Concerns over communication and the pace of development along Brentwood's blighted US Route 1 corridor have a majority of its city council questioning how the Gateway Community Development Corporation works with the town. Brentwood's elected leaders are now embroiled in a contentious debate over the role of the Gateway CDC and have asked representatives of the group to come before the city council to discuss its plans for the area.
"Since I've been here in December, they have not come into the town," said Councilor Ann Wells in an interview. Wells was appointed to a vacant council seat back in December. "So, we need to define what that relationship, what that partnership is, and our expectations of each other."
The Gateway CDC is a nonprofit group which works to cultivate the local arts scene as a way to attract new development. CDC's often act as an intermediary between real estate developers and government officials. Last month, the Gateway CDC asked all three of the municipalities which it represents, Brentwood, North Brentwood and Mount Rainier, to issue letters of support as the CDC sought Community Development Block Grant funds from Prince George's County.
But only Brentwood wavered in its support. At a meeting on April 24, the Brentwood City Council defeated a measure which would have signed off on one of those letters of support. Only Mayor Roger Rudder and Councilor Nina Young voted in support of the measure. Councilor Ann Wells voted against the measure while Councilor Aneeka Harrison and Councilor Regina Morlan abstained from the vote.
Councilor Nina Young, the council's appointed liaison to the Gatweay CDC, was flabbergasted by the failed vote.
"I have no rational understanding of why it failed," said Young in an interview last week. "Arts is integral to the economic development of our three communities. The CDC really is the liaison not only with the small businesses, but with potential developers. It's vital that we have a strong partnership with the Gatweay CDC."
Morlan agreed that a strong partnership was essential, but said that lately, the Gateway CDC has been focused too much on arts programming at the expense of development initiatives.
"Gateway's name is community 'development' corporation. That's development," said Morlan at the April 25 meeting. "That's what this town needs. I appreciate the arts, I'm an artist myself, I don't discount them, at all. I need to know, going forward, what Gateway is going to do to work on this to get the development portion of it done."
Brentwood resident Ron Bretemps, a former Gateway CDC board member as well (though one with a fair amount of skepticism over the CDC's recent performance), suggested that town residents have become disillusioned by what he called the slow pace of development along Route 1.
"Back in 1997, when the CDC was first starting, there was a lot of misunderstanding of what the mission was," Bretemps said. "To a certain extent, that's happening again…in the last four years there has been no progress."
The failure of the letter of support measure sparked a small commotion, newsworthy in its own right if only for the acidic loss of decorum which ensued.
Immediately after the vote, Brentwood artist and former Gateway CDC board member Jennifer Murphy loudly got up from her seat and shouted the word "idiots" before storming out of the council chamber. Young laughed and remarked "I actually agree."
Young's remark drew criticism from Wells and Harrison who said that it showed a lack of respect for fellow council members.
At last night's Brentwood City Council meeting, both Murphy and Young tried to apologize while explaining that their actions were the result of frustration with their colleagues. Their apologies were not accepted by Harrison or Wells.
Laura Rogers, president of the Gateway CDC board, was watching the April 25 meeting from her home in Brentwood. She said that she was caught by surprise when she heard many of the complaints listed by Wells.
"They cited several concerns that I was unaware of until I watched the debate," said Rogers in an interview.
But if Brentwood's elected leaders want to see evidence of how the CDC is impacting the town, Rogers said they need not look far.
"We have opened up the arts center in Brentwood which houses 13 microbusinesses. There's the storage building, which would have otherwise been just a big warehouse," said Rogers. Instead, the building now houses commercial space on the floor, though the storefronts within remain vacant.
Rogers admitted that the Gateway CDC could be doing a better job communicating with its member towns. She said that the CDC plans on implementing a new communication strategy as soon as it can hire a new executive director. That plan includes monthly, in-person reports to Brentwood's City Council, as well as Mount Rainier's and North Brentwood's.
"Brentwood is important," said Rogers.