The La Plata Planning Commission discussed construction of a business park at the intersection of Rosewick Road and U.S. 301 during its monthly meeting Nov. 5.
The Hot Urban Burg at the College of Southern Maryland and La Plata, on 472 acres would contain property on the west side of U.S. 301 and north of Rosewick Crossing Shopping Center on the east side of U.S. 301. A main entrance at the intersection of U.S. 301 and Rosewick Road and a second entrance onto Hawthorne Street would access the property to the west of U.S. 301. Forty-three buildings are planned in the HUB, according to information presented at the meeting.
David Jenkins, the town’s director of planning and community development, said the current plan for the annexation is “a revised concept plan,” which contains revisions made after a joint meeting between the commission and the La Plata Town Council.
A petition for annexation came before the La Plata Town Council in July, Town Manager Daniel Mears said during the meeting, and the town’s council and planning commission still are in the process of gathering information about and discussing the project. No public hearings have been scheduled.
Revisions to the project’s plan include a second entrance added to neighborhood No. 10 of the plan. Mears said for planning and phasing purposes, the petitioners of the annexation, Hawthorne Rosewick Partnership Limited, Rosewick Associates LLC and Helen K. Jennings, are calling specific areas of the plan neighborhoods, and section No. 10 refers to the area on the east side of U.S. 301, north of the Giant food store. The initial plan of the project had one entrance to that section.
Jim Whitehead, an engineer for A Total Consulting Service PLC, and branch manager for the company’s Waldorf office, told the planning commission that a second entrance was added as suggested in a joint meeting between the town’s council and planning commission.
Whitehead said ATCS also was made aware by the town that the description of too many one-story elements was misleading in a project that contains multi-story structures, so descriptions were changed to reflect the number of stories in each building. Whitehead said the density of the project has not been increased.
“So what you’re seeing is more definition on the multistory” aspect of the property, Whitehead said. “We still do have some one-story building elements: some restaurants, a bank, a medical [office].” ATCS is working on a master site plan that will provide descriptions of each section of the business park.
Commission member Jim Breitinger requested a summary of the site visit by town council members, including commission and council member Keith Back, and two members of the town’s Design Review Board on Oct. 12 to office parks in Maryland that represent the style that ATCS has designed for the HUB. Back said the group visited three locations in Maryland, including Rockville and Greenbelt.
“[Whitehead] didn’t take us to anything that hadn’t been growing for 20 years,” Back said.
The group looked at site lines in each location, Back said, and how the buildings and parking were arranged. Parking was behind some buildings but under in other buildings. Back said the group also noticed paths and trees in relation to the buildings, “so we saw how that could look.”
“We liked some of the buildings that had the clean facades, and they had more of the opaque glass [instead of clear glass with shades],” Back said.
The planning commission viewed a slideshow of a business park in Greenbelt that was designed by ATCS.
Townhouses that the group saw on its site tours, Back said, are not the style that would “typically” be seen in La Plata, but they worked for the site the group visited.
Planning commission member Debra Posey asked if there were any residential areas near the business park in Greenbelt that the group toured. Breitinger said no residential areas were nearby.
“So anybody who would use the park would probably work [in the park]?” Posey asked.
Back said the town of La Plata is not used to seeing the types of buildings that would be in the business park.
Jay John Hellman, president of The Hellman Co. Inc. and managing partner of Hawthorne Rosewick Limited Partnership, the primary owner of the property, said in a telephone interview that he has been committed for more than 20 years to the project, which he sees as a “model for America.”
“If this was only a La Plata project, I wouldn’t have spent 27 years on it,” said Hellman, who lives in Montgomery County. The land has been vacant for more than 20 years waiting for the HUB to become a reality. The owners have petitioned for the property to be used as a mixed-use business park with a zoning of planned business park and enterprise district. The property is currently zoned rural residential and community commercial.
Hellman said the HUB could someday be a common part of most American communities in the future, a place where people substitute “communication for transportation.” The HUB would have “virtual adjacency,” a term trademarked by Hellman that enables employees to work where they live and eliminate the need for commuting.
Transportation in the United States is unsolvable for three reasons, Hellman said: costs, restrictive laws and special interest groups that prevent the construction of quicker routes.
“There’s no building your way out of transportation problems,” Hellman said. His vision is to transform a bedroom community such as La Plata into a telecommunity that has charm, balance, completeness and energy. The HUB would be “a place where you want to be.”
Other business parks in the area, such as in Waldorf and Bryans Road, have not been successful, Hellman said, because “what they were doing is old world, old-school thinking.”
“What I’m working on is reinventing the small town in the age of the computer,” Hellman said, adding that people can do much better and do it more efficiently in business parks such as the HUB.
The business park would be near the College of Southern Maryland, and, Whitehead said, ATCS has plans for an Internet cafe and other elements in the park to attract college students.
A college spokeswoman said college officials had no comments on the project.
In the telephone interview, Whitehead said the intent is for each neighborhood in the business park to be independent with opportunities for residents to work, shop and eat within each neighborhood.
Whitehead said he and Hellman see the project creating jobs, especially for students at CSM. Businesses in the HUB would create internship opportunities for students.
“It’s great for both partners because it means we’re going to get some really qualified individuals [from the college as employees],” Whitehead said.
CSM, the Charles County Department of Planning and Growth Management and the town had no comment.
The buildings will vary in height. However, some of the structures may have multiple segments of a different amount of stories. Whitehead said the average height will be three stories.
“What Charles County really needs is where all the people who are going to live here are going to work,” Whitehead said, adding that ATCS does not intend to quickly build a project, get paid, then leave. He anticipates the project will be completed in a 25-year period.
Mike Runfola has lived in the town since 1986. Runfola said he is concerned that Wal-Mart could build a new store in the HUB without resident input. He has lived behind the current Wal-Mart off of U.S. 301 since it was built 10 to 12 years ago and supports construction of a new Wal-Mart.
“There is no reason with the size of our town, that we can’t decide these things for ourselves,” said Runfola, who moved to the town for its size and the opportunity to live where the voice of residents matters.
Whitehead said high-end retailers are preferred for the business park, and an intention to compete with Wal-Mart does not exist.
“We think Charles County is ready to make that transition,” Whitehead said.
The La Plata Town Council will hold a work session tonight, Nov. 19, with the planning commission to discuss the HUB.
The La Plata Planning Commission will hold its next regular meeting Dec. 3 in town hall.