Homeowners in Prince George's County's "premier" neighborhood are fighting mad about a proposal to increase density in the area to allow construction of town houses.
Earlier this year, a hearing examiner recommended that the rezoning bid be denied, but developers Pietro and Mariano Flaim will appeal that ruling Monday night when their clustered-housing proposal near Swan Creek in Tantallon comes before the county council.
Nestled in rolling and rural southwestern Prince George's County near a protected corner of the Potomac River, older Tantallon homes routinely sell for $225,000 and up and offer their owners a retreat from the traffic and bustle of city life. The area is often referred to as the county's version of Potomac in Montgomery and Great Falls in Fairfax.
"Tantallon is the premier development in P.G. County. It is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods here, and people want to keep it that way," said Del. Gary R. Alexander (D-Prince George's), the lawyer representing the Tantallon Civic Association and himself a 20-year community resident.
Alexander said if the county council rules in favor of the developers, the citizens are likely to take the case to the courts.
At the crux of the dispute is a 1,500-foot hiker-biker trail linking the two barbell-shaped land parcels proposed for development. The Flaim brothers contend that the two parcels always have been an integral part of the adjoining 18-hole golf course and argue the strip makes them contiguous.
But citizens say developers are attempting to join the last two large developable areas in Tantallon with the bike path so they can boost the housing density in the prime northern waterfront parcel by holding much of the southern parcel as open green space.
At Monday night's hearing, Alexander will oppose any change in the current rural residential (R-R) zoning to allow attached cluster housing or town houses because of the increased density that will follow. The present proposal includes 90 single-family attached "villas" and 18 detached homes on the 40.4-acre northern parcel, or about 3.49 units per acre -- a number that opponents say "far exceeds" the 1.8 units allowed in all other developed sections of Tantallon.
Twelve single-family homes are proposed for 10.6 acres on the southern parcel, while 19.9 acres will be open space. This works out to 0.39 dwelling units per acre for the southern parcel, planners say.
Richard C. Scalise, owner of the Tantallon Golf and Country Club, said his club happily gave the developers a right of way along the western fringes of the golf course so "the two separate parcels could be considered as one for purposes of the rezoning hearing. . . . It was an accommodation we were glad to make. We think luxury town houses here would be a real asset to the community."
In recommending that the proposal be denied, the county's zoning examiner said the "hiker-biker" trail along Swan Creek comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. "Encouraging public pedestrian access into this community is not sound planning. There is nowhere for the public to go other than onto private or community the golf course property. . . . The northern and southern parcels have no commonality," he said.
The zoning report said the proposal to increase density "offers little or no amenities" and said both parcels could be individually and economically developed with detached single-family homes.
Gerald T. McDonough, attorney for Flaim Brothers Inc., took issue with the zoning examiner's report, saying, "These parcels are not tenuously connected. . . . Historically, these two properties have been part of the golf course. It just happens that the golf course was built in the middle and cut them apart."
McDonough says the town houses -- although a higher density than the surrounding communities -- will allow more control over the overall site-plan design and cause less environmental damage than a development consisting only of detached single-family homes.
"There will be less siltation in the Swan creek and fewer trees removed with this proposal. Those are the greatest ecological concerns," McDonough said.
Under present plans, eight to 12 single-family homes would form a buffer zone between existing traditional family homes and the new town houses "so present landowners would not be impacted by the new development," McDonough said.
The villas that the Flaim brothers want to build are "luxury brick town houses incorporating quality old-world Italian stonemasonry" that would cost a minimum of $150,000, McDonough predicted.
"Our town houses will certainly sustain, if not improve, property values," he said.
McDonough says an upscale town-house development is needed to lure into the county upper-income corporate executives and childless two-career couples who work at high-technology and research firms ringing I-495.
"Based on the Bay of Americas project and all the R&D firms up by the Beltway, we felt an attached town-house community for mid- and upper-level executives who don't want to deal with the usual suburban hassles of lawns and large home maintenance was needed."
McDonough said, "This is a country club development . . . a beautiful piece of land which would really lend itself to a spectacular project."
Some residents, however, remain concerned about the security of their secluded neighborhood and say the proposed hiker-biker trail would allow anyone visiting the Fort Washington National Park to gain access. They also say that visitors using the footpath could be hit by stray golf balls.
Alexander said the profit motive is blatantly obvious in the way the developers' proposal crowds town houses in the northern waterfront area, and he said homeowners question the project's long-term effect on the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay.
But basically, Alexander said, the proposal conflicts with the county's comprehensive design plan and is out of character with the Tantallon concept as it has developed over the years.