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Charles County government welcomes the Maryland Army National Guard’s plan to move just outside of La Plata. The new site’s neighbors, however, do not.

Citing land use and road damage worries, La Plata and Port Tobacco residents complained about the plan to build a new armory on residentially zoned land near their homes. The guard is eyeing a parcel at the southwestern corner of the intersection of Rose Hill and Hawthorne roads that is owned by Charles County government, a decision supported by the county commissioners, who see economic benefits to keeping the guard in the county.

The La Plata armory no longer meets military standards, and the 253rd Engineer Company will move to a larger building on more land, according to county documents. In the meantime, the current Army National Guard Readiness Center will stay open.

“My comments and concerns are relative to land use matters. This property is zoned [rural conservation] under the current Charles County Zoning Ordinance as I understand it, and it would be my belief and opinion that this use is not a permitted use in the RC zone,” said Thomas C. Hayden Jr., who said he has lived on Rose Hill Road for 30 years. “Of course, I understand the premise that the king is God, the king can do no wrong and the state of Maryland is the king, but I would hope Charles County would require the state of Maryland to comply with its land use laws.”

The armory’s presence would inevitably damage Rose Hill Road, even if military vehicles mainly use Hawthorne Road, said Varsha Sharma, a board member of the homeowners association for Longmeade, a Port Tobacco neighborhood.

“I do want to emphasize again that Rose Hill Road is a small road,” Sharma said. “It’s inevitable that Rose Hill Road is going to be used and I feel that my SUV is a monster on that road. I can only imagine what a truck would be like on that road.”

Sharma was not the only Longmeade homeowner to object.

“I think to veil the magnitude of the intrusion of a facility as mandated currently into a neighborhood that houses 92 homes … to say, because we have the Maryland National Guard [now in La Plata], this casual three-mile move will be consistent with what the county is used to” is misleading, said Stephen Guthrie.

He called for the armory to be built on a more remote site in Charles County.

In response to the six complaints at the hearing, county Public Works Director Bill Shreve acknowledged that the 20-acre parcel is inappropriate for a septic system, but said the county plans to extend a special sewer line to the site at a cost of about $377,000.

The expense would be appropriate because the guard would give the county its current armory in downtown La Plata, a more valuable property than the Rose Hill Road parcel, and the sewer line will help make up the difference in value.

Permitting for the new armory would include a traffic study that would protect Rose Hill Road, Shreve also said, with Hawthorne Road the preferred route anyway.

“Those kinds of conditions … would be something that would come out of the transportation study,” commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) agreed.

Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) called damage to Rose Hill Road “a legitimate concern” and suggested including a commitment to use Hawthorne Road instead in the permit requirements.

“We will note that,” Shreve replied.

Land swap negotiations between Charles County and the guard are in progress, Shreve said last week.

If the guard accepts the Rose Hill Road site, the county will give the 20-acre parcel to the group through the Maryland Department of General Services, then lease part of it back as a park-and-ride lot, playground, veterans memorial or something else, Shreve said.

The terms of the lease, including the amount of land and the cost, are yet to be determined.

In exchange for the land, Charles County government would receive the current armory from the guard. Because the building and the four acres it sits on are more valuable than the Rose Hill Road site, county government could end up owing money to the guard, but the guard and DGS would allow the county to deduct the cost of future improvements to the old armory from the cost, Shreve said.

Moving to a new armory will take about two years, during which time the La Plata armory will remain open, Shreve and National Guard representatives have said.

emitrano@somdnews.com