In a major victory for the proposed Konterra minicity, Prince George's County Council member Frank P. Casula yesterday agreed to remove a stringent condition that only a month ago threatened to delay the ambitious development project until well into the next decade.
Adopting nearly word-for-word alternative conditions sought by the lawyer for Konterra, Casula abandoned his earlier position that would have delayed significantly development of a 488-acre parcel rezoned by the council last month. His original plan would have blocked development until construction began on a four-lane highway interchanging with I-95 at Konterra. Such a highway is envisioned as part of the controversial Inter-County Connector linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which is still in the planning stages.
Casula's action virtually assures that the new Konterra plan will pass the County Council, which was scheduled to take final action yesterday but postponed its vote until next week. Casula, who represents the Laurel-Beltsville area in which the ambitious project would be located, engineered the original vote imposing the interchange condition.
Even as he announced his new position, Casula lambasted County Executive Parris N. Glendening, an ardent supporter of the Konterra project, for his speech last week blasting "misguided" antidevelopment activists who have "forged an unhealthy alliance with elected officials" to halt growth. Glendening referred specifically to Konterra, saying the council had erred in denying most of the requested rezoning for the proposed 2,000-acre minicity, to be located on a moonscape of sand and gravel pits between Laurel and Beltsville.
"I would remind the county executive that he plays no role in the zoning process," Casula said at a particularly testy County Council session yesterday. "And in the future it would be well for him to avoid reference to pending zoning cases."
In its preliminary Konterra vote, the council blocked the bulk of developer Kingdon Gould Jr.'s rezoning request, denying zoning changes for more than 1,300 acres. It approved rezoning for 523 acres, but saddled the 488 acres slated for "mixed use" residential, commercial and office development with the highway requirement.
Konterra lawyer Glenn T. Harrell Jr. said in a later letter to the council that linking Konterra development to the Inter-County Connector was "an unsupportable hardship" that would prevent development of the property until at least 1994.
Under the plan introduced by Casula yesterday, Gould must show instead that, at the time the property is divided into lots, "all highway improvements necessary to assure" adequate transportation are committed for government funding or constructed by the developer.
In addition, "necessary transportation facilities must be in place" by the time the buildings are ready for use.
Although Casula insisted that there are no "substantive changes" from his original plan, Walter H. Maloney Jr., the most vocal critic of Konterra, charged after the meeting that Casula was caving in to Gould. "What Mr. Casula has basically done is substitute the developer's conditions for the technical staff conditions," he said.
"The original conditions would have been not so good," he said. The conditions proposed yesterday, he said, "are worse . . . . "
The council postponed its vote on Konterra yesterday after several council members complained that they had not had time to review the differences in the two sets of conditions.
"I have made my last quick vote," declared council member Sue V. Mills. "I am not going to be perceived again as being involved in a railroad job."
At one point, the meeting erupted into a near shouting match between Casula, who moved to vote on the proposal as soon as he finished his speech, and Council Chairman Floyd Wilson, who complained that more discussion was required. "The council is simply saying that it wants to see the changes for itself," Wilson said. "Maybe Mr. Casula is right. Maybe he's made a mistake."
"If you want to hold it up, hold it up," Casula replied. "That's ridiculous . . . unbelievable."