Hundreds of Waldorf residents have signed on to battle a developer's effort to build 400 apartments along Berry Road on land now zoned for an office park.

Janearl LLC, a developer from Gulf Breeze, Fla., owns the former Greensward turf farm on the north side of Berry Road (Route 228) about one mile west of Route 301. On the 92-acre parcel, zoned for a business park in 2000, the developer wants to add 400 upscale garden apartments as well as a mix of office space and retail establishments. A zoning change to "mixed use" would be required for the project to move forward.

Many Waldorf residents have organized to prevent the residential development at the site, saying it would further crowd schools, create more traffic congestion and diminish their property values.

The Waldorf Citizens for Smart Growth has formed to organize the opposition. Members have started a petition drive and collected more than 700 signatures from people who don't want Charles County officials to change the zoning on the property, said group president Cindy Plisco.

"The main problem is we believe the county is building more than the infrastructure can support. With 400 apartments, the already overloaded schools are going to be even more overloaded," said Plisco, a resident of the Ashford Oaks subdivision off Berry Road. "If we build this, then we've instantly built ourselves a problem, and I don't see anyone coming up with solutions."

On Monday night, more than 100 people crowded into the Charles County commissioners meeting room at the County Government Building in La Plata, some overflowing into the cafeteria. They had come to the Charles County Planning Commission's public information meeting on the project. But the discussion was postponed because commission members said another related zoning issue must be addressed first.

The county requires that a mixed-use zone be applied only to a parcel of 150 acres or more. Last month the developer asked the county to amend the zoning ordinance to reduce that requirement to 75 acres so the 92-acre Berry Road parcel would qualify.

"What was on the agenda for [Monday] night was not something that could be done. [The property] didn't qualify for a change in zoning . . . because it wasn't big enough," said Duncan Creelman, a member of the planning commission. "If anything is going to happen with that property, the zoning text has got to be changed first."

Many at the meeting were hoping that would not happen.

"Basically, nobody wants apartments in their back yard. It's going to create more traffic, more congestion," said Jim Markley, the president of the board of directors for the Ashford Oaks neighborhood. The project calls for two new traffic lights along Route 228. James Nicholson, the vice president of business development for HH Hunt, which is overseeing the residential component of the project, said the apartments would rent for $1,100 to $1,500 a month and be targeted at young professionals. He said a recent survey of 1,900 apartments in Charles County found only 12 vacancies.

"There is a real need for apartments here," he said. "One of the problems with attracting businesses to the county is there's no place to house their employees."

The Planning Commission will make a recommendation on the zoning text amendment request before addressing the particular proposal to rezone the land for mixed use, officials said. The county commissioners will have the final say on whether to change the zoning rules to allow 75-acre mixed-use developments and, if so, whether to allow this parcel to change from business park zoning.