- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Residents of the Autumn Hills neighborhood in Waldorf aren’t sure who to blame for their traffic woes, Charles County government or the subdivision’s developer. But at least those who spoke at a community meeting Wednesday night are sure that someone needs to arrange for a second exit from the neighborhood, for the residents’ safety and convenience.
Residents now have only one way out: McDaniel Road to Smallwood Drive, a situation that Deron Tross, president of the Autumn Hills Homeowners Association, said contributed to the death of a small child who was hit in front of his house by a driver heading to a convenience store.
“If that driver had an alternate way out of that development, that child might be alive. He was on his way to Wawa,” Tross said at the meeting at William B. Wade Elementary School.
But things aren’t that simple, explained Jason Groth, chief of resource and infrastructure management for the county Department of Planning and Growth Management. In an agreement, Elm Street Development promised to complete McDaniel Road when 325 lots have been recorded.
Autumn Hills now has 280 lots, and the developer estimates it will take two years to record the rest. In the meantime, McDaniel Road will continue to be blocked off north of Autumn Hills, preventing residents from using it to reach Berry Road.
Meanwhile, residents of neighboring Constitution Hills, as well as some in Autumn Hills, oppose opening Constitution Drive, which would provide another route to Berry Road, or Route 228. That road, blocked off six years ago, will not be reopened until the last Constitution Hills building permit is issued, Groth said.
“The commissioners at the time mandated that that barrier remain in place until the last home is built,” Groth said.
Carlos Eldridge Sr. asked about emergencies that block off the southern portion of McDaniel Road, leaving residents trapped inside.
“There’s no alternative to get out of our neighborhood other than to get on our bicycles and get out that way,” Eldridge said.
Angry residents had trained their guns in the wrong direction, said Mary Passmore, who wanted Elm Street Development to step up and open a road ahead of schedule.
“Sorry, Doug. I think we’re letting you off really easy. We’re really pounding the county, but it’s on the developer,” Passmore said to Douglas W. Meeker, vice president in charge of Charles County for Elm Street Development. “I apologize for that. You’re a very nice man, but we want the road open.”
The company has considered finishing McDaniel Road early, but it would be expensive to do without the revenue from the remaining lots, Meeker said. Once the 325-lot milestone is reached, it would take another six to nine months to open McDaniel Road to traffic, he estimated.
“Is it acceptable to allow the developer to take almost 10 years to do a project? Is that an acceptable thing?” asked Karen Richardson, noting that the neighborhood is already 8 years old. “I know it’s not acceptable to the development, but we’re not the only people in the world. Is it acceptable to the county and the commissioners, also? Or is 10 years a little too long?”
The economy has slowed construction, which is something neither the county nor the developer can control, Groth replied.
“Bottom line is it’s a normal thing,” he said. His staff would study the matter, compile a report and meet with residents again around the week of Feb. 1, he promised.