Phillippa Johnston, president of the Cameron Grove Community Association, leads the first against a potential commercial development along Central Avenue near her neighborhood composed of residents 55 and older. (Anthony Tilghman/ The Washington Informer)
Phillippa Johnston, president of the Cameron Grove Community Association, leads the first against a potential commercial development along Central Avenue near her neighborhood composed of residents 55 and older. (Anthony Tilghman/ The Washington Informer)

Prince George’s County residents who reside in a 55-and-older community in Upper Marlboro have raised opposition to a proposed commercial project that could be built just a mile away.

But for that to happen, the land owned by Six Flags America at Central Avenue (Route 214) and Church Road in Bowie must be rezoned from residential suburban to commercial.

It’s part of a preliminary project to revitalize and preserve land in the Bowie-Mitchellville corridor.

A joint hearing will take place Monday, Oct. 4 with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and County Councilmembers sitting as District Council, which reviews zoning and land use matters.

“The county is trying to create this density but what about the vacant storefronts that could be filled?” said Phillippa Johnston, president of the Cameron Grove Community Association. “The idea you are going to build more when you have all of those vacant retailers doesn’t make any sense. People don’t go out and buy anymore — they buy online.”

Johnston and others in the 733-unit residential complex of single-family homes and condominiums are concerned rezoning the land would increase traffic along the highway with Watkins Park and Mitchellville plazas, less than a half-mile away to the west.

Along Central Avenue on more than 20 acres west of Six Flags near the two plazas, the CEO of Velocity Companies of Greenbelt announced the company “will fine tune” a proposed mixed-used development called Mitchellville Town Center.

That decision became public one day after County Councilmember Derrick Davis (D-District 6) of Upper Marlboro decided to withdraw two bills he sponsored earlier this month requesting the property be rezoned for commercial use. A testimonial from Davis about Velocity’s work can be viewed on the company’s website.

According to the document labeled “Bowie-Mitchellville and Vicinity Master Plan,” it seeks to boost an economic, residential and environmental focus at these locales along state routes 3, 50, 197, 214, 301 and 450: Bowie State University, Old Town Bowie, Bowie Town Center, Free State Shopping Center and Collington Local Employment Area.

Some of the recommendations include:

  • Limit development east of Routes 3 and 301 to protect the rural and agricultural areas.
  • Build residences for students and employees and retail at the MARC train station area at Bowie State.
  • Develop recreation facilities along Route 450 at Archer Park in Bowie.

The nearly 300-page plan separated into eight files correlates work that began in 2006 with a proposal to refurbish the 59-square-mile area.

Six Flags Land Could Seal the Deal 

The Six Flags tract represents a small portion of the plan but serves as a major contributor to the project’s success.

“The goal for the Six Flags property from our perspective is to make it easier for the existing park to expand and continue to be one of the larger economic drivers in that area,” Thomas Lester, project manager in the county’s Planning Department, said in an interview Friday, Sept. 24

Lester said one challenge in the plan deals with trying to balance residential development and amenities such as retail shops.

For example, he said retail shops inside apartment buildings are usually open after the residential units are fully leased.

“Companies locate where their customers are and if there aren’t enough customers, then they are not going to locate there,” he said. “With a lot of mixed-use developments, you generally want to build the housing first and then the commercial uses come second.”

About a mile away at Cameron Grove, some residents said the county should focus on filling empty storefronts and utilizing land with infrastructure in place such as the former Landover Mall site near FedEx Field.

In addition, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and advances in technology allow people to order clothes, furniture and food from their home and have them delivered.

“I can order from Wawa’s and [an employee] will bring me something. I don’t have to go over there,” said Linda Willis, who has lived at Cameron Grove for about 4½ years. “Why create more traffic and pollution?”

Cleveland Grant, a member of the community’s homeowner association and a resident since November 2017, supports commercial development when “all things are taken into consideration.”

“We have to be broader in our scope. We have to be a lot more sensitive to our communities,” he said. “We call this our little slice of heaven. It is tranquil. It’s peaceful. It is, ‘aaahhhh.’”

Barbara Reynolds, 79, plans to fight the commercial proposal while continuing to write books. She’s authored several including “Jesse Jackson: the Man, the Myth and the Movement,” and “No, I Won’t Shut Up: Thirty Years of Telling It Like It Is” that features a foreword from Coretta Scott King.

“I didn’t think I would have to fight at this age. I am surrounded by people of color who have accomplished something,” said Reynolds, who’s also an ordained minister. “We all want peace and prosperity under God. I put my life savings into buying this house. I don’t have another place to live.”

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Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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