The Prince George's County Council will vote Monday on a controversial bid for a zoning change that has divided a small south Laurel community and renewed debate over the course of economic development in the county.
Developers Gary and Dennis Berman, owners of the Laurel Shopping Center, have requested a zoning change to permit construction of 1,000 "luxury" condominium units at the juncture of Route 197, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Muirkirk Road in Laurel. The project calls for constructing a 500-unit high-rise, a 250-unit mid-rise and 150 to 250 town houses that would sell for $150,000 to $200,000 each.
The area has been zoned for single-family housing since a Sectional Map Amendment change in 1975, and some residents argue that the roads and public services are inadequate to handle high-density housing. In an era of fiscal constraint, they say, the county is unlikely to build the roads, and police and fire stations they say they need to feel secure. In part for those reasons, the zoning hearing examiner recommended that the Bermans' request be denied.
Other residents argue that high-quality, high-cost development will enhance their own property values and help reverse the image of Prince George's as an appropriate home for low- to middle-income residents only. Area merchants and builders have said they need the business the project would provide.
"It capsulizes the whole economic development dilemma," said Council Chairman Gerard McDonough. "On one hand you've got everybody rooting for development; on the other hand, how do we keep the (communities) together?"
The zoning question has divided the members of the Oaklands Citizens' Association, whose president appeared at last week's hearing to support Berman, while other members of the organization spoke later to oppose him. Council member Frank Casula, whose district encompasses the area, has refused to give an opinion on the case or even to discuss it with other council members.