Senate president asked to address council action
Miller describes chairwoman's zoning proposal as a complete outrage'
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is running interference in familiar territory: Prince George's County.
The state leader has been asked by south county residents to block plans to rezone 60 acres in Accokeek to allow for a new shopping center. The land is currently zoned for low-density, residential development, and County Council Chairwoman Marilynn M. Bland (D-Dist. 9) of Clinton has proposed the change despite opposition from hundreds of residents and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
"It is a sad and frightening day when the people who have been elected to represent their constituents turn their backs, ignore the voices of the people and make corrupt and underhanded decisions simply because they can," Accokeek resident Patricia Reed wrote in a July 27 letter to Miller and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).
The letter marks another attempt by frustrated residents to reach out to the Senate president, whose district includes portions of southern Prince George's County and Calvert County. Miller has frequently intervened in county decisions over the past year.
Complaints late last year to the Senate president from parents at Henry Ferguson Elementary School in Accokeek led Miller and the state school board to push the county to include the dilapidated south county schools in a request for state aid. During the General Assembly session in the spring, Miller and other senators proposed legislation that forced the county school board to cancel plans to move into new headquarters that would have cost $36 million over 10 years.
A spokesperson for O'Malley said the governor had not received the letter last week.
Miller had received the letter, however, and expressed anger about the local decision.
"It's a complete outrage," Miller said Aug. 3. "It goes against the recommendations of park and planning and the community. I can only ascribe it to ulterior motives."
Miller said he is limited in what he can do to overturn local zoning but emphasized that he is troubled by the proposal.
Miller could not be reached for questions regarding his involvement in local issues.
In a statement e-mailed Tuesday through a spokeswoman for Bland, the chairwoman said she followed the public hearing process for the zoning change and "weighed the pros and cons."
"The decision to rezone the land in Accokeek was based on all the evidence that was submitted during the process," the statement reads. "The council believes that the rezoning will benefit the community at large."
The e-mail did not comment on Miller's involvement.
Miller's involvement has been welcomed by residents who feel county leaders are ignoring their concerns and that they need to reach beyond county government for help.
"It's because of the total desperation we feel here," said Kelly Canavan, a member of the Sprawled Out Accokeek environmental group, who said she agrees with Reed's letter though she did not sign it. "[Chairwoman Bland] could not be more aware of our concerns, and there's nothing else we can do. We've got to turn to somebody else."
A spokesman for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) declined to comment on the issue, saying it was a dispute between the council and Senate president. Several other state lawmakers representing the county also declined to comment.
When Miller and senators withheld funding from the county Board of Education to lease space for a new headquarters in the spring, school board Chairwoman Verjeana M. Jacobs (At-large) said the dispute highlighted the reputation of discord in the county.
"To do it this way I think sends the wrong message and just reinforces that they're not here to work with [the school board], they're here to say, Let me tell you what to do,'" Jacobs said in April.
Some Accokeek residents are also urging Miller to stay neutral. Accokeek resident Wes Courtney, who sent a letter to the Senate president Aug. 10, said he believes the rezoning reflects the will of a majority of Accokeek residents and pleaded for the state to stay out of the debate.
"The very aggressive minority opposition has attempted to undermine the county process by asking the state to intervene," Courtney wrote in his letter. "Please refrain from getting into a local fight, [and] have confidence that the county process is working as designed."
E-mail Daniel Valentine at firstname.lastname@example.org.