After a bitter and lengthy fight, the Prince George's County District Council voted last week to retain the "rural residential" or half-acre lot zoning of a 470-acre farm tract along the Rte. 202 corridor. A citizens group pushing for less dense zoning in the area immediately vowed to continue fighting.
"We've not given up the battle," said Walter Clarke, president of the Concerned Citizens for the Rte. 202 Corridor, which has argued that higher-density zoning will aggravate traffic problems in the area and impinge on the quality of life. The group wants the lower-density "residential estate" zoning, which would allow only one house per acre.
"We might try the legal point of view, or try to block it from the water and sewer point of view. But we feel that we got a raw deal and we're meeting later this week to decide what to do," he said.
The latest chapter in the controversial zoning case came last week, when the County Council in its capacity as a zoning authority, or District Council, voted 7-to-4 to uphold an earlier decision to keep the 470-acre piece of property zoned for half-acre or "rural residential lots."
The council first decided the case last July, when it was considering zoning changes for the entire county through what is called the Sectional Map Amendment process. That process was designed to help the county revise plans made during the booming 1960s, when the county was expected to become far more populous than it is today.
In some cases, planners called for less dense zoning, as they did for the 470-acre tract in dispute. The tract, known as the Tuck property, is bordered by Rte. 202, the edge of the Brock Hall area to the south, and Rte. 556 to the north. It is largely owned by developer William F. Chesley, who asked the council to keep the tract in half-acre lots, rather than the larger one-acre lots recommended by county planners. Chesley argued that he wanted to create a comprehensive design for the property, which would include homes in a range of prices and open space areas.
In July, the council voted 6-to-5 to approve Chesley's request after a battle replete with charges of racism and conflict of interest. The hastily formed citizens's group charged council member Gerard McDonough with conflict of interest because his brother works for a law firm whose senior member represents Chesley.
McDonough countered that the citizens group opposed any development out of fear of racial integration. "I'm sure there are legitimate motives among many of the citizens," said McDonough, who is white, "but let's not misunderstand it, either. A certain element in this is fear of demographic change. We got calls here to that effect--'We don't want those people from D.C. moving in'--and so forth. Not many, but we got them."
Both the group and McDonough denied the charges leveled against them.
In November, the council denied Chesley's request for water and sewer service for the property, saying he had failed to come up with the promised comprehensive design for the property, and the citizens's group petitioned for a reversal of the council's earlier decision. Chesley filed suit against the county, saying he hadn't had time to complete the design and that the council had insufficient grounds for its decision.
The citizens had argued that the council made a "mistake" in including the Tuck property as a part of the Largo-Lottsford planning area rather than the more rural Melwood-Westphalia area, even though they acknowledged there was no "mistake" in 1975 when the maps were drawn up. The council disagreed in a 7-to-4 vote.