BOWIE – It was a packed house at the Bowie City Council meeting as residents showed up to speak out against development in their community. On the agenda Monday night was a presentation from Elm Street Developers regarding a proposal to construct 405 to 525 single-family homes on 150 acres of land near Whitemarsh Park […]
BOWIE – It was a packed house at the Bowie City Council meeting as residents showed up to speak out against development in their community.
On the agenda Monday night was a presentation from Elm Street Developers regarding a proposal to construct 405 to 525 single-family homes on 150 acres of land near Whitemarsh Park and the Idelwild neighborhood. Homes would be on both sides of MD Route 450 on property currently owned by a collective of Jesuit priests.
Residents of the city made their strong opinions known, citing a variety of reasons for opposing the project.
Mike Lange expressed concerns about the impacts on property values.
“We don’t have enough demand right now to be filling and buying the houses that we’ve got,” he said, explaining that existing homes are struggling to sell without owners losing money, with many more houses already under construction. “We should be rejecting this high-density housing. It lowers our property values.”
Stan Wilker, a retired civil engineer and 42-year resident of the Idelwild section, said property values in his section remain high because of the lack of development like this.
“Our neighborhood is one big loop. It’s just Idelwild people, and that’s why we like it and that’s why the values are high,” he said.
Wilker, along with many other residents, also raised concerns about traffic coming out of the new development. Residents reported that traffic is already backed up on 450 and on Crain Highway, and on Sunday mornings, police presence is needed to clear the parking lot of Sacred Heart Church, which is right in the middle of the property in question.
“You can’t possibly believe the traffic coming out of 450 residential properties, 800 to 1,000 vehicles out on 450,” he said. “The state has done nothing to finish that 450 (widening) project.”
Dufour Woolfley, a former city councilmember, said the land could be put to better use, for example incorporating it into the park next door.
“This is, in fact, the gateway entrance to Bowie and it demands due diligence,” he said. “There are a plethora of alternative uses for the property.”
Chris Hatcher, a lawyer representing the developer, gave a presentation about the project and stressed that everything was still in the very early stages and it would be years before any construction actually began on the site.
“This is conceptual in nature,” he said. “This is the very beginning of the process. This is the very first public hearing, with some stakeholder meetings to follow.”
Hatcher also responded to citizen concerns about the traffic situation on Route 450, saying Elm Street was exploring the possibility of adding a traffic light in front of the church.
“Particularly, I know that there are problems right now on Sunday, but with this potential development it might be warranted to have one there,” he said.
Hatcher also said the developer had a reputation for being “open and transparent,” and Elm Street strives to take community needs into account.
“We are aware of the viewshed analysis that occurred. We know that if there is some development that is going to happen on this property, we have to keep in mind the recreational needs of not only the parishioners of the church but also the recreational needs of the park that’s proximate to it,” he said.
Mayor G. Frederick Robinson thanked residents for being so engaged with the process, but sought to reassure them no action would be taken on the proposal that evening.
“We haven’t seen the project. It is not a public hearing or an action on anything,” he said.
However, fellow council members took the opportunity to express their own concerns regarding the project.
Councilman Michael Esteve said traffic was his number one concern as well, and one the city was relying on the state to mitigate.
“My biggest concern is traffic on 450. My first thought when I saw this project was, you know, we can’t control when 450 gets expanded,” he said.
Councilwoman Diane Polangin wondered about the potential disturbances to the Sacred Heart church property from the new development.
“What I really have a real problem with right off the bat: right here is the historical church, and you have a historic cemetery. This could be disturbing that. That troubles me,” she said.
And Mayor Pro-Tem Henri Gardner took it a step further, going on the record as opposing any development of the property at all.
“I couldn’t support any connection to the I Section, any road connection in any way, shape or form. I couldn’t support anything going in that location. We are open for business but we’re not for sale,” he said.
Elm Street still plans on moving forward with stakeholder meetings to better inform the community about their project. And several more legal steps would have to be completed before ground could be broken, including rezoning the property through the county council, getting specific design plans approved and annexing the property into the city of Bowie.
Robinson assured the public that they would get more chances to make their opinions heard before any final decision was made.
“There’s probably four to five years’ worth of loops in this project. We’re at the very beginning,” he said.