Over protests that it will be using public funds to help a private enterprise, the Prince George's County Council this week agreed to buy a $460,000, 213-acre tract near Bowie and then resell it to a group that will build an exclusive country club.
The idea is that a new private country club will encourage high-income single-family development along Enterprise Road, attracting the kind of executives and businessmen who now generally live in Montgomery County. The design is to make the eastern area of Bowie into "the Potomac of Prince George's County," said Warren Kershow, land acquisition director of Maryland National Capital Park and Planning commission.
While all 13 council members agreed that the objective was admirable, several questioned the legality and propriety of the county using public land acquisition money to help out a private developer. Several suggested the county may end up stuck with land it doesn't want and can't get rid of.
The land is located northeast of the intersection of Enterprise and Woodmore Roads in an area planned for rural-style suburban development. Officials from county Executive Winfield Kelly's office said the county needed to buy the land to insure that a country club that will attract desirable new residents is built.
The county acquired an option on the land last year when it was considering buying the tract and then swapping it for the current Prince George's Country Club on Route 202. Negotiations with county club fell through this summer, but Kelly decided to go ahead with the purchase and then sell to a developer. Two groups have indicated an interest in buying the land and building a country club there.
Kershow said the $1.5 million country club would be tailored for executives and the kind of high-income residents the county hopes to attract to the area. The club would develop a 36-hole championship golf course, and present a different atmosphere than the public golf course farther north on Enterprises Road.
He said the developer would create "a country club atmosphere where businessmen and executives would be accustomed to meet and transact business in Prince George's Country rather than go as they do now to Montgomery County, Congressional and other places."
Council member Samuel Bogley worried that such an exclusive country club might discriminate and thus not deserve public help, but no other council member raised that issue.
Council member Francis B. Francois said that the project would violate the purpose of the county's advance land acquisition fund, which is designed to buy sites for hospitals, schools, parks and roads. he said the country club project was converting this "into a general economic development purpose."
"If we're going to do this, we ought to create a special development fund . . . We ought to do it openly, forthrightly," Francois said.
He warned that the county will be faced with "other schemes" in which private entrepreneurs propose making the county "partners in the development of an auto agency" for example. "How we'll deal with that, I'll watch with fascination," he said.
Officials supporting the plan said it was legal and needed, adding that the county's low price for the land will make an otherwise uneconomical country club feasible. One proponent flatly said the benefits of the project outweighed his legal qualms.
"We have waited a long time and it (the country club) hasn't happened on its own," council chairman William B. Amonett said. "We have to be a little bold at times and seize the opportunity when it's there."
The county paid $20,000 for the option on the land, which is owned by the Shatenstein estate. Appraisals done last year valued the property at approximately $550,000, or 90,000 more than the county will pay.
John McDonough, legislative assistant to Kelley, said two groups were interested in buying the land and developing it as an exclusive country club. One is the Gold America Corp. of California, which would have constructed the golf course for the Prince George's Country Club had the original land sale gone through. The other group is composed of members of the Prince George's Country Club who have not yet formally organized, but who want a new country club.
McDonough said the county will negotiate with both groups, and it will insert restrictive covenants into a sales contract to insure that the country club is built the way the county wants it. If the county can't make an acceptable sale, he said, it will put the land up for sale on the open market. By its action Tuesday, the council limited negotiations for a country club to six months.
After the sale of the property, how ever, the county will more than likely have to hold the mortgage for the buyer, McDonough said. The unavailability of land acquisition loans is one of the main reasons a private developer could not handle the project on his own, he added.
Several council members were wary of the county's involvement in financing the land sale with public money, and the council reserved to itself the final okay on the terms of the sale and financing.
The plan also is contigent on the opinion of the county law department that the "process and objectives" the county is using are proper. The option does not expire until noon today, so technically the whole plan could be scrapped if the county attorney found it illegal.
But in a brief opinion given this week assistant county attorney Barbara Holtz approved the plan, saying that if the country club is found to be in the public interest because it helped economic growth of the county, the use of the funds would probably survice a court challenge.
In other action, the council heard objections to proposed change in the industrial park zoning classification. Council member David G. Hartlove's proposal was criticized by William W. Beckett, representing the Hig Corp., who said it unduly restricted warehouses.
Hartlove's bill would allow golf courses, libraries, museums, courts for tennis or requet ball, radio and television stations and banks in the industrial zone, but it would restrict the amount of warehouse space and impose setback and beautification requirements.
Beckett argued that the bill would discourage industry bu increasing the cost of industrial development and putting a lid on warehouses, which are the prime use of industrial property in the county.
In another development, several citizens debated a proposed ordinance that would require annual licensing of cat with a $5 yearly fee.
John Hayes, an Upper Marlboro veterinarian, offered the strongest and most colorful opposition when he declared that the council had exhausted all other forms of taxation and "Now we've got down to pussycats.
Another opponent, Mildred Kriemelmeyer, said simply, "You can license ducks, you can license all of it, but it will not solve your problems."
"I can tell you," Kriemelmeyer added, "that if I had any cats - which I will not admit - I would not license them,"
Casula replied that the current pet licensing ordinance discriminates against dogs by licensing them only. "What's the difference between licensing a dog and licensinga cat? Should we discriminate?" he asked.