- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The mood at a second community meeting for residents of the Autumn Hills neighborhood in Waldorf was more amicable than it was at a first meeting two months ago, but residents continued to press Charles County officials about traffic woes and safety concerns at the Feb. 6 meeting at William B. Wade Elementary School.
People are just glad to feel that county government is listening to them, said Deron Tross, president of the Autumn Hills Homeowners Association. But that doesn’t mean they were pleased with the outcome.
“I don’t feel very good about it,” Tross said. “I feel better than I did at the last meeting,” but he said he still felt that little had changed.
Jason Groth, chief of resource and infrastructure management for the county Department of Planning and Growth Management, said no to some of the community’s key requests, including the removal of a barrier on Constitution Drive and the early opening of McDaniel Road, which would let residents reach Berry Road. Right now, they have only one way out of the neighborhood, by taking McDaniel Road to Smallwood Drive, something they say breeds traffic problems and can make it hard for emergency vehicles to reach some houses.
The developer of Autumn Hills, Elm Street Development, must begin finishing McDaniel Road, which is partially closed off, when it records 325 lots in the development, according to an agreement with the county. It just platted the 322rd lot, Groth said, so the threshold has almost been reached.
But it will take about two years from then to actually open the road to traffic. Or longer, Groth said.
“He’s at that threshold. Now, he has to start moving on that construction. Here’s the deal: What’s the amount of time? It’s not quick. … The issue is, we’re trying to find out how long it’s going to take to get permits for this. I don’t mean county permits. I mean state permits, possibly even federal stream permits,” Groth said.
And it’s no use pressuring the developer because Elm Street Development hasn’t broken its agreement, he continued.
“We’d hold their feet to the fire if they were violating the terms of their conditions. They haven’t,” he said.
But under the terms of the original agreement in 2003, construction would have finished years ago. Originally, construction of the road and a bridge over Piney Branch stream was to “be substantially complete and approved for use” before the 201st building permit was issued, according to a statement emailed by county government spokeswoman Donna Fuqua. That permit was issued in April 2010.
But in 2008, when demand for new homes plummeted, Elm Street Development asked the Charles County Planning Commission to move that milestone to the recordation of the 325th lot out of a total 384, Fuqua wrote, and the extension was granted.
The change made sense, given the poor economy, Groth said, and Elm Street Development followed proper procedures in making the change.
“They needed to continue to build homes to be able to afford the road,” he said.
An alternative discussed at the meeting would have the county finish McDaniel Road and bill the developer for the work. But that might not be much faster or more feasible, and county government has not committed to doing the work, Groth said.
Residents had other requests, some of which the county is powerless to resolve on its own, officials said. Tross vowed to have the homeowners association tackle them itself.
One community grievance is a lack of school bus stops, with two stops serving the entire neighborhood. Residents at the meeting said they worried about kids being hit.
But the narrowness of the streets and the number of cars parked on either side of them make it impossible for school buses to maneuver in parts of the neighborhood, explained Mike Heim, assistant supervisor of transportation for the Charles County Public Schools. Getting new bus stops means keeping people from parking on some parts of the street, either by banning parking in certain areas or during school hours. The proposal had supporters and detractors.
Tross supported it, saying his street is already plagued by people who park on the street instead of in their garages or driveways.
But Mary Passmore was not convinced.
“We have to be careful what we wish for,” she said. If cars moved from some streets to the front of the community park, criminals could hide among the cars and prey on children at the playground, she warned.
But Tross was determined to partially clear the parked cars. He plans to use a new county law that lets homeowners association boards ban street parking on county-owned roads in their communities by sending a letter to county government.
“It’s incumbent on the neighbors to move their car. We’re going to police our own,” Tross said.
Officers with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office also warned residents to be careful about asking for more speed enforcement, especially because a study found that speeding is not much of an issue in the neighborhood. People are likely to be irritated if they get tickets, said Lt. Jason Stoddard, commander of the CCSO special operations section.
Tross wants to see something done about speeding as well, he said, and will continue to press county government for “speed calming measures,” basically small traffic circles, to slow cars down. Last year, a child died in Tross’ driveway after being hit by a car on Sugarberry Street.
The neighborhood also wants a stoplight at the intersection of McDaniel Road and Smallwood Drive, where left turns can be dangerous, Tross said.
At a meeting on Tuesday, members of the board of county commissioners praised county staff’s performance but also said more should be done for frustrated residents.
“It’s from no fault of the citizens that live there that the economy tanked and the developer could not keep up with the plans. … That’s not his fault; it’s not our fault; it’s not their fault,” said commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D). “But we talked about speed calming devices a year ago. We talked about this [traffic] light some time ago. My concern is … if I were a community member I’d think, here’s government again making lame excuses. We’ve been talking about this for a long time.”
Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D), whose district includes Autumn Hills, also hoped the county could pick up the pace.
“I want to make it clear, and I want the public to know as well, Mr. Groth and the other staff that were there did an excellent job, and certainly [their] report crystallizes the concerns that were raised and provide an approach. Commissioner Kelly, I agree with you: If we could tighten some of the commitments made to be more definitive in the eyes of the citizens [it would be good],” Collins said.