Officials are concerned about who will end up building on land in the Hot Urban Burb annexation at CSM/La Plata among other issues about the project that brought the La Plata Town Council and La Plata Planning Commission together at the council’s weekly work session Nov. 19.
The project is not connected with the College of Southern Maryland. CSM officials had no comment on the project, according to a college spokeswoman.
The town bodies have gathered information about and discussed the project separately, and Nov. 19 was the second time the groups have met to discuss the project, which would be on 472 acres on the west side of U.S. 301 at the intersection of U.S. 301 and Rosewick Road, and north of the Rosewick Crossing Shopping Center on the east side of U.S. 301.
Property owners Hawthorne Rosewick Partnership Limited, Rosewick Associates LLC and Helen K. Jennings have petitioned the town to annex the property so that they can build a business park of 43 buildings with offices, retail and restaurants. The land currently is zoned for residences in the Charles County Comprehensive Plan and the draft update of the plan.
Jim Whitehead, an engineer for A Total Consulting Service PLC and branch manager for the company’s Waldorf office, and Jay John Hellman, president of The Hellman Co. Inc. and managing partner of Hawthorne Rosewick Limited Partnership, the primary owner of the property, said they have been planning the project for almost 30 years and hope to make it a reality.
Town officials only learned of the project this year.
“The annexation itself is within the planned growth area that’s contained in our municipal growth element,” said David Jenkins, director of planning and community development for the town. “It’s clearly evident from looking at the map that is contained in the town’s comprehensive plan that the annexation location is clearly within our anticipated municipal growth areas.”
As for community and economic development, Jenkins said that the annexation project will have significant effects on the town’s infrastructure, including public water, public sewer, police protection and trash collection.
Other concerns, Jenkins said, include the location of office and retail space in a section off of U.S. 301 called neighborhood No. 10. As Town Manager Daniel Mears said in the original submission by the petitioners, that section contained retail space only in one-story structures. Jenkins said with the zoning designation the petitioners have requested — Planned Business Park & Enterprise District — the town’s zoning ordinance requires that buildings be a minimum of three stories, and the council and planning commission discussed how the applicant will meet the standard.
“The thought on that was it would lend itself more toward commercial highway zoning,” Mears said. A revision of the neighborhood’s plan since the original submission means it resembles the rest of the business park, including three-story structures.
Another concern with the original submission by the petitioners was that the business park was accessible with only one entrance, at the intersection of U.S. 301 and Rosewick Road, but the petitioners have since added an entrance on Hawthorne Road.
Councilman Wayne Winkler asked about what the comprehensive plan in 2009 specified for development in that area of the town.
“I don’t think that we had a business park in mind, and I don’t think that was what was presented to us back in those days,” Winkler said.
Councilman Keith Back said at the time the growth areas in the comprehensive plan were designated, but “none of them were designated what they would be.”
Planning Commission Chairwoman Debra Posey said the commission recommended a business park.
Mears said the growth areas in the comprehensive plan had three directives: to provide employment opportunities, not to be areas for residential growth and to consider residential areas outside of the town that could be served by areas inside the town. The HUB meets the requirement for providing employment.
Winkler said the business park will not affect the school system, but the town’s water and sewer system will be affected.
Jenkins said the size of the HUB project and the fact the project will be completed over 25 years might require a list of check-off points to gauge the project’s effect on the town’s water and sewer system. The town does not yet have cost estimates for the effect on the water and sewer system, and who would pay the cost of system upgrades in the future still is being analyzed by town staff and could be included in the annexation agreement.
“It’s almost like what am I going to be when I grow up? But this changes it to what am I going to be when I grow up to some degree as to the impact it has for the growth of La Plata,” Winkler said.
Posey said a comprehensive plan is about what could be, not what will be in the town.
A factor currently affecting the economic growth of the town, Mears said, is the 5,000 undeveloped residential units within the town limits in the Heritage Green, the Village of Steeplechase, Agricopia and Stagecoach Crossing developments, as well as other buildable lots in town.
Based upon the zoning of undeveloped land within the town’s limits five years ago, Mears said, it was determined that 5,000 more residential lots are possible. The pace of development in town has been affected by the economy. He said the future of development in La Plata will depend upon the parameters established by the town’s council and planning commission.
“Here we are, in the short period of time I’ve been on the council, we’ve looked at three proposed annexations,” Councilman Lynn Gilroy said. The HUB is the third proposed annexation since Gilroy joined in May, and Gilroy said as the economy improves, the town will see more proposed growth.
Jenkins summarized the council and planning commission’s concerns with the project’s plan: draft design guidelines, some proposed uses such as a proposed assisted living facility, and which buildings will be one-story, two-story or three-stories.
Mears said an assisted-living facility would require a special exception. A proposed assisted-living facility also would require a public hearing and approval by the town’s board of appeals, Jenkins said. Councilman Joe Norris said he liked the idea of an assisted-living facility.
Jenkins said an intent-and-purpose clause, at the request of the planning commission, will be required in the annexation agreement.
Winkler said he did not think he had seen any red flags in the proposed annexation that would cause him to vote against the project.
“It seems like, from what I’ve heard, if the mayor and council approves it, it’s a doable project,” Winkler said.
Mears said town staff has not engaged county staff in discussion on the project yet. However, Whitehead and Hellman said they have contacted county staff.
Gilroy asked about “the elephant in the room”: What if the petitioners get the annexation, build a minimal amount of the project and then sell the property? Jenkins said the town is looking at approving or not approving an annexation. A concept plan will be part of the annexation approval, Mears said.
Back said a master site plan or concept plan must come before the annexation is approved.
Town Attorney Fred Sussman said the town cannot predict what will develop in the next 25 years.
“That really speaks to the process that we’re going through right now in terms of this review because we are creating that framework in which this will develop,” Mears said.
A public hearing held by the town council and a public hearing held by the planning commission are necessary before either body votes on the project, Mears said.
Back said the project will take a long time to build out.
“It’s a vision of what we want but with constraints,” Back said of the annexation agreement.
Both groups agreed to continue reviewing the annexation agreement before setting a schedule for public hearings.