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The St. Mary’s County Planning Commission on Monday gave unanimous approval to allow a new movie theater to move into California, now planned to open in 2015.

R/C Theatres and St. John Properties announced in September a new 12-screen, 2,400-seat movie theater was coming to St. Mary’s at the Lexington Exchange development, now under construction across Route 235 from the Wildewood shopping center.

There are also plans for two restaurants, a small grocery and other future pad sites as part of the 902,820 square feet of approved commercial and office space on 146 acres.

Regarding the new movie theater, “the project is a go as long as the project can move at a reasonable approach,” said attorney Chris Longmore, representing St. John Properties. “They are committed to being here on the condition all the time lines are being met.”

Construction on the theater is anticipated to start next summer with an opening in the spring of 2015, said Andy Roud of St. John Properties.

A tenant agreement is also being finalized now to bring in an ALDI grocery, he said.

Planning commission members asked about traffic impacts, its proximity to the county airport and lighting the movie theater’s parking lot.

St. John Properties is already constructing an additional northbound lane on Route 235 to feed into the traffic signal at Wildewood Boulevard, which will serve Lexington Exchange.

A new state-of-the-art movie theater is “an addition the county wants,” said Howard Thompson, chairman of the planning commission. And because it will be behind the neighboring asphalt plant, “you won’t even see it from [Route] 235,” he said.

There will be a buffer built between the theater and the asphalt plant, Roud said.

The next step for the new movie theater is to get major site plan approval from the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management. Because Lexington Exchange is a planned-unit development and operates under individualized zoning rules, the movie theater approval does not need to go back to the planning commission, said Bob Bowles, county planner. “It moves pretty quickly after the planning commission sees it,” he said Tuesday.

The county’s other movie theater, AMC Loews Lexington Park 6, has six screens and opened in June 1986.

The developers of the First Colony planned-unit development were supposed to bring in a new movie theater when the shopping center opened in 2000, but the market wasn’t there at the time, county officials were told.

Working with the board of county commissioners under then-president Julie B. Randall, Faison Enterprises built a public swimming pool next to Great Mills High School instead for $1.6 million. “We have a swimming pool as a result of negotiations with First Colony,” said Shelby P. Guazzo, planning commission member and former county commissioner. “They financed the pool instead, which was very good for the county,” she said.

jbabcock@somdnews.com