UPPER MARLBORO – The audience of about 35 Cheverly residents broke into applause as the Prince George’s district council unanimously voted on Jan. 23 to approve the Greater Cheverly Sector Plan without an amendment that would have made a local green space available for housing development.
“The town is in tremendous celebration,” Mayor Mike Callahan said.
The council’s decision followed a strong local campaign in opposition to the amendment. Nearly 60 people testified during a public hearing on the amendment in November. Local residents in and near Cheverly submitted over 550 letters and postcards expressing their opinions on the matter, following a letter-writing campaign led by several local residents and Cheverly Town Councilwoman Laila Riazi.
Residents who opposed the amendment said although they support transit-oriented development, they want to protect the green space as a valuable town asset, and they do not believe the area, as a FEMA-designated floodplain, is suited for construction.
The proposed amendment would have extended the boundaries of the Local Transit Center zone to include about 8 acres of the 20-acre green space off Route 50 available for development.
Thanks to hours of work by community volunteers, the park includes several benches, a walking trail, and a native-plant garden.
Days after the planning board adopted sector plan in June, development company First Oxford Corporation sent a letter to the Prince George’s County Council requesting the amendment. In the letter, the company outlined a potential multi-million-dollar housing development project on the land.
In September, the district council approved the resolution introduced by Councilwoman Andrea Harrison to propose the amendment.
Cheverly residents expressed concern during the public hearing and the letter-writing campaign that First Oxford did not engage in the extensive public process during the creation of the Cheverly Sector Plan before submitting their amendment.
The planning board recommended on Jan. 9 that the council not approve the amendment.
The planning board maintained the amendment would have removed the “edge” to the Local Transit Center designed “specifically to mitigate adverse impacts on existing residential properties and to limit development in the floodplain,” according to their presentation.
They also noted the increased development could potentially worsen traffic in the area.
Longtime Cheverly resident Joani Horchler said the county council’s decision was a great relief for her.
“I would have been absolutely devastated and heartbroken if we lost our woods. It was a complete relief this was finally over,” Horchler said. “I was also a little annoyed Councilwoman Harrison put us through this agonizing time.”
Horchler and Callahan credit much of this success to the way the overwhelming support the community demonstrated through the public process.
“I think right now, people are feeling like they can’t make a difference on the federal level, but we showed you could make a difference on the local level. We showed what democracy looks like,” Horchler said. “It was a very life-affirming decision for the life of the community and the life of the forest and the life of the animals that live there.”
Callahan said he did not feel certain the planning board and county council would have arrived at the same decision if only a handful of people had shown up to the public hearing or sent in letters.
“Showing up in force (and) making yourself heard is a good thing,” Callahan said. “It’s really heartening to see that if you do that work, the process works, people are listened to, and that’s just what happened, which is great.”
In November, Callahan wrote a letter to the county government requesting the right of first refusal if the green space is ever eligible for sale.
The experience taught Horchler that the community would fight to protect their green space.
“This whole experience was worth it in a lot of ways,” Horchler said. “It showed us what a caring and wonderful community we have. It proved we have this amazing community that cares about its local woods.
“I feel like we can sit back and rest for a while. And if, in the future, there is a threat to the forest, we know we have people to back us up.”
Last modified onWednesday, 07 February 2018 20:05