UPPER MARLBORO – A small beloved park along Route 50 in Cheverly has become the focus for major community action and support.
Residents of Cheverly, as well as local and state officials, are fighting to protect the green space from possible construction.
More than 250 residents attended a packed district council public hearing on Nov. 5 regarding a proposed amendment to the Cheverly Sector Plan that would expand the boundaries of the town center to include a community green space. More than 60 people spoke in opposition to the amendment. They expressed concern about the community’s late notice about the amendment and their desire to preserve the park for the residents’ enjoyment. Overall, they noted although they encourage development in their town, they do not want to compromise the park.
On June 30, days after the sector plan was approved, development company First Oxford Corporation sent a letter to the Prince George’s County Council requesting the amendment. They outlined a multi-million dollar housing development project on the land, should the amendment pass.
In September, the county district council approved the resolution introduced by Councilwoman Andrea Harrison to propose the amendment.
Cheverly Mayor Mike Callahan said he and the rest of the city government did not find out about the amendment until Oct. 24. Many speakers expressed dismay that the city had not been consulted on the matter until the public hearing.
Several questioned why the suggestion to extend the map was never addressed during the process of drafting and confirming the sector plan.
“Having a last-minute amendment after all this is not only wrong, but actually undermines and discredits the whole process we went through,” State Del. Jimmy Tarlau (D-47A) said. “People felt very good about the transparency and inclusiveness. Now suddenly at the last minute to have an amendment that would change the nature of the plan, we think is counterproductive. There are lots of times when this area could have been looked at, discussed, and you would have gotten more input. Doing that now is the wrong way to go.”
Tarlau said his delegation opposes the amendment, and Del. Carlo Sanchez (D-47B) also voiced his opposition.
Speakers also addressed the significance of the green space for the community and stated although they support transit-oriented development in the city, they do not believe green space is an appropriate area for it.
“While we all agree the core as depicted is a good idea and represents the sort of density that we want in our neighborhood, the addition has no credible reason to be added. Those parcels of land have no credible reason to be added to a transit-oriented core,” Cheverly resident Micha Watson said. “It is an underhanded, last-minute attempt to circumvent the process and undermines good government and transparency we try to teach our children and try to instill in our government in all levels.”
Because some of the land that would be incorporated to the town center is county-owned, some residents voiced concern about Cheverly’s ability to self-determine its future.
“First Oxford would have to work in conjunction with (the county council) to accomplish their goals, and as a municipality that believes in self-determination, I think it’s fair that we be given more credence. I ask that we be given the same special consideration that First Oxford was given to bring us to this hearing today,” Cheverly councilwoman Maurielle Stewart said.
According to a letter Callahan wrote to the county council, “less than 15 percent of the proposed area is private property represented by The First Oxford Company. The remaining area is owned by the county or is at this time of unknown ownership according to PGAtlas.”
Many community members discussed the importance of the park in their otherwise suburban world.
“For 14 years our local volunteer group has put love and sweat and tears and equity into restoring and reclaiming the sliver of land to turn it into an important environmental asset to the community, for the county, and I would say for the planet,” said Dan Smith, with the Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek, a local environmental nonprofit. “We were not even consulted about (the amendment) before it came forward, and as a result you can see there’s a lot of love and sweat here, and the community is feeling outraged.
“Finally, I would like to say at a time when we have so much challenge with trusting our government nationally, it is why people are turning out today, is because what’s going on here gives us a lack of confidence we can trust the process with our own local government.”
Brett Theodos, a Cheverly resident who studies development, said “this scenario has all the ingredients of failure and very few of the ingredients of success.”
However, Jennifer Merner, director of the First Oxford Corporation, said the amendment and any ensuing development would benefit Cheverly.
“First Oxford is sensitive to the members of the community who are passionate about green space and related environmental matters,” she said. “We feel extending the core boundaries to facilitate this transit-oriented development will assist the county in working toward the goals highlighted in the (Prince George’s) 2035 Plan, the multiple public benefits of extension include new high-quality housing sites, responsible environmental practices and tax benefits. As such we ask the core boundary be slightly extended to encompass the area identified in the resolution.”
Merner acknowledged concerns about construction taking place on a land that includes a flood plain and slopes, but quoted a report which stated “given the site’s proximity to transit and other amenities, it seems a logical place to focus development intensity for the public’s benefit.”
Callahan disagreed. In his letter to the council, he referenced the Cheverly Sector Plan, which advises to “limit new development in the floodplain” and to “preserve and protect natural resources in the sector plan area while providing for their use enjoyment.” He suspects First Oxford intentionally did not address this development plan during the process of creating the Cheverly Sector Plan because they knew community members would not approve.
“If First Oxford felt this proposal would be embraced by the community as a whole they should have presented it (to) community members,” he wrote. “Instead in their June 30 letter they indicate they have watched the process closely, and believe this proposal meets the outlines of the plan – a plan they did not participate in creating. As a result we must conclude that First Oxford intentionally avoided the Cheverly Sector Plan public process and purposefully failed to engage the town of Cheverly regarding this proposal.”
The Cheverly Town Council voted unanimously to oppose the amendment on Oct. 26.
Representatives from the First Oxford Corporation did not respond to requests for comment.
On Dec. 7, the planning board will send its recommendation regarding the amendment to the district council.