La Plata planning board OKs bank in downtown area -- Gazette.Net



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The first Maryland Partners Bank in the state could be built in La Plata as early as next spring.

The La Plata Planning Commission reviewed and approved an application for the site development plan for a Maryland Partners Bank to be constructed at the corner of Charles and Calvert streets at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The site, in front of the Charles County Volunteer Rescue Squad, currently is vacant. Posey’s Market stood on the site for about 10 years. It was leased and operated by town planning commission Chairwoman Debra Posey and her husband. The tornado that came through town in April 2002 destroyed the building beyond repair, Posey said. She and her husband did not own the property.

“We finally have, what I believe is, a really good user that fits with the business purpose within downtown,” said John K. Parlett Jr., developer CMI Affiliated Cos.’ president. “We’re excited to have the opportunity to design it and construct it and bring it to the town.” He added that the site allows for three entrances to Charles Street, but the entrances will be condensed to one. The bank will employ 10 people, and add up to $1 million to the town’s property tax base, Parlett said.

David Jenkins, director of the town’s planning and community development department, said the property is owned by Cool Spring Development LLC, is zoned Central Business District, and is served by the town’s public water and sewer system. Jenkins said the height limit for buildings in that district is 50 feet, and the site plan did not indicate the bank’s proposed height.

Parking is provided and proposed in the site plan, Jenkins said, in accordance with requirements. The site plan has proposed full access to Charles Street. An initial concern, however, was if the Maryland State Highway Administration will approve a second entrance on Firehouse Street, a one-lane paved road between the rescue squad and the site. The building is proposed to be 4,200 square feet with three drive-thru windows.

Jenkins reminded the commission that Calvert Street is not owned or maintained by the town, but the town’s director of operations is in discussions with the owners to obtain ownership and maintenance. He said that town staff approves of the site plan as long as the height requirement of the building is met, dimensions are provided for parking and driving around the building, and a written agreement is provided describing access to Firehouse Street. The site has received conceptual plan approval for stormwater management.

The building’s height would be 24 feet, 2 inches, less than half the maximum height limit.

La Plata Town Councilman and planning commission member Keith Back asked about the condition and accessibility of Firehouse Street.

Jenkins said the street has 20-foot right of way with 19 to 19.5 feet of pavement. He added that another option is for the town to take control of Firehouse Street and make upgrades.

Posey asked if two-way traffic in front of the bank would be permitted, and Jenkins said no. Posey reiterated the site plan instructions that two-way traffic would be permitted on one side of the building, with one-way around the rest of the building.

Parlett said the site is a “relatively small lot.” The entrance on Charles Street would provide access to the bank’s drive-thru. Parlett added that, according to property lines, the bank will own part of Firehouse Street, to which the rescue squad has full access for ambulances. The intent, Parlett said, is for bank traffic not to use Firehouse Street.

“We tried to create a project here that fits in the town,” Parlett said. He added that the building would be the first Maryland Partners Bank in the state. MPB is a division of Virginia Partners Bank, which is based in Fredericksburg, Va.

SHA instructed the bank’s designers to accommodate the possibility of the light at Calvert Street being red for the exit of ambulances on emergency calls by moving the bank’s entrance on Charles Street three feet closer to U.S. 301, Parlett said, to ensure the safe exit of vehicles.

“I’m going to say something you may or may not like,” R.J. Earnshaw of the Charles County Volunteer Rescue Squad said from the audience. “If you propose right in, right out, I’ll stand up and fight against it.” Earnshaw said drivers will use Firehouse Street instead of using one-way in and out entrances to the bank.

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Rich Gilpin said Martin’s Gas Station one block away has a one-way entrance.

Commission member Mary Grant asked if the pavement for the bank’s parking lot will be continuous with the pavement on Firehouse Street.

“The bank really wants to make a great impression within this community,” Parlett said. Landscaping will be part of that impression, as well as the addition of a flagpole in front of the bank on Charles Street with lights. Parlett said energy-saving LED lights will be in the parking lot. The bank’s designers hope to go before the town’s Design Review Board in January with plans for signs and lights.

The commission unanimously approved the site plan with the condition that SHA approves the entrance requirements on Charles Street. In an email after the meeting, Parlett said, pending other necessary approvals, the bank can be built within six months and construction could begin in early spring. CMI Affiliated Cos. also has designed the La Plata Volunteer Fire Department, Capital Area Orthopedic, La Plata Self Storage and the La Plata Popeye’s.

“This’ll be a great improvement to this stretch of the street,” Back said. He added that the bank will improve the view as drivers enter downtown La Plata.

The commission also discussed the annexation request for the Hot Urban Burb at CSM/La Plata, which it discussed with the town council Nov. 19. The commission’s two concerns with the request are the varied story levels of the buildings proposed in the HUB and the proposal of an assisted-living facility within the business park, which would require a special exceptions-use permit.

Back said when the commission created Planned Business Park and Enterprise District zoning, it did not expect an annexation request of a 476-acre business park. He asked, on behalf of the town council, whether the maximum 35-feet height requirement, which is in accordance with the zoning request of the annexation, applies to all the structures in the park or just the primary structure.

Grant reminded the commission that when it comes to the proposal of an assisted-living facility the commission is considering approval of a concept plan only, not uses in the concept plan.

Posey said the concept plan by definition means that proposed uses in the business park could change in the future. She said the planning commission never anticipated “this huge of a project” when it created the zoning.

“As we’ve seen with other annexations, if the economy changes or doesn’t change,” Back said, “over a 25-year buildout, this is a multiple-year buildout, things will change.”

Commission member James Breitinger said that if the commission had intended for every building to be 35 feet high, then the commission would have specified every building to be such a height in the zoning requirements.

Back said that, if approved, the HUB would be the first use of the Planned Business Park and Enterprise District zoning in the town, so changes might come to the zoning requirements.

Grant asked if any questions have been raised about the HUB’s name because it includes a reference to the College of Southern Maryland, but the college is not involved with the project. Back added that road access from CSM to the HUB does not exist.

Back asked Jim Whitehead, an engineer with A Total Consulting Service PLC and branch manager for the company’s Waldorf office, about the college’s support of the project. Whitehead said that he has met with CSM President Brad Gottfried several times and he supports the project, but a road directly connecting the HUB with CSM would take a long time to make happen due to local environmental concerns.

Whitehead said a pedestrian walk is possible between the college and the HUB, but a formal design has not been created. Whitehead said the college’s name was included in the project’s name in order to bring the college and the town together.

“We believe in our community,” Gottfried said in a phone interview after the meeting. “We believe in economic development. We want to be good neighbors to everyone.”

He said the college has a neutral stance on the HUB and is not a participant in the project, but the HUB could have a positive impact on the college. He said the college would like to have a stronger relationship with La Plata, and if the HUB could make that possible, it would be very positive.

The town’s planning commission will meet again at 7 p.m. Jan. 7.

rbarnabi@somdnews.com