Along the two-lane roads that twist and turn between Rtes. 202 and 301 in central Prince George's County, older subdivisions of middle-class homes occupy tracts next to the new luxury homes that are turning the Kettering/Largo area into one of the county's most exclusive communities.
But from just the right angle on some front lawns, residents on a clear day can see the very top of one of three water slides at neighboring Wild World, the Largo amusement park that has enraged several homeowners since opening three years ago on about 125 acres of a 500-acre site.
Those neighbors, members of the Kettering Civic Federation, have complained about traffic and noise problems that they blame on the amusement park, and they are pleading with the County Council to reject the facility's request to add two roller coasters, a 3,000-seat amphitheater, an adult swimming pool and an overnight campground.
The park's owners, however, have said at council hearings and in interviews that the park is a boon for the county because it provides jobs and tax revenue. They said there have only been two incidents of noise problems at the park, both of which are more than two years old.
The council, which held a public hearing on the expansion last week that drew about 300 people, is expected to vote on Wild World's request during a zoning session tomorrow.
"The challenge is on us to get everyone happy," said John Lally, the attorney who has handled Wild World's defense in front of the council. Lally's partner, V. Paul Zanecki, is one of four partners in the theme park. The others are D.C. real estate man Stuart Bernstein, banker John Mason and developer Richard Cohen.
The proposal before the council would provide enough new attractions, Wild World owners hope, to increase annual attendance from about 500,000 a season to 2 million. Lally would not say how much money the park made last year, but state assessments and taxation officials assess the land and improvements at nearly $8.3 million. Its owners paid almost $182,000 in real and property taxes this year.
And with a summer payroll of 500 teen-agers each year, the park is the largest single youth employer in the county.
Lally is firm in his belief that protests about the park come from a small group of residents who object to Wild World's existence as well as any plans for its expansion.
"There is a presumption with civic groups that because they're not being paid, their point of view is righteous," Lally said.
Tina Badaczewski, the president of the Kettering group and a 13-year resident of the neighborhood, has been one of the most persistent watchdogs over the park.
"Our formal position has never been that we wanted the park to close," said Badaczewski, who by her own measurement lives about one-half mile from the park. "We just want restrictions placed on the park so we can live peacefully together."
The two sides disagree on the noise complaints that have soured their attempts at coexistence over the years. Residents recall with great detail and bitterness the night in 1982 when the overamplified croonings of country recording artist Charlie Daniels saturated the area with sound far in excess of the 55-decibel range allowed under state law.
And they repeat with relish the story of the time a park employe accidentally left the sound system on and inundated neighbors with Frank Sinatra recordings all night.
Park officials admit that they were responsible for the lapses that occurred in these two instances, but say that no such problems have occurred since, despite individual complaints to the contrary made at last week's hearing.
But Wild World does have its citizen supporters, including other nearby residents who use the 45,000-square-foot Wild Wave pool and other water sports at the park as kind of a community swim club.
Dot Principe, an Upper Marlboro mother of 10 children aged 2 to 21, called the park "a good clean place" that has provided employment for her older children and recreation for her smaller ones.
"A negative opinion is being foisted on everyone like it is a consensus," she said.
Prince George's Police Capt. William Sahaydack, in charge of the Bowie-Marlboro precinct where the park is located, said that to his knowledge, noise complaints at the park have not been "a significant problem."
Traffic congestion on Central Avenue, he added, becomes a problem at times during the height of the recreation season. That bottleneck, state officials have said, will not be relieved until Central Avenue is widened, a project that is scheduled to begin in 1989.
Council member Frank P. Casula blames the dispute on Zanecki and his partners, who, he said, have not adequately answered community complaints. The long-running problems that have plagued the park and the community should have been resolved without bringing it before the council, he said.
Last year the council moved to restrict the operations at the park by instituting a mandatory 10:30 p.m. closing time, and it said that Wild World officials had violated agreements made in original site plans that would have prevented the noise problems.
"All they're doing is irritating the people who live in the area," Casula said.
At last Wednesday's hearing, Kettering residents complained that planned expansion would add to the problems. But representatives of other community groups have not been so vocal.
David Jenkins, a 20-year resident of the area who heads the Mitchellville Citizens Association, said that members of his organization have had no problems with the park. Traffic problems, he said, have been caused as much by new residential and commercial development as by the amusement park.
And Christopher Doerrer, a dentist who is president of the Kingsford-Smithfield Homeowners' Association, said that most of his neighbors are more concerned with the park's future than with any problems that have occurred.
"They're in the wrong location if they want to expand to become a Busch Gardens or a King's Dominion," Doerrer said.