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The Charles County commissioners unveiled Thursday the first conceptual phase of the Waldorf Urban Redevelopment Corridor, the first public showcasing of an initiative that began six years ago to transform Waldorf into a mixed-use, transit-oriented downtown.

About 100 people attended a luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Waldorf to catch a glimpse of the 300-acre WURC, which as planned would extend between Acton Lane and Route 5, with U.S. 301 and the CSX rail tracks acting as its east and west borders.

The sister component to the county’s long-held goal of building a light rail line that links to Metro service, the WURC will ultimately feature two zones at either end, though the initial phase centers on a walkable, 26-acre downtown area to the north of Route 5 and along Old Washington Road.

A market analysis determined the “Waldorf Central Zone” could support 659,000 total square feet of mixed-use residential, commercial office and retail space, said Keith Weaver, associate principal of EDSA, a global firm with a Baltimore office specializing in planning, landscape architecture and urban design.

Commercial spaces identified include a 60,000-square-foot specialty grocer such as Trader Joe’s or Harris Teeter, a 100-room executive hotel; a 20,000-square-foot fitness center, a handful of full-service restaurants and a few taverns, Weaver said. They would each sit on the ground floor of two- to five-story buildings, with the remaining floors dedicated to residential apartments or condominiums, Weaver said. Parking garages for each block partially would be wrapped inside the building, concealing all but one side of the garage.

The commercial-residential blocks would be complemented by a 1,500-seat civic arts center, public square, wetland nature park and public market.

A revamped street grid would feature tree-lined “complete streets” with sidewalks, bikeways and parallel parking spaces for shoppers.

“I feel I’ve seen the future of Charles County, and this is it,” said Commissioner Ken Robinson (D), who expects the WURC to down the line serve as a model for additional redevelopment in county.

Weaver compared the initiative to the kind of transit-oriented development that has occurred in Charlotte, N.C., since its 9.6-mile light rail line opened in 2007.

“You’ve heard about the light rail initiative, and you’ve heard about the downtown Waldorf initiative. The catalyst for each of those is the other,” said former county commissioner Gary Hodge, now a consultant working on the WURC and light rail projects. “We can’t fulfill this vision for downtown Waldorf without at the same time fulfilling the vision of high-capacity, fixed-route transit, and vice versa.”

Noting the presence of Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Rich Hall, Hodge also stressed the role the state will play in funding the project. As a result of the gas tax increase approved by the legislature last spring, the state has already budgeted $5 million for a study to examine transit options linking Waldorf and the Branch Avenue Metro station in Marlow Heights.

The study represents the next phase of planning for the light rail project, Hodge said.

“That won’t be enough money,” he added. “We’ll probably need $25 million [to complete planning]. But as a down payment and a first installment, that gets us started on this next phase, which is crucially important. Before we can compete for federal dollars, we have to deliver an exhaustive and thorough planning process that justifies the expenditure of capital money required to build a light rail system.”

After the presentation, Hodge estimated it would be 12 years before a light rail train actually comes through Waldorf, but that design bids could be solicited from transit-oriented developers within a year.

jnewman@somdnews.com