Amid pleas from Southern Prince George's County residents to "listen to the majority of people here and not to big business and developers," the County Council has once again taken up the question of Mattawoman, a proposed new town.
As part of a zoning resolution for the Brandywine, Mattawoman and Cedarville areas that the council expects to approve by Aug. 8, the council must decide whether to allow an urban mix of residential, commerical and industrial uses that would result in creating a new town just south of the Rte. 301-Rte. 5 intersection.
Last year the council approved zoning for the Mattawoman Mall, to be developed within two years by J.C. Penney Co. and Montgomery Ward. The mall, combined with the proposed residential and commerical development designed and built by the Washington Gas Light Company and developer Albert Turner, would form the nucleus of a new town.
The Washington Gas Light proposal has been strongly contested - and as strongly supported - by residents already living in the area in a series of preliminary hearings and work sessions held during the past year.
The council held the most recent public hearings last Thursday and Monday on proposed zoning changes for the area, and the crowd in the hearing room was restless. Several speakers said they felt they were not being listened to on the Mattawoman issue. It was the first time, according to council observers, that speakers have made pointed comments in disagreement with the stances of individual council members who support the new town.
One man went so far as to offer the council members a bullet "to bite" as they voted on the issue and in the course of his testimony, produced a hand grenade which he later said was "an attention getting device."
"This is just a training aid but it could be a live one," Alvis Harris of Friendly told the council amidst nervous laughter from the audience.
"This could be the answer if you don't do it right," Harris said in reference to the council's upcoming vote.
Another speaker, Jerry Appell of Brandywine, said the proposed Mattawoman development would produc a "nightmare." He told the council, "There is not adequate sewer for this development, and in light of pending property tax reform measures, there will not be enough revenues to build roads, schools, firehouses there. The traffic would be a disaster. Listen to us, not to big business. This is a nice rural setting we have out here."
"It has been a pleasure for me to drive from the District to my home," said Maud H. Pinkney of Brandywine to obvious audience approval. "I go down a tree-lined road, maybe see a deer or some other small animal. The trees act as a barrier for pollution. When they's all gone, when this development is here, it will create more monumental problems than imaginable."
The council is currently divided on the issue of Mattawoman. Many council members from the northern end of the county favor the new town concept and the immediate zoning changes. Their southern colleagues, several of whom support the new town idea, are opposed to the immediate granting of zoning approval because they feel the development would come too soon for the already taxed south-county road system, sewer and public facilities.
Proponents of he plan insist that a new town development would prevent "hodgepodge development."
"We have had enough of mis-matched subdivisions in this area," said James Furst of Upper Marlboro.
"We need a new town to bring it all together. The distance from Mattawoman to Washington is shorter than it is from Montgomery Village (in Montgomery County) or Fairfax County to Washington. If we allow the development just across the line in Charles County, the traffic will drive right through us, so we'll still have the problems, but no benefits."
"We have to remember that growth is inevitable," said Joyce Sams, a businesswoman from Temple Hills. "But how it is planned is important."
Paul Rodbell, an attorney representing a landowner who wants to build an employment center just up the road from Mattawoman Mall, told the council a recent court decision summed up his own frustration with the Mattawoman controversy.
"The judge held that everybody's an expert on the best use of other people's property," Rodbell said. "The people see (the development) as a threat and make their demands known. The development will not aggravate the traffic in the area.
"A member of the citizens opposing the group told Rodbell, "Who has a better right to be an expert - a resident who has to live with it or a developer whose profit motive is paramount?"
Work sessions on the zoning amendments are scheduled for this week. It is conceivable that another public hearing may be necessary before a final decision is reached, according to a council staffer.
Interested citizens have told the council they will be there until the end. "We will watch and wait and are prepared to hear it out," said Thomas Mero of Clinton. "Because when election time comes, we will vote for (the new town opponents) and work against those who vote for the Mattawoman New Town."