A story in the Sept. 29 issue of the Prince George's Extra gave incorrect information about the course of Indian Creek near a proposed shopping mall in Greenbelt. Indian Creek runs from Laurel to the Anacostia River. (Published 10/20/1999)


Church Breaks Ground for Center

Maryland state officials, county lawmakers and church members gathered outside Saint Paul Baptist Church in Capitol Heights on Saturday to break ground for a $11 million "Community Centre" that will offer services for senior citizens and youth.

The facility will be able to accommodate 340 children, provide services for 90 seniors or disabled adults and serve as a community gathering place, said officials with the Saint Paul Community Development Corp. (CDC), which was formed in 1995 by members of the church, at 6611 Walker Mill Rd.

"I am excited about the possibility of creating more jobs for people in the community," said the Rev. Robert J. Williams, senior pastor of the church. "This is an opportunity to serve one another and at the same time help people to empower themselves."

"As I grow older, the adult day care is something that grips my heart," said Williams, who is excited that his son, Carl S. Williams, is executive director of the CDC.

Carl Williams said the goal of the church's nonprofit affiliate is to finance projects in a community that for decades has been snubbed by developers and the business community. "People have told us for years that it can't be done, or can't be built inside the Beltway. This $11 million project is proof that it can be done."

On May 23, the CDC broke ground on a $13 million project to build a 150-unit apartment complex for senior citizens on Addison Road in Capitol Heights. The CDC also renovated an old grocery store to build the King's Kid Child Development Center.

Carl Williams, 31, said construction of the new community facility is being financed through $6.5 million in bonds and a $1.1 million grant from Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He said the corporation has applied for grants to help operate the facility.

Charles Berrin, chief executive for the CDC, said the new facility will have a variety of uses in addition to providing services for seniors and day care for children. "This is 70,000 square feet. There will be a college-sized gym; we also plan for the facility to be used as a conference center."

In addition to this project, Saint Paul, which was founded in 1866 and has about 1,200 members, plans to break ground on a new 1,200-seat sanctuary in the next two years. Robert Williams, who is a founding member of a group of business savvy ministers called the Collective Banking Group, said he is simply trying to set an example for other pastors.

"It is encouraging other pastors to reach out and realize that their visions can become a reality because it is the nature of things in America," Robert Williams said. "Some of us have felt stymied and unable to move forward. We need to realize the vision that God has given to us."

-- Hamil R. Harris


Residents Protest Development

A group of northern Prince George's County residents and environmentalists are protesting a proposed commercial and residential development on 240 acres adjacent to the Greenbelt Metro station, saying the project would damage a nearby wetland.

The development, proposed by Branchville-based Metroland Developers LLC, would include a mall with upscale retail stores, a hotel, an office complex and multifamily residential units, authorities said. The plan calls for the development to be constructed on a swath of land that straddles Indian Creek, which runs from the Anacostia River to the Chesapeake Bay, from the Capital Beltway south to Greenbelt Road, between Cherrywood Lane and the Metro and CSX railroad tracks.

The project is opposed by Citizens to Conserve and Restore Indian Creek (CCRIC), which includes residents from Greenbelt, College Park, Berwyn Heights and other communities along the Anacostia Watershed area, as well as some local environmental groups.

Among the coalition's major concerns is the effect the project would have on plant and animal life in an area opponents call the Hollywood Swamp. The swamp is home to dozens of plants and small animals that can no longer be found in forests inside the Beltway, said Kate Spencer, CCRIC chairwoman.

"Anyone can have a mall, but only Indian Creek has the Hollywood Swamp. This is a treasure that we should take care of," Spencer said. "The only way to restore the Anacostia Watershed is to take care not to destroy any more of its healthy wetlands and to restore as much as we can of what has already been destroyed."

Chip Reed, an attorney for Metroland, said the struggle over the proposed development is another example of the perennial clash between developers and environmentalists.

"This is a classic case of balancing development interests and environmental concerns," he said. "It's not just a case of developer greed. There are substantial public interests involved consistent with smart growth and livable community initiative, starting with the Washington area metro transit authority's interest in its $10 billion public investment and the need to justify that in terms of ridership and other needs. And the county's interest in upscale retail and town center growth, versus the perceived concerns of local environmentalists in the area."

Dana Stebbins, a D.C. lawyer who is a spokeswoman for Metroland, said the company plans to file a conceptual plan with Prince George's County's planning division and an environmental permit application with the state environment department in January. The county and state application processes will take six to nine months after the developer reaches a compromise with opponents and citizens groups.

"The public process always allows for citizen input, and it always helps if that input is in favor of what you are trying to do," Stebbins said.

Spencer, a scientific illustrator, said her organization is trying to raise $50 million to purchase the parcel. Seventy acres are owned by Metro, and 170 acres are owned by A.H. Smith Associates, a 77-year-old mining and asphalt-laying company, which has agreed to put the land into Metroland for development, Stebbins said. The transit authority has accepted an offer by Metroland to purchase the 70 publicly owned acres, she said.

The project calls for construction of a 1.2 million- to 1.8 million-square-foot shopping mall to be anchored by upscale stores, as required by current zoning regulations in the area; a 250- to 500-room hotel and conference center; up to 1.5 million square feet of office space; and up to 1,200 multifamily housing units, to include apartments and condominiums, with some dedicated to senior citizens, according to the developer's plan.

Spencer said the environmentalists want to see a flood plain and braided stream on the site protected as a nature preserve and park. They also support the construction of a nature center accessible to four schools within walking distance of the area. Her group plans to try to lobby the General Assembly in the coming session to gain support for acquiring the land.

"We'd like to see wetland restoration research done on the old gravel area there," Spencer said. "It's the kind of place where people could come from all over to see wetland research done."

-- Avis Thomas-Lester

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CAPTION: Kate Spencer leads a citizens group that wants to prevent development near Indian Creek.