A zoning examiner conducted hearings this week on an ambitious and controversial proposal to put about 1,200 single-family homes and a six- to eight-story apartment complex for the elderly on Prince George's County's historic 550-acre Tuck Farm.
Some residents near Upper Marlboro who want to preserve the rural character of their estate-like community are fighting the plan. The developer maintains that the county needs more housing in the $90,00 to $135,000 range to attract high-tech professionals and more facilities for the elderly.
The county planning staff has said the proposal by Prince George's developer William S. Chesley is too much, too soon for the area's existing fire service and sewer and road systems. They are recommending that the examiner and the District Council deny Chesley's request to rezone the property to permit the residential construction and a planned office building. Hearings are scheduled before the planning board on Nov. 21.
Supporters and foes of the Tuck Farm proposal agree that a long and bitter battle is likely. Whichever side is disappointed by the zoning examiner's decision is expected to appeal to the District Council.
The biggest parcel on which Chesley wants to build -- about 440 acres -- is on the southeast corner of Oak Grove Road and Route 202, about seven miles south of the Capital Beltway. The area is zoned rural residential, which restricts density to two homes on an acre. Chesley would like to use the county's comprehensive-design-zone designation to put 726 detached single-family homes, triplexes and quadraplexes on some 360 acres.
The other 90 acres in this parcel would be used for a residential life-care facility with a maximum of 400 units, designed to offer older couples the option of staying together even if one of them needs close medical attention, Chesley said. An additional 450 single-family housing units also are planned for this parcel.
Chesley said that there will "be no town houses at all" and that the homes will be built of quality brick and sell for between $95,000 and $130,000.
Chesley lives in the historic circa-1800 Perrywood house on 35 acres at the center of the 440-acre parcel. "I intend to live here for a long time," he asserted. "I have a personal interest in seeing the rest of the area is developed in a quality manner."
Extensive open space, clustered housing and a 30-acre lake will enhance the farm's natural beauty and preserve the streambeds and native hardwoods, according to Russell Shipley, the attorney representing Chesley.
"If this area is developed using the existing zoning, you would get the standard cookie-cutter scheme that would destroy the fields and stream valleys," Shipley said.
The comprehensive-zone designation allows the county more stringent control over each stage of development and requires the developer to prove that there are adequate public facilities to accommodate the new growth. In exchange, developers are allowed slightly higher densities and can cluster houses more creatively, planners and Shipley said.
"We'd like to let people know that we have a plan. We just didn't throw this out. We have reduced densities from the 1,900 units in the original proposal by almost half, and we have worked with the community," Chesley said.
But residents who live along Route 202 say the development would be the exception in an area zoned for large estates and staged future development and would make traffic unbearable along Route 202, Largo-Landover Road.
They especially object to Chesley's plan to erect a mid-rise apartment building with 250 to 280 one-bedroom units for the elderly and to his proposal to put a 350,000-square-foot office building near Prince George's Community College.
"There is no accommodation for office or employment space in the master plan," said Tina Badaczewski, president of the Kettering Civic Federation. Badaczewski said that the Tuck Farm proposal doesn't conform to the master plan, to the 1982 general plan or to recommendations of the Enterprise Road Corridor Community Action Panel. The panel is a group of developers, residents and activists formed by county executive Parris Glendening last year to study the area.
The group recommended no multifamily or commercial development in the area. The report went to Glendening in August, but it has not been adopted yet, Badaczewski said.
She said the county's 1982 general plan for this area recommended reserving the entire Route 202 corridor from Route 450 on for single-family homes on large lots. Only 32 acres in the corridor are zoned for commercial use, and the group's report recommended no additional commercial acreage unless zoning for the existing commercial lots was changed to residential use, she said.
"It's the density we object to," said Rosemary Jaskiewicz, a resident of Brockhall Manor Estates, a community of some 160 families who like the seclusion that their one-, two- and seven-acre lots afford them.
"We feel the 2,874 people projected to go in there would not be an attractive addition. . . . Furthermore, the roads are just not there, nor is there any money slated for improvements along Route 202," she said.
Jaskiewicz and other members of Concerned Citizens for the 202 Corridor say they fought a 1981 decision by the District Council to zone the Chesley property rural-residential. The decision was made over community objections and despite a planning staff recommendation to keep the area for rural estates of at least one acre, according to Reggie Baxter, a member of the zoning staff.
"It's time the District Council makes up its mind as to how it wants the area to develop," she said.
Planners seem to agree. In their report, members of the planning staff say that Tuck Farm falls within an area slated in the general plan for large-lot, residential, agricultural, open space or staged future development.
The same plan discourages rezoning to more intensive uses until transportation facilities are programmed and funded, the staff report says. The general plan "also discourages the proliferation of isolated, suburban-density subdivisions when they are not contiguous to the pattern of existing development."
Chesley maintains that existing roads can handle the amount of traffic the new development is expected to generate. He said his studies will show that Route 202 can handle up to 1,000 cars an hour. He also said that senior citizens living in the two proposed facilities will not generate many additional trips, a claim residents challenge, citing the the property's relative isolation.
"It's a question of policy that the council has to make," said Acting Zoning Division Chief Dale Hutchinson. "It is faced with a question of timing -- either now or later to go with smaller lots and clustered housing -- or to leave the area for large one-acre estates. This is the last point at which the council can make a change in zoning."