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Transportation Working & the Economy

Plane Crash on Highway Shines Spotlight on Controversial Development Plan

A small plane crashed on U.S. 50 last week after taking off from nearby Freeway Airport in Bowie. Photo by John Domen/WTOP.

When a plane taking off from Freeway Airport in Bowie clipped a car and crashed onto U.S. 50 last Thursday, it was a reminder of how perilously close the airfield is to a busy commuter thoroughfare.

As it happens, the airport’s future was the subject of a Prince George’s County Council public hearing just two days before the crash.

The hearing, on legislation sponsored by Councilman Derrick Leon Davis (D) months ago at the request of the airport’s owner, would allow for significant residential development at the site. 

That legislation has generated opposition from Bowie-area residents who worry that a bevy of new homes would generate additional traffic – particularly on Church Road, which runs perpendicular to U.S. 50. 

After hearing from dozens of opponents, Davis said he will retool the measure to reduce the number of homes that could be built on the 120-plus acre site.

Despite opposition from the City of Bowie and people who live along Church Road, lawmakers seem inclined to approve a zoning change that would allow for some residential development.

“The airport is dying, and it’s been dying since [the] 9/11 [attacks],” said Davis, whose district includes the property. “Is it time for the airport to go away? Is it the highest and best use now? Yeah, it’s probably run its course.”

Prince George’s County Council President Todd Turner (D) agreed the airport’s days are numbered, but said what follows next is up in the air.

“I think there’s universal consensus that the time for the airport not to be there anymore is upon us,” said Turner, a former Bowie official who represents several nearby communities. 

“The question now is what should go in its place — and that’s what the conversation is right now.”

Freeway Airport has been in the Rodenhauser family for decades. With the death of owner Stanley Rodenhauser in July, his daughter Kimberly has been spearheading communications with county officials and the community about what to do next.

At the public hearing last week, she said the only way for the facility to survive economically is to increase business — probably not the best option for an increasingly dense area — or to develop the land into what Davis called “upscale townhomes.”

“This property is all we have left,” she testified, according to the Capital Gazette.

“The area has changed from a sleepy agricultural enclave to a suburban residential area,” she added.

Bowie Planning Director Joe Meinert told the County Council that the addition of new homes on the airport site would conflict with the zoning pattern the city has established for the area, the Capital Gazette reported.

“Essentially you’re changing the rules,” he testified. “A lot of people have bought homes in that corridor relying on the zoning rules, so this upsets that entire pattern of densities.”

Residents also noted the death of 14-year-old honors student Kamal Nashid, who was in a crosswalk at the intersection of Church Road and Fairview Vista Drive when he was struck and killed while jogging in June, WUSA-TV reported.

Davis, the bill’s sponsor, recalled serving on the staff of former Councilmember Ronald Russell (D) in the early 1990s, when a plane heading to Potomac Airfield crashed into a home in Fort Washington. 

“I learned more about what they call ‘accident potential zones’ than I ever wanted to know,” he said in an interview. 

Davis pushed back against the notion that development would “overwhelm the area” if the airport shut down, but after hearing community feedback, he said he will go back, consult with county planners and return with a revised bill later this fall. 

“What they want to see is a narrowing of the scope of the legislation,” he said. 

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Plane Crash on Highway Shines Spotlight on Controversial Development Plan