- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
To reveal the beauty within, destruction and repair sometimes are necessary, even in the cause of reviving Waldorf.
The Waldorf Beautification Project is continuing, with plans to demolish vacant gas stations at the intersections of Smallwood Drive and U.S. 301 and routes 5 and 925, and to repair the much-complained-about railroad crossing near the intersection of Leonardtown Road and Pika Drive.
Reconstruction of a right-turn lane from Route 5 — Leonardtown Road — westbound onto Route 925 — Old Washington Road — also is planned.
“The whole idea is to try to remove as much blight out of the community as we possibly can,” said Charles County commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D), who has led the project. He said the project is ongoing for an area that the county considers a central point and is an important part of the county’s comprehensive plan.
County spokeswoman Donna Fuqua said the county is unsure of the exact dates when the former Exxon gas station and Tiger Mart at the intersection of Smallwood Drive and U.S. 301, and the former Exxon gas and service station at Leonardtown and Old Washington became vacant. A complaint of vacancy for the gas station on Smallwood Drive was filed in September 2010, and a complaint of vacancy for the gas station on Leonardtown Road was filed in September 2006.
The former Tiger Mart at U.S. 301 will be demolished and, the county has been informed, replaced with a new Dash In convenience store that will have a gas station and a car wash, Fuqua said. However, no building permits have been filed with the county yet, and no date of construction has been determined.
“It would be nice to have something on this side of 301,” said Kristal Mosko, chiropractic assistant at Chiropractic Care Center on Smallwood Drive.
Mosko said she has lived in Waldorf for 14 years and worked at the center for 13 years. The nearest gas station for employees at the center to buy gas or snacks during the day is on Billingsley Road.
“I think it’s great that [a new Dash-In is] going in over there. We won’t have to go down to Wawa,” Mosko said.
Across the parking lot from the center is Dr. Felicia Nesbit’s dental office, where Laura Tevault, front desk coordinator, said the dental office does not have anything within walking distance.
“I think it’s great,” said Tevault, who has worked at the dental office for four years and lives in Swan Point. “I think it would be convenient.”
Dave Keys, store manager at Tires Plus, which is connected to the gas station on U.S. 301 by a small paved road, said Tires Plus might get some business from U.S. 301 when the new gas station opens.
“It provides us a lot more visibility, I think,” said Keys, who has worked at Tires Plus for two years and lives in Huntingtown. “Sometimes, from the highway, you can’t see us.” Keys said any relationships the tire store can build with other companies in the area, “the better off” the tire store is.
Ryan Harris, who lives in La Plata, is a service account manager at Computer Pro Plus, on Leonardtown Road across from the vacant gas station. He said the area needs some improvement.
“Anything that’s condemned or vacant — the property should be used for something to better the community,” Harris said.
Exxon-Mobil Corp. and Dash In Food Stores did not return calls seeking comment.
Fuqua said improvements to the CSX railroad crossing on Leonardtown Road near the intersection with Pika Drive will begin in the spring. The Maryland State Highway Administration currently is determining possible detour routes.
“The rail line itself does not need repair, just the road crossing,” Fuqua said. “High traffic volumes accelerate the frequency of needed pavement repairs.” Fuqua said CSX legally is responsible for maintenance of the pavement at the crossing, should have been more proactive with repairs and not let the pavement deteriorate to its present state.
SHA also is handling the addition of a westbound right-turn lane from Route 5 at the CSX railroad crossing onto Route 925. Fuqua said the addition of a turn lane will add capacity and also allow for “new sidewalks for enhanced accessibility for the handicapped.”
Chief J.R. Hayden of Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department said the railroad crossing’s current condition slows response time for emergency vehicles because the vehicles have to slow down to cross. When vehicles have to slow down at the crossing, traffic on Leonardtown Road also is impeded. But, the crossing also costs the department in repairs to its fire trucks and ambulances.
“That railroad crossing is hell on all of [our emergency vehicles],” Hayden said, adding that several ambulances recently had brake issues, which the railroad crossing contributed to.
Hayden said when he is driving a fire truck he always looks back after going over the railroad crossing “to make sure I don’t have any hose on the street.” Big bumps such as the railroad crossing on Leonardtown Road can cause the hose to fall off the back of a fire truck, then firefighters arrive at an emergency without a water supply line.
Emergency responders, Hayden said, have been fighting for repairs to be done to the crossing for two years. He said he met with a CSX representative, county representative and state representative last winter at the railroad crossing to discuss needed repairs. He had hoped then that repairs would be done in 2013 but is “elated” for repairs to happen in 2014.
“The bump will be gone,” Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said of the railroad crossing near Pika Drive. The cooperation of three different entities was necessary to bring about repairs of the railroad crossing. Charles County worked with CSX, which owns the railroad track, and SHA, which maintains Leonardtown Road.
He said the crossing has not been repaired in 15 years, but when repairs are done in the spring they should last at least another 20 years.
“On one hand, I really want to apologize to the citizens for this taking so long,” Robinson said. However, repairs could not be done in winter when freezing temperatures would have halted the work.
Robinson said the repairs could take as little as two days if the weather permits, and the county will notify residents beforehand with signs on Leonardtown Road and notices in the newspaper about detour routes.
The railroad crossing “takes a lot of pounding from traffic and trains,” Robinson said, and the plan is to replace the section of the track and raise its elevation so it is level with Leonardtown Road.
Commissioner’s President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said since joining the board in 2005 one of her top initiatives has been to clean up Charles County. Kelly was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board in 2005-06, lost in the election the following year, but returned to the board in 2010 and renewed the quest for her initiatives.
Kelly said the property at the intersection of routes 5 and 925 is considered valuable commercial property, but the gas station has been vacant since 2007. She said she will challenge the commissioners to hold vacant commercial and vacant residential properties to the same standards. Currently, a residential building that remains vacant must be demolished, but commercial buildings have no time limit on how long they can remain vacant.
“I don’t think that having a vacant boarded up building makes [the commercial property] all that valuable,” said Kelly, who owns Maredith Management LLC. From the company’s founding in 2001 until 2010, Kelly actively was involved in the company and helped boards of directors and home owners associations. She is now retired from the company, and her children operate Maredith Management.
Kelly said her experience with Maredith Management gave her good insight on what are good properties and bad properties in Waldorf.
“I think that’s why I feel so strongly about the blight [in Waldorf] because I’ve seen a whole street go down,” Kelly said.
Kelly said she also has encouraged the board to start a rental registration program in the county, which the towns of La Plata and Indian Head already have. A rental registration program would require that all landlords pay a fee and register with the county. Vacant properties that become a “blight” to the community would be subject to the county’s jurisdiction. But, Kelly said, the commissioners have voted against the program twice when she has suggested it.
The vacancy of the gas station at the intersection of Smallwood Drive and U.S. 301, Kelly said, should have been addressed long ago.
“To me, this is a failure on this board to go to the next step,” Kelly said.
She said such properties send a bad message about economic development in the county. Boarded up buildings have a negative effect on business.
“It gives the impression that we don’t value our county because we don’t set standards,” Kelly said.