- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Planning visions aren’t lining up with development realities, leading to “eyesore” development in undesirable places, commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said Tuesday.
A new CVS store in Bryans Road, replacing two smaller pharmacies in Bryans Road and Indian Head, was a particular target of her ire.
Bryans Road was envisioned as having a “mixed-use village feel. Now what we probably have is the largest CVS in the history of the world. It’s frighteningly large. They had to put a second story on that sucker” to comply with zoning laws. “That’s what’s broken here. We don’t ever get to the point where we allow the board of commissioners to take a look at what’s broken and try to fix it,” Kelly said.
At the same time, CVS/pharmacy architects followed all design rules, including adding an unnecessary second floor with an elevator. Rules intended to promote dense development in town centers seemed to result in the company building a larger building on “pristine” land, Kelly said.
A CVS/pharmacy corporate spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) warned that county commissioners cannot involve themselves in every zoning decision. Kelly countered that better information, at least, is in order.
Planning staff should work with developers to get projects approved, Robinson said.
“I think staff could be trained to come up with options and alternatives,” he said.
“We need to put that out there to them,” Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) said.
Robinson and Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) suggested “empowering” staffers to be creative in applying rules, but Kelly saw risks to too much flexibility.
“They can only be so creative without them bending the rules, and we don’t want to put them in that position. ‘The rules are the rules.’ When I hear that, it’s discouraging,” Kelly said. “There should be some objectivity to this, but we as a board, as a result of our priorities, give [county staff] a certain standard. … These [staffers] are smart people. I’m sure they’re saying, ‘This is ridiculous [that] we have to force these standards on a developer,’” she said.
Planning and zoning staff members are not at fault for denied applications, said Douglas W. Meeker, vice president in charge of Charles County for Elm Street Development, a homebuilder.
“I think they do their job. They have a tough job and truly, the development and building business is one of the most complex businesses that you would ever get involved in. There’s numerous rules and regulations. ... I think in general, they are fair. They enforce the rules,” Meeker said in a Wednesday interview.
Challenges facing developers in town centers, including traffic, water and sewer access, potentially hostile neighbors and, for homebuilders, public school capacity, are all factors in making rural areas often more attractive, Meeker said.
Tax incentives and investment in infrastructure in town centers could spur redevelopment there, he said. Another barrier to desired developments can be “competing regulations. By that, I mean the county can zone a property for a certain density, a certain use. But there may be other regulations that prevent that property from being developed the way the zoning envisioned.”
The board’s discussion was part of a meeting aimed at setting goals for the county and assessing progress on existing projects.
Davis was concerned about transportation problems in the rural parts of the county, including mass transit access and substandard private roads.
“Some of the roads we’re having that are collapsing are private roads. I have citizens that want to make them public roads. The price is crazy. … I just think there are a lot of roads like that. I don’t know how we address it or whether we address it. It’s very expensive,” Davis said.
Roads are another dilemma in working with developers because building a road to county standards is costly, but when private roads are allowed, “invariably, at some point, the landowner comes back and wants the county to take control of the inferior roads,” Kelly said.
She suggested a study to identify bad roads and estimate the cost to county government of assuming control.
The commissioners also discussed how to lobby for Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head, which is under scrutiny for possible closure.
“I think we need to be stronger. We support NSWC and we will continue to explore the best ways of accomplishing that,” Kelly said.