- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A plan to put in recreational amenities in place of a proposed golf course in the unbuilt Heritage Green neighborhood will go to a public hearing after the La Plata Town Council agreed Thursday to consider it for public input.
The town council is expected to hear the issue Dec. 11 at a special meeting at town hall, according to a preliminary schedule presented at Thursday’s meeting.
The plan proposes 295 acres of parkland, including a 110-acre central park, a 100-acre ecology park, two community parks, additional trails and bike paths, ponds that function as stormwater management and amenities, and a three-acre site for a recreation center. Additional commercial amenities will be developed to support the recreational amenities, according to the plan.
The central park is planned to contain four tot lots, six multipurpose athletic courts, open play fields, four outdoor picnic areas, two picnic pavillions, trails, an outdoor ampitheater, community gardens, a large reflecting pool, ponds and other amenities.
The eco park is planned to surround the Clark’s Run waterway and contain 2.25 miles of soft-surface trails with footbridges, exercise stations and interpretive signs. The eco park is planned to have four outdoor picnic areas, restored wetland habitats, an amenity pond that doubles as stormwater management, stream restoration and natural meadows.
As part of the plan, three items are required to be completed before any occupancy permits are granted. A community park will go at the northwest corner of the neighborhood near a lake. A 1.5-mile trail through the eco park and a .25-mile linear park trail going north from Charles Street will need to be completed before people can move into the neighborhood. A total of 40 acres of the park system will be completed before this benchmark.
The provision for a golf course in Heritage Green was part of the original annexation agreement passed and upheld by referendum in 1990. It was planned to have 18 holes and be open to the public for five years before GP Homes, Heritage Green’s developer, decided whether to sell the golf course or operate it on a private basis.
A recreation center for town residents and a recreation center for homeowner association members are included in the original annexation agreement.
The Heritage Green neighborhood is expected to contain about 3,000 housing units on slightly more than 800 acres. An additional 200 acres containing commercial and industrial property north of Rosewick Road also will be part of the project.
Town council members said they were interested in combining the provision for a town recreation center with the three-acre site to create a medium-sized recreation center recommended in the town’s parks and recreation master plan.
The plan recommends a medium-sized recreation center that may contain a medium to large gymnasium for two to three basketball or volleyball courts, indoor fitness rooms, meeting rooms, a lounge, an arts studio space and an indoor/outdoor swimming pool.
The center is estimated to cost $5.8 million.
The plan allows the option for town council members to make an agreement with GP Homes to combine the three-acre property with the proposed town recreation center to create a medium-sized recreation center.
The town will have to act quickly on that provision, however, because the plan calls for construction on the town recreation center to begin by the 150th occupancy permit and be open to the public by the 300th occupancy permit.
GP Homes principal developer Harry Lapas said the neighborhood could break ground by late March, as he has discussed the project with builders and is putting together a financing package.
Lapas said he would not like to wait two to three years to build a larger recreation center, like the one envisioned by town council members.
The town council could decide as early as its Dec. 18 business meeting to adopt the amenities plan, which becomes effective 45 days after the town council’s adoption.
Town council members, particularly Paddy Mudd and Joseph Norris, seemed to agree with moving forward with a suggestion from Jim Goldsmith, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, to hire a consultant to draft a plan for the town, county and developer to move forward with a medium-sized recreation center.
The consultant would be Clive Graham of Environmental Resources Management in Annapolis, who also consulted the town on its parks and recreation plan and the county on its land preservation, parks and recreation plan. The cost of consulting services would be less than $10,000, Goldsmith said.
Council members expressed concerns about some provisions while agreeing with the plan as a whole.
Councilman Keith Back said he wanted more benchmarks to ensure more recreational amenities come online as housing is built. He also asked for language to be struck allowing the HOA to decide who is allowed on the recreational amenities.
Back said town residents need to have access to all recreational amenities except the HOA’s recreational center.
“The amenity package is for La Plata residents to enjoy, period,” Back said.
In response to Back’s concerns, the town and GP Homes agreed to draft language that allows the town to withhold occupancy permits earlier on in the building process to ensure recreational amenities are provided with housing.
Currently, the town is only allowed to withhold occupancy permits after the 1,259th occupancy permit, according to the agreement.
Town Manager Daniel Mears said the intention of the agreement is to create one acre of recreational amenities per 10.5 housing units built, but Back wanted a specific “stick” requiring GP Homes to meet a benchmark.
Lapas said it was important for him to have recreational amenities of some sort to sell homes in the neighborhood, so he was willing to accept language to ensure recreational amenities are provided early on.
The council also agreed to typographical changes and an additional map to display the phases of the Heritage Green amenities plan.
Residents at the meeting had mixed reactions to the amenities plan.
“I think this is great. I’ve been pushing this for last two years. We don’t need a golf course. When this annexation was originally proposed, we were lacking the golf courses we now have. And if the town is to implement its parks and recreation plan, the only way to do it is to do it in conjunction with the developer. It is too costly for the town on its own. Tying the county into the project would also be helpful because they would pay into it,” Goldsmith said.
Michael Runfola said the plan was “shortsighted” on the town council’s part because the annexation agreement was previously amended to allow a separate neighborhood, Washington Square, to be built.
“All those goodies sound good on paper, but [the town council will] be long gone when they happen,” Runfola said.
Rather than replace the golf course with recreational amenities, Runfola reiterated a suggestion that if GP Homes does not develop a golf course, the town should be given the cost of the golf course from GP Homes for the townspeople to decide what they want done in the neighborhood.
Runfola said the town could survey residents on what they want but doubted the town council would do that.
“I get the feeling that we the people have no say in this,” Runfola said.
The town council was expected to officially introduce the recreational amenities plan Tuesday, which sets in motion the public hearing process.
The meeting was too late to be included in this edition.