- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County commissioners ended their meeting last week with a couple of curveballs, first allowing Wexford Village residents to speak out against an application to rezone a neighborhood parcel for single-family homes and townhouses and then voting unanimously to deny it.
A 39-acre wooded tract nestled between Wexford Village and Western Parkway in Waldorf, the land currently is zoned for a future business park. Elm Street Development, seeking to build 38 single-family homes and 156 townhouses, had requested amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning map that would change the parcel’s designation to high-density residential.
But Wexford Village residents have been adamant in the past about rezoning the land — in 2007, a similar request for the purpose of erecting apartments on the parcel was denied following community protest — and were so again during a work session on the requested amendments during the commissioners’ Jan. 7 meeting.
Citizens normally are allowed to testify before the commissioners only during public hearings or forums, but with roughly a dozen Wexford Village residents in attendance for the work session, the commissioners opted to bend the rules.
“Let me just say, this is not a public hearing. We just, since we knew you were here and it was very clear you wanted to speak, we felt that it was the right thing to extend this courtesy,” board President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said.
Ten residents cited overcrowded schools, congested roads, increased crime and a lack of prior notice from the developer as reasons for their opposition.
“I liked the fact that it was surrounded by woods, and the fact that my property backs up directly to those woods was a plus,” said Robert Boone, who moved to Wexford Village nine years ago. “Even the thought about losing all of that, it really just breaks my heart because I can sit on my deck in the summer and look at the animals and just the quietness and serenity of the woods, and for that to be taken away by high-density townhomes, it would just deter the reasons why I moved there in the first place.”
New York-native Louise Lyon said she and her husband picked their Thrasher Court home 27 years ago in part because it adjoined the wooded land, and “we knew nobody would move there.”
“Nobody would take any of the forest away from us, and I wouldn’t have anybody looking into my rooms, into my house,” she said. “Now, I don’t know where any of you live, but if it was in your backyard, you’d be sitting here, too.”
Lyon also lamented the gradual loss of Waldorf’s rural character.
“The things that you’re doing now, letting them, these builders, giving them whatever they want, to build wherever they want, it’s really a shame,” she said. “It’s not the country no more. I feel like I live right in the city, and I didn’t want that.”
But a business park “would not be any more pleasant” than a residential community, said Nancy Slepicka, an attorney representing Elm Street Development. “The trees that presently exist on this property will be removed when it is developed as [a business park]. There will be considerable amount of impervious surface to handle all the parking needed for all the BP uses that are allowed,” she said. “The BP zoning does not make sense next to all of these residential houses.”
A couple of residents said their homes recently had been burglarized by young men who live in the nearby Acton Village townhouse community and feared the consequences of building more townhomes nearby.
Others said the developer intentionally notified sections of Wexford Village that do not border the parcel, rather than the homeowners whose property directly abuts it. Four people did testify at a Dec. 3 public hearing on the rezoning application, all in opposition.
Planning staff, which recommended approval of both amendments, informed the commissioners that though the rezoning application requires a list of all property owners within 500 feet of the parcel, county code requires the developer to notify only adjoining property owners, creating confusion among residents.
Noting that Wexford Village was built in four stages, resident Eric Magruder said that the first section is the only one that both borders the parcel and was not notified by Elm Street Development.
“We feel this attempt, rightly or wrongly, the developer was very selective with how he did the notification,” Magruder said. “Wexford Village I directly adjoins this property. The others do not. The applicant notified the other Wexford Villages but not us.”
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) questioned the wisdom of creating a residential zone in an area where “the schools, roads, other infrastructure were never planned to accommodate this.”
“Every month we have come before us more developers who are buying school seats to schools that are already overcrowded, and we really have to say enough is enough,” he said. “We really need to take a deep breath and figure out how to do this right.”
An in-depth analysis on amendments’ potential impact on schools and other infrastructure was not required as part of the rezoning application, county planner Tetchiana Anderson said. Such studies would be performed during the project’s preliminary planning stage, Elm Street Development Vice President Doug Meeker said.
“It’s irresponsible, in my view, to keep playing this game when you hear these folks say they’re having concerns about crime in their neighborhood, school seats, traffic. When is it our responsibility to say enough is enough, and I think the time has come,” Kelly said. “At some point, you just can’t keep ignoring all of these folks.”
Used to being on the losing end of voting against developer requests, Kelly and Robinson were then seemingly caught off-guard when Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) made a motion to deny the zoning change. Robinson double-checked that Rucci had moved to deny the rezoning request and quickly seconded.
When all five commissioners voted in support of Rucci’s motion, a beaming Kelly gave the audience an emphatic thumbs-up.
“You guys rock,” she said, as the Wexford residents cheered and clapped.