A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 300 packed a Prince George's County Council hearing last night on Konterra, the proposed 2,000-acre mini-city for 20,000 residents in the northern end of the county.
Council Chairman Floyd Wilson said a vote is likely today on the ambitious plan, which, if approved, would be the largest rezoning ever granted in the county.
The crowd -- many of them sporting red and green Konterra buttons provided by developer Kingdon Gould Jr. -- was significantly larger than that at a hearing earlier this year for Brookefield, which was the largest application ever to come before the council.
The council rejected plans for that development, a 2,500-acre "new town" in Brandywine in the southern end of the county.
Konterra would be situated on a prime location straddling I-95 between Laurel and Beltsville in the county's fast growing northern end.
When completed -- in the 21st century -- it would combine nearly 9 million square feet of offices, almost 4 million square feet of high technology manufacturing space, 1.8 million square feet of retail stores and 8,000 homes, mostly town houses and condominiums.
"This is an opportunity to reclaim a wasteland," Gould's attorney, Glenn T. Harrell Jr., said of the property, which has been ravaged by more than four decades of mining for sand and gravel.
"This is an opportunity to avoid slapdash, uncoordinated, piece-by-piece development."
Harrell referred to development projects approved by surrounding counties, including the $550 million Tysons II complex backed last week by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
"Are we in or are we out of the regional competition for economic development?" he asked the council. "The decision is in your hands."
But council member Frank Casula, who represents the area in which Konterra would be built, drew sustained applause when he noted, "All those counties for years have been planning road networks" in the development areas.
"Unfortunately," he added, "in our area, we have not done that and it is a severe problem."
Critics of Konterra complained that, in addition to creating severe traffic problems, the development would ruin the rural life style they have maintained despite the encroachment of town house and office projects in the area.
"Konterra is the pits," declared former county attorney Walter H. Maloney Jr., the most vocal opponent of the project. He blasted Gould's application for "M-X-T," or mixed-use, zoning for the bulk of the property.
"You are being asked to rezone land based on nothing more substantial than a developer's promise," he warned the council.
The throng at last night's hearing included two busloads of Konterra supporters who had been given free fried chicken dinners en route by Gould, who arranged for the transportation.
Many of the supporters were largely members of the Iron Bridge Hunt Club -- permitted by Gould, an avid horseman, to ride through the Konterra property. Many others present in support of Konterra were persons associated with the Greater Laurel/Beltsville Hospital, which hopes its low occupancy rates would be remedied by Konterra.
"I think it's probably the best thing that's happened to Prince George's County, because you get something here planned for a change," Paul Bennett, who owns the horse farm adjoining Konterra, said.
"We could say we really don't want it because we want some place to ride a horse," he said, "but you can't stop progress."
William Ferguson of the West Laurel Citizens Association told the council: "I want to congratulate Mr. Gould on the button idea. They're professional, just as the buses are professional." He added, "I just wish they had said, 'I love Prince George's County,' " instead of having a heart sign in front of "Konterra."