- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County commissioners voted during their monthly public forum Tuesday evening to halt work on the widening of Ocelot Street in the Waldorf neighborhood of Hampshire after residents alerted them that construction crews already had begun to tear the road up.
The vote came hours after the commissioners were briefed by staff on alternatives to the Ocelot Street project, which would connect the dead-end road and provide a required second access point to the adjacent Piney Grove neighborhood, which is under construction.
County regulations require that developments have at least two ways in and out. Piney Grove has one access point via a connection to the Charles Crossing neighborhood, which itself connects twice to Middletown Road. Ocelot Street, which contains 15 homes, would allow a second access point to Piney Grove via Hampshire, which connects to Smallwood Drive.
Hampshire residents have opposed opening up Ocelot Street, contending the neighborhood — which is laid out along a circle that feeds short residential streets — is not designed to handle another community’s traffic safely.
In August, the county’s emergency services department determined that Ocelot Street would need to be widened in order to allow emergency vehicles to eventually pass through to Piney Grove. Work began shortly thereafter.
The Tuesday morning briefing omitted mention of that work, but several Ocelot Street residents brought it up later during the forum.
“I had the pleasure of watching you guys this morning from my living room while I listened to them rip up my street,” said Patrick O’Connell, who lives on Ocelot Street.
“I was not aware that work was proceeding,” Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said before asking whether the board could order the work be stopped, drawing enthusiastic applause from Hampshire residents in the audience.
Robinson got another ovation when he suggested taking up residents’ offer to visit Ocelot Street and witness the work for themselves.
“What about a field trip?” he asked. “I’m serious. Why don’t the five of us go out there and see it firsthand?”
Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) defended county staff, stating that the commissioners were alerted in an August email from Department of Planning and Growth Management Director Peter Aluotto that the developer, per its agreement with the county, had to proceed with work on Ocelot Street by Aug. 26. With the commissioners in the midst of a six-week break, Aluotto asked if they wanted to hold a special meeting to address Ocelot Street, but the board declined, Kelly said.
“There was no interest in having a special meeting, and that’s why the developer was allowed to proceed,” Kelly said. “It is entirely because of this board’s inaction that they’ve proceeded.”
“I’m not trying to blame anyone,” Robinson said. “I’m just saying, time out until we figure out what we’re going to do.”
Robinson made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D), to stop work on Ocelot Street once the county attorney’s office had determined the county’s legal right to do so. Kelly voted for the motion. Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) did not voice support or opposition.
Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) was not present at the forum, and instead attended a town hall meeting at Malcolm Elementary School concerning the nearby dumping of sludge by a Baltimore company.
The vote drew cheers from Hampshire residents, nine of whom testified during the forum.
“Yay!” shouted Bob Guiffre, president of the Hampshire Homeowners Association.
During the morning briefing, Aluotto and PGM Chief of Infrastructure Management Jason Groth presented the commissioners with several alternatives to widening Ocelot Street, including connections via Smallwood Drive, Old McDaniel Road and Chantilly Street in Charles Crossing, but each had problems, ranging from environmental issues to a lack of right of way.
Kelly and Robinson each suggested the long-delayed completion of McDaniel Road would solve Piney Grove’s access issue, along with several future developments in the area, and asked whether the county could assume responsibility for the project from its developer.
“In concept the county hasn’t been in practice of making improvements that were scheduled to be done by a developer, but obviously we’re in unique times and things are a little different today than they were say, 10 years ago,” Groth said.
“We are ultimately responsible for safe roads in this county,” Robinson said, adding “we would be solving a ton of problems” by finishing McDaniel Road.
Rucci asked why the county doesn’t require developers to finish a neighborhood’s access roads prior to building houses. Groth said that roads built ahead of the homes they serve tend to become dead ends used for people to dump trash.
Robinson noted that residents along a dead-end road, like Ocelot Street, come to expect it to remain that way.
“But as people are coming to find out, not all dead ends are forever,” he said.