BOWIE – The contentious fight over the Bowie Marketplace apartments has come to an end, at least at the city level, after the council voted to approve the project with a last-minute size reduction. Emotions ran high at the Jan. 3 council meeting. Both council members and residents argued fiercely about the proposal by developer […]
BOWIE – The contentious fight over the Bowie Marketplace apartments has come to an end, at least at the city level, after the council voted to approve the project with a last-minute size reduction.
Emotions ran high at the Jan. 3 council meeting. Both council members and residents argued fiercely about the proposal by developer Berman Enterprises to construct an apartment building and parking garage behind the just-renovated Bowie Marketplace shopping center. Neighbors to the complex were concerned about increased traffic and crime but, more importantly, the loss of the character of their single-family home community. On the other side was Brian Berman, who argued a residential component was always part of the plan for the site’s rejuvenation; Marketplace tenants relying on the apartments to provide customers; and several city council members, who said they had effectively promised Berman he could include residential through a development agreement signed in 2013.
“We have a moral obligation. The city has almost $1 million in taxpayer funds invested in this project that is based on residential-retail mix. We also have a legal obligation to support the project because from the very beginning the council has recognized M-X-T use,” said Councilwoman Diane Polangin. “I cannot sully the city’s reputation and go back on our word.”
She made the three motions required for the apartments to move forward. The conceptual site plan was approved 5-2, with Councilman Michael Esteve and Mayor Pro Tem Henri Gardner opposed. They also opposed approving the preliminary plan of subdivision, even with conditions imposed on it (namely, a six-foot sidewalk to connect it with civic spaces and parkland; pedestrian crossing measures at intersections; and urban design amenities including street trees, high-quality durable construction materials, and a study of the feasibility of creating public spaces). Councilman Issac Trouth joined Gardner and Esteve in voting against approval of the detailed site plan, with an amendment to reduce the number of apartments from 288 to 225 and limit the building’s height to three stories on the side facing houses and four stories closer to Route 450. That motion still passed 4-3.
The 225 unit compromise was, Polangin said, the lowest density the developer could accept and still have the project be economically viable. However Gardner pushed hard for a further reduction in size.
“We spoke tonight about trust. These residents trusted me to represent them. Right now, I know I have lost this tonight, but I am trying to negotiate with the Bermans and try to – maybe, we can come to some happy medium,” he said. “I’m speaking because if I were in (residents’) shoes, I would be mad as hell. I really would be.”
Esteve said he had sympathy for Berman, who put his name and his company’s money into the project under the assumption that a residential component would be included. But he added with residents and the city planning department against the plan, he couldn’t support it.
“At the end of the day, our planning department has made their recommendation. Our planning department has spoken, the Bowie Advisory Planning Board has spoken, and I think it’s fairly clear that our residents have spoken,” Esteve said. “I cannot possibly vote for this given the staff’s recommendations.”
He also said the city should have done a better job communicating with residents about the residential component for the project before the development agreement was signed. Trouth echoed that sentiment.
“We as a city of Bowie, have done a terrible job at communication. Communication needs to be improved at all facets,” Trouth said. “It’s our fault. I’m going to tell you, it’s our fault that we have not communicated the way that I feel we should have.”
Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said the residential component had always been presented as a part of the package deal for renovating the shopping center, and the plans had been in the public eye from the beginning.
Still, residents said they weren’t aware just how high-density that residential component would be.
“The Bowie citizens I talked with presumed a residential component to the Marketplace; however they foresaw one with townhouses and condominiums in keeping with the prevailing character of the neighborhood,” said Larry Swank, whose house is directly behind the site for the apartments.
Councilman James Marcos said although the apartments would change things in the neighborhood, he believed in the long run the development would be a positive for the community, leading to the revitalized Bowie Main Street residents wanted.
“People don’t like change. It’s definitely going to affect you. It’s going to affect all of us. It will definitely change a little bit of that area, but I think that it’s going to change it in the long run in a positive note,” he said. “I truly believe there’s no other way for these places to survive or have good tenants without some kind of increase in density.”
With the city granting approval, the project now goes before the county, with a planning board hearing set for Jan. 26. And even though the city’s immediate role in moving the project forward is over, some residents say they will not forget how the council members voted.
“We have more than enough votes to sway the next city election,” said resident Tameeka Washington. “We will use our concerns. We will use our power to vote you out if you do not abide by our wishes. Now, it might be too late for the Marketplace but it will not be too late for the other development schemes you have coming down the pipeline.”