Wednesday, March 5, 2008

West Laurel residents air worries over Konterra

Meeting with developers, lawmakers doesn’t allay all residents’ qualms

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Despite announced plans to create a shuttle service and security firm, Konterra representatives failed to allay West Laurel residents’ concerns about traffic and safety at a Feb. 21 meeting about the planned development in Laurel.

Konterra Town Center, the 2,200-acre, upscale, mixed-use development, is slated to begin construction at the site of a former sand and gravel pit on Virginia Manor Road in late 2009.

At the West Laurel Civic Association meeting, about 75 people listened to presentations from Caleb Gould, whose family owns the proposed Konterra site, an attorney for the company and a representative from Forest City, the co-developer on the project.

But many residents remained wary of the proposed ‘‘smart-growth” town centers, which the developers have said will take up to 20 years to complete.

Association President Mary Lehman passed around photos showing a muddied Indian Creek, a tributary of the Anacostia River, which the Anacostia Watershed Society found Feb. 1 was getting sediment run-off from a stormwater pond at the Konterra construction site after some heavy rain.

Andre Gingles, an attorney for Konterra, said the company was addressing the problem, but Bob McDonald, a 42-year-resident of West Laurel, was still concerned after the meeting.

‘‘The thing I have concerns about is, the water goes into the [stormwater] ponds, but if you get too much of the rain ... my question is, what happens downstream? ... Look at the problem with Laurel Lakes,” he said, referring to the polluted stormwater management ponds in that neighborhood.

In response to questions about light rail or bus service to and from the development, Gingles said a shuttle service could be created, as could paths to encourage bikers and walkers.

Not all were convinced of the effectiveness of such paths in cutting down on traffic.

‘‘There’s no mass transit here,” said James Holley, a West Laurel resident. ‘‘These guys are talking about a little shuttle to the MARC [commuter] train [but the] MARC train’s not going to help us. I work in Bethesda and I have to drive.”

Other residents said they, too, worried MARC would no longer be a viable transit option once people began moving into Konterra.

‘‘It’s just a huge, mass influx of people and therefore services are needed,” said resident Cassandra Hostetler.

Holley said he was also concerned about an increase in crime with the arrival of the town centers, but Gingles said Konterra has plans to hire a private security firm.

County Council member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel, who also attended the meeting, said his biggest concern is how Konterra contributes to the West Laurel area.

‘‘I’ve been president of the West Laurel Civic Association twice, so I’m intimately familiar with the whole Konterra discussion,” he said. ‘‘Much of it is a good thing but it comes with a lot of concerns and we need to make sure it works for the benefit of the citizens.”

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