Residents weigh in on plans for Konterra Town Center

Major concerns are size and density of project, plus impact on roads, schools

Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2006

Even if residents of Laurel and surrounding areas differ in their opinions of the planned Konterra Town Center, everybody agrees on one thing: its tremendous impact on the community.

‘‘How does a volcano affect the surrounding land?” West Laurel resident Dennis Cook said. Cook and other residents and officials from Laurel, Beltsville and College Park had a chance to weigh in on that impact, even partly decide what shape it should take, at a two-night public charette Jan. 25 and 26.

Konterra developers organized the charette, but the program was part of Prince George’s County’s ongoing Subregion I Master Plan review process. For that process, the consensus of ideas from the charette will be refined and presented to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission some time in March.

‘‘It seems like there’s a certain kind of vision coming forward,” said Senior Planner Dineene O’Connor. ‘‘The next step [will be to determine] what is going to be the best regulatory tool to achieve that vision.”

The area covered by the charette participants comprises 1,130 acres, divided into 488 acres of mixed-use office, residential and retail east of Interstate 95, 253 acres of retail and 389 acres of rural-residential at two units per acre west of Interstate 95.

Its sheer size and density highlights concerns some voiced about the project’s impact on local infrastructure.

‘‘At the end of the day, the question is ... what is the capacity of facilities to handle all this growth?” said Prince George’s County Council Chairman Thomas Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel, who has requested a comprehensive traffic study. ‘‘The amount of development is going to be limited by the traffic capacity. We don’t know the end of this yet.”

The project also includes plans for a new school, fire department and police station. So some feel the planning process, including new exits planned off of Interstate 95 for Contee Road and the Intercounty Connector, will take infrastructure impact into account.

Already midway between the District and Baltimore, Laurel’s enhanced accessibility from Montgomery County with the ICC will make it ‘‘the center of the state of Maryland,” said state Sen. John Giannetti (D-Dist. 21) of Laurel.

As long as the infrastructure is in place, Laurel resident Monique Holland said she had no other concerns about the project.

‘‘I think we need this development,” she said. ‘‘I don’t think we have anything like it in the county.”

Konterra developer Caleb Gould, whose family owns the property, said he was pleased with participants’ ‘‘earnest effort” to get engaged and with the consensus that seemed to emerge. ‘‘[It’s] reassuring for us that we have a concept that seems to float,” he said.

Participants used colored paper chips to designate placement of various uses in each zone on large-scale maps of the project area. Themes included lining the mixed-use zone’s Interstate 95 border with high-rise office buildings to provide a skyline and sound barrier, and the importance of non-car transportation into the site, such as the extended Metro Green Line, a trolley or light rail.

Cook said the charette was ‘‘interesting,” but it did not provide enough time or information — such as how many jobs and residences would be created — to make him feel participants could impact planning.

But Judy Gretsch of Montpelier Hills said she appreciated the chance to participate and meet the players, but hopes green space will be included. ‘‘Growth is just going to happen here,” she said. ‘‘I appreciate them still asking for community input and I hope they’ll continue to do that as they go along.”