The Prince George's County Council voted unanimously yesterday to allow developer Milton Peterson to add 2,500 houses to National Harbor, the hotel, office and retail project going up along the Potomac waterfront.
The council was originally scheduled to consider the legislation in July, but it was abruptly pulled from the agenda by Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville).
Three sources, two in county government and one in state government, said at the time that Dean withdrew the housing measure to force Peterson to give a local black entrepreneur equity in the $2 billion project.
Dean has denied the allegation, arguing that minority involvement in National Harbor was never the "driving force" behind his decision to pull the bill.
Dean was unavailable for comment yesterday.
There were no changes made in the bill relating to minority participation. Last summer, Peterson and Gaylord Entertainment established a 30 percent minority business participation in the venture. The agreement also requires Peterson to spend $3.5 million over 10 years on community initiatives.
Andre Gingles, an attorney who represents the Peterson Cos. in dealings with the council, said the action, which was added to the council agenda at the last minute yesterday, allows National Harbor to move ahead.
"We're very happy with the action the council took today and we look forward to working with them as we continue to complete the initial phase of National Harbor," Gingles said, adding that the vote allows National Harbor to become a "true metropolitan center, as the county's general plan has designated it."
The initial phase of the project, which includes the $600 million Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, is expected to be completed by 2008. It is expected to include scores of restaurants and shops, two new piers and a downtown area.
Peterson, who purchased the property in Oxon Hill nine years ago, has contended in recent years that high-end housing is the only way the project could attract the quality stores and restaurants many county residents are expecting from National Harbor.
Peterson has fought for years to move the project forward. Other developers failed to achieve their visions for the site, which included a trade center, luxury condominiums and a marina. In December, Peterson broke ground on the property.
Gingles said that despite a great deal of interest in the project, many prospective entertainment, retail and dining companies have been hesitant to become part of the deal because they all "wanted to see high-end residential on the property."
The council did amend the legislation, removing a provision that would have allowed Peterson to take property abutting National Harbor to build some of the additional units. The bill described it as "up to 5 percent of the acreage in the conceptual site plan," which is about 20 acres. In July, several homeowners questioned the provision.
Gingles said Peterson had no problem with striking the clause. "The main thing we were looking for was to address residential, and that's what they did," he said.