An amusement park, office buildings, high-rise apartments and town-houses are all part of a proposed 650-acre development in the historic and rural Church Road area, north of Upper Marlboro.
The Prince George's County planning board has approved county builder Albert Tunrer's basic plan for the development despite opposition to the proposal from the board's own staff and strong objections from the Maryland Historic Trust.
The board's action is the first step toward approval of a zoning change request that would allow Turner and his company MCD Enterprises, Inc., to build the 55-acre amusement park, a 240-acre employment park and an additional 63 acres of townhouses and high-rise apartments land presently zoned for single-family residential and agricultural uses. The remaining acreage allows for streambeds, easements and the like according to the rezoning request.
The figures Turner submitted to the planning board show the employment park as providing 4,800 jobs, the amusement park as offering an additional 900 summer jobs and the townhouses and apartments as housing more than 2,000 people.
While the total development is expected to the take more than 10 years to build, Turner's proposal indicated that the $10 million amusement park will be completed within two years of the project's approval.
Objections to the development are based upon its isolated and relatively inaccessable location.
Located south of Bowie and five miles east of the Capital Beltway, the development site is in the heart of an agricultural area, which Brice Clagett, chairman of the Maryland Historic Trust, says is one of the most historic in Maryland.
The development will destroy the "historic environments" of seven historic buildings and the "last rural green-belt in northern Prince George's County," according to Clagett.
In addition to threatening historic sites, the proposal's opponents note that the project's location leaves it without basic county services, such as roadways and sewers. A raid on the public treasury to provide those services is the direst threat posed by the development, say local professional planners.
Economist George Smith, of the county's program planning and economic development office, said it is too early to estimate the costs of sewers, firehouses, additional police and other county services the planning staff has said the project will require.
But, Smith assed, "it doesn't make much sense to cost-out sewers" when the county is faced with what may be the costliest item on the project's shopping list - the Inter-County Connector (also known as the Outer-Beltways).
Smith said that development of the Turner property, which straddles the connector's proposed alignment, will undoubtedly contribute to pressure for construction of the multi-million-dollar superhighway.
If completed, the connector is expected to affect the southeastern half of the county in the same way that the Capital Beltway changed the county's northwest. That prospect horrifies the preservationists, they say.
After Clagett finished pleading for preservation of the Church Road area at a recent hearing, planning board chairman W.C. Dutton dismissed Clagett's remarks by characterizing rural preservation as a "luxury the county cannot afford."
Clagett responded that the board's policy of unchecked urban and suburban sprawl is the luxury that the county can no longer afford.
Clagett argued that the development would cost the county a great deal less if it were located near a fairly built-up area, such as Laurel. None of the benefits listed by the development's supporters - chiefly, jobs and additional tax revenues - would be lost by locating the development elsewhere, Clagett said.
Economist Smith said, "Turner has other sites in more developed areas. Those would seem more appropriate for this type of development. Frankly, I don't see why the zoning is being approved at this time."
A planning board member who voted to approve Turner's plan, Commissioner john W. Churchill, said he agreed that "this is no the ideal site, but we (the planning board) have to deal with what comes before us. We cannot make people buy land and develop it wherever we want them to."
Of the seven historic sites threatened by the development, Bowieville has caused preservationists and planning board staffers the greatest concern.
Bowieville is an early 19th-century plantation home located almost in the center of the proposed development. The house is on the prestigious national Register of Historic Properties which lists properties deemed historically and/or architecturally significant to the nation.
Despite Turner's tentative agreement to contribute to the restoration of the now-vacant Bowieville, and to allow a 25-acre undeveloped easement around the property, preservationists are concerned. The house sits on a hill, a fact which makes the propped easement inadequate, preservationists say, because of substantial amount of the easement acreage is vertical and will not provide visual distance between the house and Turner's employment and amusement parks.
Similarly, the well-preserved 200-year-old St. Barnabus Church of Leeland, the county's first school, and four large 18th and early 19th-century homes will have their "historic environments" destroyed by urbanization of the area around the Turner development, according to local preservationists.
Clagett terms the whole proposal as "outrageous. I don't see how this Turner fellow gets away with it."
Turner is the builder and developer of the Prince George's subdivisions of Calverton, New Carrolton and Kettering. He also built, owns and operates the Sheraton Lanham Motor Inn.
The proposal is scheduled to come before the planning board again at the board's regular public meeting on Sept. 15. Only detailed land-use specifications will be considered at that meeting, as the board has already approved the basic plan.
After the board's approval of the zoning-change request is put in the form of a resolution, the request will be forwarded to the County Council. The Council has final authority on all zoning changes.