The battle over Konterra, the proposed 2,000-acre minicity in northern Prince George's County, has shifted to the courts, where lawsuits have been filed by backers and opponents of the development.

The ambitious project, the brainchild of developer Kingdon Gould Jr., won partial approval last year from the Prince George's County Council, which rezoned 488 acres for "mixed-use" office, commercial and residential development and another 35 acres for office construction, while rejecting Gould's rezoning request on another 1,300 acres.

Neighbors of the site, which straddles I-95 between Laurel and Beltsville, have filed suit to block the development. Gould has countersued to overturn the denied portion of the rezoning request.

A hearing on the cases is set for July 8 in Prince George's County Circuit Court, but preliminary skirmishes have begun.

Konterra opponents are seeking to question County Council member Frank P. Casula, who represents the district in which Konterra would be located and who engineered the compromise council vote on the rezoning.

The opponents contend in court papers that Casula "was essentially the spokesman for the developer" and that the council's Konterra votes "were made as a result of extreme pressures brought to bear on behalf" of developer Gould.

The pressures, they say, included a speech by County Executive Parris Glendening criticizing council members who voted against Konterra in a preliminary vote.

The opponents say they need to question Casula about "ex parte" contacts -- those that may have taken place outside the council hearings -- concerning Konterra.

County Attorney Thomas P. Smith, representing Casula, is seeking to block the request to take Casula's deposition, arguing that, "as a member of the decision-making body in these cases, he is not subject to examination, in the absence of a strong showing of bad faith, fraud or other impropriety on his part."

County Circuit Court Judge James Magruder Rea heard arguments on the issue this month and is expected to rule on the matter shortly.

Gould's attorney, Glenn T. Harrell Jr., said the litigation will not delay construction of Konterra. "I'm confident I can get the litigation done one way or another" before Gould is ready to "turn earth" on the development, he said.

Meanwhile, Konterra opponents are gearing up to fight $114 million in road improvements in the West Laurel area, proposed by Glendening last month as part of a six-year capital improvement program.

They say that they fear that approving the improvements, which include an interchange with I-95, will smooth the way for building Konterra without assuring that the new roads actually are built.

"Once the improvements are on paper, Konterra can go full speed ahead," said former county attorney Walter H. Maloney Jr., who has led the opposition to Konterra and is rounding up critics to attend a May 7 hearing on the road proposals.