A Prince George's County Council member who imposed what business leaders called a de facto moratorium on construction in her district appears to be backing off her stance, giving her go-ahead to several housing developments she had blocked.
Council member Marilynn Bland (D-Clinton) represents District 9, the county's largest and least developed, which stretches from Andrews Air Force Base to the Charles and Calvert county lines. She had been exercising a long-standing privilege that allows members to pull projects in their districts from consideration by the council.
But in recent weeks, she has asked the council to approve Rosewood Estates, a proposed development of 77 houses in Brandywine to be built by Caruso Homes, and Putter's Choice, a 22-home development in Upper Marlboro planned by Wallace Lane Associates.
Bland also presented a bill last month to permit condominiums to be built near the Branch Avenue Metro station. The area, which is owned by relatives of development lawyer Ed Gibbs, is zoned for commercial use.
Bland has refused repeated requests for interviews to discuss her recent actions.
Business leaders wrote to County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) this year on behalf of developers expressing frustration with proposed projects in Bland's district and asking him to intervene.
"The negative impacts on the local businesses and the hundreds of people they employ in the county will mount daily as long as this period of uncertainty continues," reads the letter, drafted by members of the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, the Prince George's Black Chamber of Commerce, the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Prince George's Business Roundtable.
Business leaders said they are heartened that Bland seems to have relented. But they expressed disappointment that they have yet to receive a formal response from Johnson to their letter.
"We have not been satisfied as a result of the letter," said Hubert Green, president of the Prince George's Black Chamber of Commerce.
"There has been some headway made," said F. Hamer Campbell Jr. of the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association. "But the concern is why the delay happened in the first place."
Green said Bland, an ally of Johnson, has shown that she will "bend for him, but not for anyone else. . . . This is definitely hurting the development community."
In an interview this week, Johnson would not comment on whether he had gotten involved. He instead directed all questions to Bland.
"Marilynn and I talk about a lot of things. We talk almost once a week," he said. "From what I see, her opinion is consistent with the majority of the people there. I'm sure she'll find the right balance."
M.H. Jim Estepp, president of the Greater Prince George's Business Roundtable, said Bland's recent actions are not consistent. "What the building community wants and needs is consistency," Estepp said. "Everyone knows there are rules, but don't change the rules every minute."
Bland's practice, which included holding up at least 15 projects in a six-month period, was well received by residents in District 9. Many said they were alarmed by the number of projects that have received county approval in recent years.
Carl Gordon, Bland's legislative aide, said Bland continues to review projects. She has released some in the past several weeks because the builders have agreed to her conditions, he said.
For example, the Rosewood Estates builder has agreed to put brick on the sides as well as the front of the houses, Gordon said.
"The decisions she is making have nothing to do with the letter," Gordon said. "This was an issue about design standards. We wanted to impose more stringent standards, and they agreed to it."