The Prince George's County Council yesterday rejected the bulk of rezoning requests for the controversial Konterra project and imposed stringent conditions on construction on most of the 523 acres approved for development. The vote killed, at least for the present, developer Kingdon Gould Jr.'s dream of creating a 2,000-acre minicity out of a wasteland of sand and gravel pits in the northern end of the county.
Council Chairman Floyd Wilson blasted the decision for "totally castrating" plans for the property, in a prime location straddling I-95 between Laurel and Beltsville. The vote, he said, reflected "a dinosaur way of thinking" that would drive developers away from the county.
Other council members, however, said that the development as proposed would have created unbearable traffic congestion and strained existing school facilities, as well as police and fire services.
Following its planning staff's recommendations, the council unanimously rejected nearly 1,000 acres of mixed-use zoning that was at the heart of Gould's plan.
In addition, in two 6-to-3 votes, it blocked requests for rezoning 274 acres for town house development and another 55 acres for office buildings. It told the county planning board to reconsider those requests after a new comprehensive zoning plan for the region is completed within the next few years.
The rest of the project -- about 240 acres -- was not the subject of a rezoning request.
The council unanimously approved rezoning of 488 acres on the east side of I-95 for "mixed-use," as well as rezoning of another 35 acres near the Greater Laurel/Beltsville Hospital for an office park.
But the council said Gould cannot build on the mixed-use tract until construction begins on the 20-mile Inter-County Connector, a highway financed with state and local money which would link Montgomery and Prince George's counties and would bisect the proposed development.
Work on the controversial four-lane highway is not expected to start until at least the next decade.
After the council votes on a written version of the plan adopted yesterday, Gould will have 90 days to accept or reject that condition of rezoning, one of 11 attached to the council's approval in a plan engineered by council member Frank Casula, who represents the Konterra area and who opposed the larger development plan.
Gould said he has not yet decided whether he will accept the council plan or appeal its action to state circuit court, which could overturn the vote only if it finds the decision clearly erroneous.
Gould, who owns the property in a partnership with his wife and their nine children, had envisioned Konterra as a "mixed-use community within a park." Plans called for it to combine nearly 9 million square feet of offices, almost 4 million square feet of high-technology manufacturing space, 1.8 million square feet of retail shops, and 8,000 homes, most of which would be town houses and condominiums.
Construction was to start in 1986 and end by 2020.
Gould originated the idea for building Konterra while commuting from his Howard County house to his Washington office. He bought the property in 1981, creating the name by combining the name of the former owners of the land, the Contee Sand & Gravel Co. with terra, the Latin word for earth.
The property is the largest undeveloped tract of land in the county along the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
Yesterday's vote, which followed a five-hour, standing-room-only hearing Monday night, pleased neither backers nor opponents of the project.
"We're disappointed that the council did not approve all of our plan," said Gould, sporting a red-and-green Konterra button. However, he said, "My view is that there are elements of the project that can be built."
Former county attorney Walter H. Maloney Jr., a Beltsville resident who is Konterra's most vocal opponent, said the council's vote did not mean the death of the project.
"There's going to be an ongoing Konterra fight," he said. "This isn't over. It's just started."
But, Maloney said, "I'm happy that we've been able to slow this thing down materially."
Maloney and other Konterra critics had argued that the minicity would signal the end of the rural lifestyle they have maintained despite the encroachment of town-house and office developments in recent years.
They also charged that the mixed-use zoning would give Gould a blank check to use the property for any use he saw fit, without oversight by the County Council.
Among the conditions attached to the tract approved for mixed-use zoning yesterday was that the council itself, rather than the County Planning Board, approve specific building plans for the property.
Konterra supporters had argued that the well-situated property will be developed eventually, and that Gould's comprehensive plan is preferable to piecemeal, uncoordinated development.
Council members yesterday focused on the effect of the Konterra vote on other development.
"To do this to the developer, I think you're sending the wrong signals," Chairman Wilson said during the vote on the 274-acre tract proposed for town houses.
Wilson noted that the council has tended to block transportation improvements and then halt development on the ground that existing roads are inadequate.
"As a government, we've got to get rid of that dinosaur way of thinking," he said. Siding with him were council members Hilda Pemberton, and Jo Ann T. Bell.
"I believe in economic development, but I believe people also have to have peace where they live," responded Casula, whose proposal surprised fellow council members who had expected him to support rezoning for more of the property. "I don't think we should subject them to zoning that later on we may regret . . . . Haste makes waste."
"It's not like this project is being denied," said Council Member William B. Ammonett. "The project is moving forward." The approved project, despite the fact that it was scaled down, is still the largest piece of land the council has ever rezoned.
Council members who went along with Casula, besides Ammonett, were Richard Castaldi, Sue V. Mills, Anthony Cicoria and James Herl.
Yesterday's decision, which came a year after Gould first asked for rezoning, essentially adopted the recommendations made by the county planning staff, the first stage in the process. The Planning Board, rejecting the staff view, had recommended approval of all but the 274 acres of rezoning for town houses.
In August, the County Hearing Examiner, finding Konterra incompatible with the surrounding area, urged the council to deny rezoning for the entire property.