- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Mary’s County government has received a wide variety of complaints this year about the development in the Wildewood neighborhood in California.
But county government has little authority to control how Wildewood is built.
Wildewood is a planned unit development with its own zoning agreement with the county.
Approved in 1978 and amended in 1991, Wildewood can build up to 3,792 homes on 885 acres with no minimum lot size.
“I think the residents are getting shortchanged,” said Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), who represents the California area.
Residents are still concerned about the speeds along Wildewood Parkway, where pedestrians use the shoulder. The walkway criss-crosses the parkway. Some are concerned with the number of new townhomes being built to the rear of the neighborhood and the traffic those are bringing in. Others have concerns about vegetation removed from buffer areas.
Some have called for an access road out of the rear of the neighborhood. Permits have been approved for a road to connect to Lawrence Hayden Road, but other residents are concerned about the traffic impact this will have.
Many of the issues are matters that the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management doesn’t have authority over, said Director Phil Shire.
The planned unit development documents are “written totally in favor of the developer,” Morgan said. “They have extremely wide discretion in what they can do back there.”
There is still the ongoing question about a traffic signal at St. Andrew’s Church Road (Route 4) and Wildewood Parkway.
In a Feb. 14 letter, the county commissioners wrote to a Wildewood resident, “We have approached State Highway Administration several times about the necessity of a traffic light, but their studies show it is not currently a necessity. However, we will continue to seek approval from the Maryland State Highway Administration.”
A Feb. 13 letter from the state agency to the county commissioners said, “traffic engineering staff will conduct an evaluation of the MD 4 and Wildewood Parkway intersection to determine the feasibility of traffic signal control and identify any other needed intersection improvements. This type of review typically takes up to 90 days to complete.”
The first section of Wildewood built 125 homes on large, wooded lots — a total of 221 acres.
Now, Wildewood is physically running out of that kind of space, but can still build up to a density of 4.28 homes per acre.
“We’re building and asking for more trouble back there,” Morgan said, as the development gets denser and denser.
But the county and state governments do have some leverage when it comes to traffic.
There are now at least 2,309 homes built in Wildewood.
Agreements with county government say that the threshold of 2,817 homes triggers major road improvements, though there is some uncertainty in the language, said John Groeger, deputy director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation.
“I think it is a little vague,” he said about the triggering point.
According to the planned unit development agreement, several improvements must be made when that triggering point is reached.
Some have already been done. There are two left-turn lanes from northbound Route 235 onto Wildewood Boulevard. Wildewood Boulevard onto Route 235 has been expanded.
But another left-turn lane would be required from northbound Route 235 onto Airport Road. And third lanes would be required on Route 235 in both directions around Airport Road.
Across the highway is the Oak Crest planned unit development, which has submitted site plans, Groeger said.
That development’s requirements also would require the expansion in Route 235.
A letter to Wildewood’s owners from the county land use said on Feb. 2, 2011, that the developers may build 100 homes beyond the 2,817 before having to undertake all of the road upgrades — so long as a third southbound lane on Route 235 is built from Wildewood Boulevard down to the Wildewood Apartments.
That plan has already been submitted to the state and Wildewood already added a third southbound lane at the apartments.
An April 1, 2009, memo between the owner of Wildewood, the Duball company, and land use and growth management said, “Wildewood maintains the position that development can continue to full build-out of 3,792 units without additional county or state road improvements and/or studies with the exception of MD Rte 235 improvements.”
And while Wildewood is building the connection to Lawrence Hayden Road, it is up to St. Mary’s County government to install traffic calming measures along Primevere Road, Groeger said.
A section of Wildewood Parkway is to be repaved this spring, including the shoulders to try to adjust the bicycle traffic to go with vehicular traffic as mandated by state law. Going with the flow of traffic can reduce serious injuries from accidents, Groeger said.
“There’s no reason the county should be having to do that,” Morgan said of the road improvements, saying they should be the developer’s responsibility.