Owners of Bowie airport face controversy over property plans — no matter what they do

For months now, the family that owns Freeway Airport in Bowie, Maryland, has been working on a plan to sell the property, close the air strip and get out of the aviation business.

The Prince George’s County Council held a hearing on their plan to do just that days before a near-tragic crash that involved a plane taking off from the airport and came close to voting to approve the plan.

The county council was supposed to hold a vote this past Tuesday on legislation that would change the zoning density for the land the airport is on.

Right now, that land is zoned to allow one home for every two acres of land. But, with so much development having already occurred in the area around the airport, the owners are pushing for a change that would allow developers to build hundreds of homes on the land.

During a county council meeting Tuesday, Kim Rodenhauser — whose family has owned and operated the airport since the 1940s — explained that the restrictions imposed on the airport by the 9/11 attacks have drained their finances and hindered the way Freeway Airport used to operate.

She said that at this point, she’s down to two choices:

“For us to spend our remaining money on marketing efforts [or] working to increase airport activity to allow more flights, lessons, fueling stops, maintenance operations,” and other activity.

At the time the airport was built, it was all farmland and far more rural than it is today, she admitted. In recent years, hundreds of new homes have been built just on the other side of Route 50, across from the airport.

“The area has changed from sleepy agricultural enclave to suburban residential,” Rodenhauser said. “I do not feel increasing airport activities is the best option. Accidents are a reality of general aviation airports. I personally know of 10 fatalities caused by accidents coming from the airport.”

For Rodenhauser, the second option is to sell to developers. But that venture also faces criticism.

Though the airport sits outside the boundaries of the city of Bowie, the family still went to the city asking to support the zoning change. City leaders unanimously opposed the plan, agreeing with many residents who live there and worried the plans were too big for Church Road, amid concerns that it wouldn’t be able to keep up with the increased traffic.

Earlier this summer, a teenager was hit and killed by a car while jogging along the road only a few hundred feet from the airport.

“Whatever they do, it’s not without controversy,” admitted Bowie Mayor Fred Robinson.

Robinson wouldn’t guess whether Thursday’s plane crash would change anyone’s opinion about the future of the airport. And while he’s still against the plans as they are now, it’s not something he’ll have a say in anyway.

The final decision rests with the county council, which ended up putting off a vote on the zoning change requested by the airport Tuesday.

After the proposal passed a council committee over the summer, the belief is that the county will likely end up approving the project eventually — despite the opposition of those in the surrounding communities.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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