There were no zoning attorneys at the meeting, no developers waiting to turn a piece of land into a gold mine. Instead, the Prince George's County Council heard the citizens of older neighborhoods appeal for funds for the basics - for streets, sidwalks, new housing and medical care.
"We are not requesting champagne and caviar," said Linda Ross of Rogers Heights. "We just want the bread and butter for our homes and neighborhoods."
Several hundred people agreed with her, as 30 of their spokesmen commented at the Publick Playhouse in Cheverly last week on the county's proposals for spending federal neighborhood improvement money. They were eager to divid the $5.9 million pie the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has offered Prince George's through the Community Development Block Grant program.
It was the beginning of a step-by-step process that goes on in communities throughout the country as politicians try to sort out the enormous and competing demands for federal dollars.
From the past three years of experience with the program, the group had learned that their communities could rebuild roads and sidewalks, construct new storm sewers, and help families rehabilitate their homes with money from the Neighborhood Improvement Program (NIP).
This year the residents - highly organized with number of speakers on each topic and slide shows highlighting various problems of decay and blight - wanted money for the senior health care center in Mount Rainier. They wanted more zoning enforcement officers for housing code violations. And they wanted funds for rehabilitation and public works projects in the communities of Bladensburg. Rogers Heights, Mount Rainier, Seat Pleasant, Cheverly and Edmonston.
At the public hearing, the council provided a breakdown of each application and the programs that preliminary studies indicated would be most useful in the county. But, as is usual in funding competing projects, each group thought its program needed more money than allocated.
The Betterment for United Seniors brought a bus load of senior citizens to the heater to support a request for more money for the senior health care center project. The county health department allocated $100,000 and County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. recommended an additional $11,000. But the seniors wanted full funding - $137,000.
The seniors contend that the center, which offers blood pressure and glaucoma testing, special diet information and physician visits at little or no charge, will have to close on Saturdays unless $37,000 is added to their allocation.
"I have no other doctor other than the health center," said Lillian Evans. "This is a sterling example of preventive care."
"We can't stress enough the importance of Saturday service," said Ann Palmer of North Brentwood. "Many senior citizens work during the week in foster grandparents programs, they baby-sit for their children or want their working children to accompany them to the center-Saturday has the highest patient attendance record."
Several other speakers, present to testify about their projects, also supported the senior health care center. But it was obvious that for some, their own programs come first.
"Two of my children were struck by automobiles as they were walking along 56th Avenue," said Barbara Spittle of Rogers Heights. "We asked the county and state 10 years ago for sidewalks and street signs. We got a stop sign but we still do not have sidewalks in Rogers Heights.
"I am interested in helping others in the community, but our children might not live to be seniors," she said in reference to the health care center request. "We don't want some child or senior to be killed having to walk on our streets."
The deteriorated conditions in some areas of Mount Rainier and Seat Pleasant were also used as examples of how funds could be used to reverse a downward trend.
"Mount Rainier is giving such a tacky impression of our business district," said Mary Martinez. "The only people who would stop there would be (to buy) liquor or loans. Many of us who have come here with high expectations are worried. We need help before we become the gateway to slums in Prince George's County."
more than 50 residents of Seat Pleasant rose to support their city's elected representatives at the meeting. Barbara Eaton, president of the Pleasant Valley Civic Association, told the council, "We are fighting hard to keep our area from becoming a ghetto. If our streets, houses and businesses are deteriorating, it becomes a blight. Please give us additional money."
Members of the teaching staff of Mandat, a business training night school pleaded for any money at all. Under the terms of the neighborhood improvement grant, they are not eligible for assistance next year.
"I am teaching a parent at night and teaching his child during the day," said John J. Williams. "They can both work together, to get a foothold in the community."
Daniel Spencer, director of MANDAT, requested funding for one year until MANDAT could find other grant money. "This is for disadvantaged but highly motivated adults who want training and it has been successful," he said.
The decision to re-fund MANDAT - and to add money to other programs in the budget - will be made in council work sessions this week as will several proposals for the rural areas of Accokeek, Eagle Harbor, Aquasco and Brandywine, discussed at a public hearing earlier last week.
For residents of the poorer areas in Prince George's, funding for the projects will determine whether a city may overcome urban decay, whether a bus can take rural poor to economic centers, whether a senior citizen receives health care.
The Rev. Aldo Petrini of St. John the Baptist de la Salle Church told the group how important he thought funding of the senior center was: "Tonight I'm really begging. This health center has really served our community. What may seem like a drop in the bucket to you is that necessary (to us)."