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A proposal for a shopping center at a corner of routes 235 and 4 in California got an endorsement Monday from the St. Mary’s County Planning Commission on a split vote.

The St. Mary’s Market Place project has a new owner, Klein Enterprises, and an abandoned trailer park at the site has been removed. The 91,000-square-foot shopping center on 14 acres would bring in a new pharmacy, a new grocery store and relocate the businesses in the adjacent Bay Country shopping center to St. Mary’s Market Place.

Ultimately however, the project needs approval from the St. Mary’s County commissioners to cross the old railroad right of way owned by the county.

The commissioners turned down the last developer of the project, DRS Development, because it would have relocated a Food Lion grocery store from the Laurel Glen shopping center to St. Mary’s Market Place.

“It’s a different plan, similar, but different,” said Phil Shire, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management. It is smaller in scope, but it would still add lanes to St. Andrew’s Church Road, and construct an additional segment of FDR Boulevard between an apartment complex in Wildewood to the First Colony development at Route 4.

Matthew Allen, director of development for Klein Enterprises, said the pharmacy and grocery store would be businesses not located in St. Mary’s County now, but acknowledged the leases haven’t been secured yet.

Some members of the planning commission said they were concerned about the impact on traffic at the intersection of Route 4 and Route 235. The commercial project uses a traffic plan from 2008, which is still valid, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration. “If anything they’re actually down a little bit,” Allen said of the traffic numbers around the intersection.

“I guess I’m not satisfied with the evidence the traffic has gone down,” said Susan McNeill, planning commission member. “In my estimation the traffic is the same or worse.”

The intersection already operates at what is called by SHA officials a failing level, which means lines of vehicles can’t clear out in one cycle of a traffic light. Allen said the developer’s improvements to the intersection would offset 500 to 800 percent of its impact to traffic.

The existing entrance to the Bay Country shopping center would be closed off and that strip mall would ultimately be demolished. Its businesses will have the option to move into new space within St. Mary’s Market Place, Allen said.

“I think it’s a perfect property to be redeveloped,” said Merl Evans, planning commission member.

The project will have a right-in, right-out lane for the pharmacy on Route 4, an entrance on Route 235 and the new portion of FDR Boulevard for access. “I cannot develop the property without the access off [Route] 235,” Allen said, and that would require crossing the county’s right of way.

“You’ve got a hot corner,” said Howard Thompson, chairman of the planning commission. “If something’s built right, it will take off” he told the developer.

Shelby P. Guazzo, planning commission member, wanted to see the entire property with a childproof fence to keep kids away from the state roads. The site plan calls for three fences, but not one on the side adjacent to Route 235.

Other members said the Maryland State Highway Administration may alter the project when it decides on how to improve the intersection of Route 235 and Route 4, “because they can throw it all out at the end of the day,” said Martin Siebert, planning commission member. That intersection is still under planning and Allen said, “they might not have funding for any” of the options selected.

The board voted 4-3 to approve the concept plan, with Guazzo, McNeill and Patricia Robrecht voting no.

jbabcock@somdnews.com