The Prince George's County Planning Board last night tentatively recommended approval of a $400 million residential, commercial and retail complex on 275 acres in Bowie that would include a regional shopping mall comparable in size to the Tysons Corner Center in Virginia.
The board's 3-to-2 vote, which followed 12 hours of public hearing and nearly an hour of private deliberation, directed the county planning staff to draw up a list of conditions for the project to address concerns raised by area residents about traffic and the adequacy of firefighting service. The board will make a final decision by Jan. 16 after reviewing the conditions.
If fully approved, the Bowie New Town Center, as it would be called, would have a 1.1 million-square-foot shopping mall, 680,000 square feet of office space and 1,520 residential units.
Its size and combination of housing, business and retail components would be on a scale with the 488 acres approved for the Konterra minicity in Laurel and the 540-acre PortAmerica development south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
The Planning Board will make a recommendation to the County Council, which will make the final decision.
Proponents of the project were uncertain if last night's vote, which came shortly before midnight, was the full endorsement of the project that they had requested.
"I'm not entirely sure what it means," said attorney Glenn T. Harrell Jr., who represented the Washington development firm of Mark Vogel Companies. "It looks like we won a victory of sorts."
Bowie Mayor Richard Logue and residents of the city of 37,000 told the board they favored the New Town concept but were unhappy over Vogel's extensive plans.
"The city is very supportive of quality balanced growth that does not harm the quality of the area as it now exists," Logue said. "New development must not be allowed if it is at the expense of the quality of life of existing residents and businesses."
Voting for approval were Planning Board Chairman John Rhoads, members Samuel Y. Botts and Burton Keller. Voting against were Vice Chairman Roy I. Dabney and Margaret Yewell.
Yewell said she voted against approving the project because the board needed more time to discuss what, if any, limitations would be placed on the development.
The planning staff recommended rejection of the project, saying it would "overburden both the existing and planned transportation network" surrounding it. The property is bounded by Rte. 197 (Collington Road), Mitchellville Road and Northview Drive.
Bowie Mayor Logue and city Planning Director James Cronk complained that a disproportionate number of office buildings would be added to the city. "We're not really interested in becoming Crystal City and Tysons Corner rolled into one," said Cronk.
In October, the City Council offered an alternative proposal that would cut in half the amount of office space and the number of residential units that could be built by 1991.
The staff report and a group called the Committee of Concerned Citizens recommended that no residential units be built until 1991 or until nearby Rtes. 50 and 197 are upgraded. (Rte. 50 is scheduled to be turned into a six-lane interstate and Rte. 197 will expanded from two to four lanes.)
Traffic on Rte. 50 near the interchange with Rte. 197 "is already at a standstill," said Lester Wilkinson of the planning board's transportation planning division, who showed slides of cars lined up bumper-to-bumper on Rte. 50 to prove his point. Until the road is upgraded, "we cannot accept any more residential development," he said.
The staff report also said that county fire services to the proposed commercial and residential center would be inadequate.
Harrell said Vogel agreed to donate $250,000 toward construction of a fire station near the project. "We think this is our fair share," he said.
The project would be less than half a mile from the 466-acre University of Maryland Science and Technology Center, to be built across the intersection of Rtes. 50 and 301. That complex, which may take as many as 20 years to complete, is also expected to greatly increase traffic in the area.
Vogel, a Washington developer who is involved in several county projects, assembled a heavyweight list of backers for yesterday's hearing, including Harrell, a former president of the county Chamber of Commerce; Charles Dukes, president of John Hanson Savings and Loan and a former chairman of the planning board, developer Raymond LaPlaca and a number of consultants and lawyers.