A big semi rumbles down Columbia Park Road, shaking the ground, its roar sweeping over the placid fairway, shattering the calm of a golfer's concentration. It continues on, from its original dock in a Safeway warehouse up the road, and slams into the little streets of Kentland on its way to the George Palmer Highway.
Its presence, and that of a hundred more like it each day, have angered the members and patrons of the Prince George's Country Club and the residents in the nearby neighborhoods of Landover. The continued expansion of warehouses and increased traffic, the noise, the fumes, the potential danger to children, have moved each group to look for some solutions.
For a majority of stockholders in the P.G.C.C., the solution is to move to another location - to sell off their 153 acres and find another "golfer's" country club somewhere in the country.
For the citizens of Kentland, Palmer Park and Cheverly, it means persuading the county to buy all or much of the country club property and turn it into parks for their children.
Representatives from the County's executive and legislative branches say they would like to see the P.G.C.C. move to and enhance another part of the county by creating a climate for new developments of luxury housing. Both changes would reflect the "new quality" image Prince George's wants for its citizens.
Recently, the county bought 218 acres near Mitchellville to induce country club development in the area. An exchange of property between the county and the P.G.C.C. would have achieved both goals, officials said.
It sounded so easy. But after seven years of negotiations, nothing has been settled. The future of the area finally will rest on a rezoning decision on the country club property. And the decision, which the council is required to make by Oct. 25, has pitted politically influential members of the county club against the highly vocal voters of the area.
With the election next year, council members who support the park are likely to win support from local citizens. But the role of some of the members of the country club - many of whom are longtime financial backers of the county's Democratic ticket - is not so clear, especially because they believe a zoning change in favor of the neighborhood could reduce substantially the value of the country club property in any land sale.
In 1942, a small group of businessmen bought the 21 year-old Beaver Dam Creek golf course and started the Prince George's Country Club. Designed by architect Donald Ross, the club, which currently has 350 members, held several national tournaments during the late '40s and was considered one of the best courses in the area. But as club manager Jim Seeley said recently, the area "was ultimately too accessible to industry, especially by the railroad. It was doomed when industry and warehouses moved to the area during the '50s."
Soon a large stand of trees was cut down for a Safeway warehouse off the ninth fairway. Off to the other side, multi-family housing and small single family dwellings popped up, and children, eager for green space in the crowded urban area, would occasionally wander into the area.
"The country club became wedged in," said Seeley, "and it can't survive in this atmosphere." The club started loosing members to Montgomery County Clubs and the stockholders started looking around for a new home.
Meanwhile, the county, working on a general plan for growth, saw that there was only one exclusive, member-owned country club in Prince Georges, the P.G.C.C. County officials, generally concerned with the "second-class image" of the county, saw the lack of these kinds of country clubs as a reflection of its "blue-collar" image.
"It was too much a symbol of what the county was," said Paul Zanecki general counsel and zoning attorney for the club. "There was no country club development and the higher incomes that kind of development brings in."
The county also knew that it needed a park in the Inner Beltway area. Residents of the large number of multi-family apartments and small single family homes had been complaining for years that they had been paying a park tax to no avail.
So the county began negotiating for the country club land which would offer not only parkland but a club house, swimming pool and tennis courts for the neighborhood. In 1971, it offered the P.G. country club an option to buy the county-owned White Farm, a large rolling tract of land off Enterprise Road in exchange for its property. But the club didn't think the land "was in the same caliber for a golf course" as their own property and the negotiations ended. In 1976 the the county tried again and both groups agreed on a site for a golf course and future country club development, the Shatenstein Farm, at Woodmoor and Enterprise Roads near Mitchellville, and a price the county would pay for the P.G. country club land, $3.5 million.
Under the agreement, the country club membership would move to the Shatenstein property, set up shop and hopefully attract buyers for expensive two-acre estates to be developed around the country club. It would "give Prince George's the Potomac, the Middleburg, it has needed," according to John Lally, aide to County Executive Winfield M. Kelly.
But a tight budget crunch and reduced revenues created by a revocation of the county's use of the telephone tax, stopped the idea in its tracks. "Considering the budget crunch, and considering the amount of money involved, we wouldn't see doing it (the purchase). We couldn't authorize it," said Lally.
The county did go ahead and purchase the Shatenstein property, however, for $460,000. In approving the purchase, the county council stipulated that the county must sell off the property within six months. The Maryland National Park and Planning Commission is now negotiating with Golf America of California to buy and develop the property.
"Our aim is to get a developer in the area to build a country club and to develop manor type houses," said Warren Kershaw, negotiator for the MNPPC, "and to provide an environment for executive-types."
The land around the Shatenstein property would be called Enterprise Estates by the county. Now a heavily wooded tract intersperced with cattle grazing land and corn fields, the area is one of the prettiest in Prince George's. And, because it is relatively undeveloped but centrally located, according to MNCCP planners, it offers the county a good chance to see it's dream of "new quality."
The P.G.C.C. is also negotiating with Golf America for use of a new country club should Golf buy the property from the county. They "can offer the membership that a country club needs to get off its feet," said Seeley. "But if they couldn't build something to rival the best of Montgomery County, we wouldn't go. It has to be designed as a country club first and a housing community second."
But the P.G.C.C. can't move unless it can sell its own land first. Hence the importance of the zoning decision. Currently the land is zoned R-55, which is one-family detached residential, and rural residential. The rezoning proposal supported by the P.G.C.C. would rezone the land around the country club as R-55 or open space, allowing a park, with the rest rezoned light industrial or planned industrial park. The proposal supported by the community would be R-55 for the southern half of the property and open space for the northern half.
Zanecki said the country club could probably not find a buyer for the land if it were zoned anything but industrial. County planners, and area residents, think otherwise. Recently the county council heard testimony at a public hearing on the rezoning question. Speaker after speaker spoke against industrial zoning. "It would add more heavy truck traffic for our area," said Del. Francis Santangelo (D-Md.), an area resident. "We want a park there."
Sources say the council probably would vote for the residential zoning for the area. "Any more industrial would be unacceptable to the citizens group," said one. "It is marketable as residential."
But a zoning change that would severely alter the sale price of the property could prompt a court suit against the county by the P.G.C.C., bringing the whole question again to a stand still.
Seeley said the P.G.C.C. would like to see the county buy the property. "We want them to have their park. But we don't think we ought to fund it (through a down zoning of the club's property."
"We are committed to getting a park there," said Lally.