The fall groundbreaking for a long-planned $12 million social services center in Langley Park is being delayed by opposition from the community's Boys and Girls Club, which has a lease on the deteriorating building and wants to remain on the site.
The proposed Mother Teresa Center, which would serve residents from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, would be owned and primarily funded by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. The state has also approved $550,000 for the center's gym, and federal grants are providing $400,000 for health clinic services.
But leaders of the Langley Park Boys and Girls Club say they fear the new center would favor Latino immigrants, particularly Catholics, over others in the multiethnic community that straddles the Montgomery-Prince George's border. They also contend that their 99-year lease on the property is being violated.
The archdiocese has offered the club office space in the new center and use of the gym and other facilities, but club leaders say they want more.
"They want us to give up our lease and end our programs and to forget what we've accomplished for so many years," said Julie Moses, the club's president. "I don't mind working with them, but what we're getting, we're not getting a thing."
Supporters of the center say that a deal was made in 2004 between Matthew Carter, then-president of the Boys and Girls Club -- who has since died -- and Sawyer Realty Holdings, which owns the three-acre property, to donate the land on Merrimac Drive for the Mother Teresa Center. Moses said the deal should be voided because the club's board members had not been informed properly.
Maryland Del. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George's) said Moses is trying to impede progress for the long-neglected area. He said the project is the result of unprecedented collaboration between Latino and black leaders, Democrats and Republicans.
"You're going to revitalize a whole strip out there," Ramirez said. "If you drive back there now, you have an area that's been in need of redevelopment for years. It's an area that looks very dark, it looks sad."
Doug Mueller, managing director of Sawyer Realty, said that if the club continues to stall plans, legal action would have to be taken. He said Sawyer Realty is investigating whether the club may have violated the terms of its lease by allowing parties that involved alcohol. He also said the club has not been very active in organizing activities for the area's youth.
Moses, a registered nurse whose husband is the club's treasurer, countered that it has been difficult to raise money for the club because donors assume the group is defunct because of the plans for the Mother Teresa Center. She said that the club's events do not allow alcohol.
Langley Park has been a hub for immigrants, particularly Latinos in the past decade. Census figures show that 64 percent of Langley Park's residents are Latino and that 17 percent have incomes below the poverty level.
Residents say violent crime is a constant fear. On Sunday night, a man's hand was nearly severed in an attack on the 8000 block of 15th Avenue. Last week, a 17-year-old musician playing at a party at the Boys and Girls Club was slashed on the neck and seriously injured when she stepped outside the building. In a separate slashing incident, two men were killed and another injured as they slept in a Toys R Us parking lot near an informal day-laborer pickup site in the 8100 block of New Hampshire Avenue.
Police have said that gang members hang out in the area but that they do not know whether the assaults were gang-related.
Immigrant advocates and other civic leaders have said that because the community lies on the border of two counties, it often has been unclear who should take responsibility for the area.
Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the Mother Teresa Center would help centralize social service operations for the area and allow programs to expand.
"It's going to create a stable environment," she said.
Plans call for a two-story, 63,000-square-foot building that would house a health clinic, English language classes and family and job services offices. The Spanish Catholic Center and Catholic Charities, which have two separate social services offices in Langley Park, would move to the new building.
Recreational activities, tutoring and counseling services for young people, would be provided by the Latin American Youth Center, a D.C.-based social services nonprofit group, which plans to lease office space at the complex.
A 600-seat chapel, which will not receive state or federal financing, would serve about 500 people who now attend Mass at Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School.
Gibbs said the Mother Teresa Center would apply for financing from Prince George's and Montgomery counties for social services since it is expected that residents from both jurisdictions would use the programs provided.
Similar partnerships between the archdiocese and local and federal governments were involved in the construction of youth centers in Darnestown and Southeast Washington.