modifications" in response to the wishes of citizens.
"From my point view, the process is working," he said. "We are required by law to have a public hearing. We had it and learned people didn't like the plan so we're changing it. The safeguards are operating."
The five-member county planning board said Dutton, its only full-time paid member, "serves primarily as a clutch between the professional staff and the community. Our job is to soften things up, and here's a good case in point."
"I'm still very skeptical," said McClary. "When it actually happens, then I'll believe in . . . I think what it is meant to accomplish is to shut us up and get us off their back. If they give us what we want, we'll get off their back."
From the viewpoint of conservationists, Dutton said, the larger park was "a good idea, but it didn't work. I was assured (by the staff) that the people in the area would like it. I found out that they didn't, that it was an unsatisfactory proposal."