- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County Planning Commission voted unanimously Monday night to remove two conditions from the general plan for the Waldorf Technology Park, and also voted to keep the record open for 45 days to field further commentary on the proposed reclassification for the park’s zoning status.
By approving the removal of the conditions, construction can begin on two restaurants proposed for the site. The commission moved to approve after Planning and Growth Management program manager Shelley Wagner urged the board to move on the issue to allow the applicants, Manekin and Soltesz, to move forward.
Regarding the zoning reclassification, Manekin employee Ray Mertz said last week that the group was seeking to change the park’s classification from planned employment park to mixed use to allow for the additional construction of apartment buildings on-site, something that PEP zoning does not permit.
La Plata attorney Steve Scott, the lawyer representing the applicants, noted that the project was devised in 2001, a much different time economically for development.
“When this project was approved ... this project did not qualify for mixed use, and there were some ambitious and high hopes for it,” Scott said.
Soltesz employee Cathy Flerlage said in her testimony before the commission that approving the zoning classification change would allow the project to keep up better with the times, noting that the 2006 and proposed 2012 comprehensive plans both aim to concentrate the majority of growth within the development district, something the apartments would encourage.
“This embraces that notion,” Flerlage said, adding that the addition of apartments to the park would allow people to “work, play, recreate and live, all in one site.”
Flerlage also noted a need for high-density apartments like the ones proposed in the area.
“So much is single-family detached, and there’s a strong need ... for folks who want an amenity-rich environment,” Flerlage said.
Speaking in favor of the reclassification, Alton Fryer, a retired Manekin senior vice president, admitted that the current “marketplace hasn’t really validated [the technology park]” as a PEP project.
“We’re not on the right track,” Fryer said. “In this particular case, I think I missed the mark.”
Speaking against the proposed changes, Waldorf resident Gail Walker, who lives near the park, said she feared adding the apartments would strain the county’s resources and add congestion to the roads rather than alleviate it.
“I’m against it,” Walker said. “I don’t think they should get the change. We’re going to have to deal with them bringing in a multiflex unit where they’re going to have businesses ... but in the meantime, we still have to live here. We still have to drive down those roads and support our schools, and support our residents that have been here the longest.”
Another Waldorf resident who lives near the park, John Tifford, said he has supported the park from the beginning but that the mixed use zoning “doesn’t seem to be appropriate at all” because of the strain on the land and the resources.
The record for comment on the zoning reclassification will remain open for 45 days.
Later in the meeting, the commission revisited an item from the June 3 meeting regarding time extensions for subdivision preliminary plans.
The staff, Wagner said, recommended that the commission approve the amendment, which stipulates that preliminary plans can be approved for a four-year period and be given up to eight additional years if necessary. After that period, the plans have to be reapproved.
Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth Theobalds encouraged the board to note that the proposed amendment would not allow the plans to receive extensions without review. Should the board feel applicants had not made satisfactory progress on the land, they could reject the extension.
Preliminary plans that have recorded 25 percent of the lots with the county and have made substantial progress on developing the land do not have to apply for extensions, Wagner said.
Planning commission Vice Chairman Joseph Richard questioned whether lands cleared for development of preliminary plans could be in the works for more than the 12-year time frame, which Wagner said was certainly possible provided they have met the 25 percent metric, along with development.
Member Bob Mitchell suggested that in the case of extenuating circumstances, the applicant be allowed a hearing before the commission to potentially grant another extension.
“I don’t want to have to just cut it off entirely after 12 years,” Mitchell said. “Give them the chance if they’re really true and honest. There will always be somebody who got into a financial jam. I just don’t want to say, ‘Hey, this is it, sorry, goodbye.’ I want verbage that says we as the planning commission should make that decision, not the staff.”
Shortly after, Mitchell said he felt giving the staff such control over the preliminary plan process would cater too much to the wants of the PGM staff.
“Anytime the staff makes something, it can just roll right on through,” Mitchell said. “I’ve ... never seen the tail wag the dog as much as it does on this board.”
Chairman Stephen Bunker refuted Mitchell’s assertion that the commission caters to the staff, saying that staff had consulted with developers when coming up with the amendment.
The board voted 4-2 to send the item as presented to the county commissioners for approval, with Richard and member Joan Jones dissenting. Member Joseph Tieger was not present.
The commission also:
•Unanimously approved preliminary plans for a revision to the 260-acre Gleneagles North development, located on St. Charles Parkway in Waldorf, reducing the number of apartments in the development from 266 to 213 and removing a residential component that allows for a village center in the development.
•Unanimously approved a site plan for Gleneagles III for 213 garden apartments in Waldorf.
•Unanimously approved consent items for the 60-acre Brookwood II development on Brookwood Drive in Bennsville and the 25.86-acre Turtle Creek development on Gallant Lane in Waldorf.