A controversial $5-million, two year rehabilitation project was approved last week for Greenbelt Homes, Inc. one of the oldest housing cooperatived in the country.

By a vote of 278 to 140, GHI residents gave their support to a management proposal to correct code violations and install energy conservation devices such as storm windows, insulation and siding for the 1,600 wooden, brick and masonry houses in the community.

The action comes after years of committee studies on the project and months of intense lobbying for and against the first major rehabilitation project in the 40-year history of Greenbelt.

Opposition to the project has centered around a group of homeowners' complaints that the rehabilitation money is going only to provide cosmetic improvements. Bettle Denson, one of the dissidents, said the money should be used instead to repair structural damage in attics and crawl spaces in 10 houses.

"I was surprised at the number of people who were there," GHI board vice president Wayne Williams said this week. "I was surprised at the amount of interest. I have been in support of the project for the last four years. It's the only way to get at the rising cost of maintenance and heating."

Denson said she was "disappointed and angered at the parliamentary steamroller tactics" at the meeting. Denson said, "We had a good deal of support but we did not have enough. There's no way of stopping the borrowing now. A citizens' organization might be formed to protect our interest, however."

Discussion of the project within the community, according to one observer, led to one of the largest voter turnouts in recent memory.

"I am not against the project nor the money," Denson said. "We just wanted some guarantees that the work would be properly done."

Royal Breashears, GHI general manager, said the meeting was "typical. It was lots of talk but the project finally passed."

Breashears said GHI now will develop specifications for the plan and put out bids.

The rehabilitation issue however is not yet ended, Breashears said. "We've got two strong political groups here. I don't think the issue will ever be over."