UPPER MARLBORO – The Bowie Marketplace apartments have cleared another hurdle.
The Prince George’s County Planning Board voted 5-0 last Thursday to approve, with conditions, the detailed site plan (DSP) for the 225-unit apartment building with a parking garage and pool. Board Chair Elizabeth Hewlett also added an additional comment to the official decision stating that the developer, Berman Enterprises, would work with the utility company that owns the power lines behind the property to ensure the tree buffer between the apartments and the adjacent single-family residential homes was adequate.
“What you’re hearing all of us ask is that you really work with the citizens there to address their concern. I think you have a few avenues to pursue, and I’m hoping that something, or combined, it will work,” she said.
The concern was raised by Bowie resident Larry Swank, whose home on Scarlet Lane is one of those immediately behind the proposed apartment complex. He said he and other residents were told tall tress cannot be within 25 feet of the power lines.
“Those telephone and power lines would not allow for a large tree along that fenceline,” Swank said. “The power line company will not allow you to have them there. They have to be 25 feet back from the poles.”
Andre Gingles, attorney for the developer, said the company would work with the utility to clarify, but the engineers who designed the project are confident the trees would be allowed. The buffer could also be moved closer to the apartment building if needed.
Swank said he believed the best solution would be for the power lines to be buried underground, as had happened at a nearby park.
“The 2006 Bowie and Vicinity Master Plan had recommended, when development to properties like this was done, that those be buried,” he said. “That would allow them to put bigger trees in there. And in fact, in Acorn Hill Park, which is adjacent to this property, I had recommended 30 years ago and the power company did bury the line across that park so that it would not impede playground activities.”
Swank also raised concerns with the balconies proposed for the building.
“In looking at the pictures, what I'm seeing is that we have balconies going across the back,” he said. “The people that have young children, the people that are trying to use their backyards and this is only 50 feet from us, we didn't want outdoor activities to go on the 16, 18 balconies that are overlooking our properties that close.”
He requested they be Juliet balconies only, not fully-functional balconies.
The planning board did not agree to this request, however. Gingles said all the balconies except one were recessed into the building, and that they were important amenities for a “high-end urban/suburban” building like Berman Enterprises hopes to construct.
“The balconies are important in terms of having the quality of units and what people want. It does sort of provide, particularly in apartments, what is deemed to be that kind of outdoor space for people to utilize,” he said.
He also argued that the existing single-family homes do not have high fences, so neighbors are already able to see into each others’ backyards.
Hewlett said while there is a difference between neighbors in houses at the same level and ones elevated above the yard in balconies, she understood the appeal of the balconies.
“One neighbor being able to look into your yard is one thing, versus 16 to 18,” she said, “ (But) I have no issue with the balcony itself adding value to the (apartment) homes.”
Gingles also pointed out that his clients had already made several major concessions based on community feedback, including going from 350 units and five stories to 225 units and three stories and toning down some of the decorative features on the home-facing side of the project.
“As we continued to move through meeting with both the community and the city, that number was then reduced from 350 to 300 and then ultimately to 285 dwelling units. By the time we’d finished the meeting before the city, we'd agreed to an additional compromise, particularly with the rear of the building,” Gingles said. “We did remove some of the architectural embellishments which we thought were very attractive on the building, but that also helped to lower the viewshed.”
Several board members offered praise for Berman Enterprises for its willingness to engage the community and compromise in order to address resident concerns.
“Thanks for working with the community, and I'm happy to see that the community has given you feedback and there's this kind of back and forth,” said Commissioner William Doerner. “It’s very nice to see at least a discussion going on.”