- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Executive Director Chuck Bean came away impressed by the Waldorf Urban Redevelopment Corridor plan following a Wednesday afternoon bus tour of the area courtesy of the Charles County commissioners.
On the way to Waldorf from the county government building in La Plata, commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) recounted for Bean the county’s history of smart growth, describing St. Charles as an example of “smart growth of the past,” with the WURC “the next step up.”
As planned, the 300-acre, mixed-use, transit-oriented redevelopment corridor would extend along Old Washington Road between Acton Lane and Route 5, bordered on the west by U.S. 301 and on the east by the CSX railroad tracks.
Charles County joined MWCOG in 2012. A nonprofit composed of 22 local governments in the National Capital Region, the council works to address major regional issues.
The tour got off to an amusing start when informal circuit director Jason Groth, chief of resource and infrastructure management at the Charles County Department of Planning and Growth Management, directed the bus’s driver into a parking lot along Old Washington Road marking the southern edge of the redevelopment corridor. Several on the bus laughed when they realized the parking lot was that of The Spice Lounge, a club featuring bikini-clad pole dancers.
“We’re going to the Spice Lounge,” board Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) declared.
Unshaken, Groth said the planned mixed-use development in the 26-acre southern portion of the redevelopment corridor, known as “Phase One,” would be limited to five-story buildings.
As the tour continued north, the commissioners noted the importance of revitalizing the intersection at Old Washington Road and Leonardtown Road, which a half-century ago stood as the county’s pre-eminent crossroads.
“This is a very historic part of the county,” Kelly said. “This was a hub, in many ways.”
“This has the potential in this area of being a central, vibrant, commercial setting for the community, and that’s something that the county really doesn’t have,” Collins said.
“This is basically our Times Square for Charles County,” Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said.
The key component to the redevelopment corridor is a rapid transit system linking the county to Metro service. Groth said it has yet to be finalized whether the system will come in the form of light rail or bus rapid transit, but the county has expressed a clear preference for light rail due to its history of spurring economic development. Plans in the Phase One area, also deemed the “Waldorf Central Zone,” call for up to 659,000 total square feet of mixed-use residential, commercial office and retail space, including a specialty grocer, executive hotel, fitness center and an array of restaurants and taverns.
The Phase One area currently includes 23 businesses and properties, Groth said.
“What we’re doing first is we’re working with those property owners to see if they’re interested in working with us on this redevelopment,” he said. “Certainly the property becomes more valuable and interesting and has higher and better uses, so that makes a lot of people’s interest perk with regard what they can do with their property. But we are slowly rolling out the pieces of the puzzle here, and we’re working with a lot of these community leaders. We’ve had a surprising response of positivity from the community businesses within this corridor.”
Last year the commissioners approved $30 million in startup funding for capital projects to redo water and sewer in the area, as well as to rehab that stretch of Old Washington Road, “the spine” of the corridor, Groth said.
Groth said the Phase One plan will integrate the Greater Waldorf Jaycees by either relocating the organization into a new building or incorporating its current location into a planned civic campus, which will extend from the Jaycees center to the light-rail tracks, which would run immediately west and parallel to the CSX line.
A study is underway to determine whether a planned civic center anchoring the campus should be a performing arts center, convention center or both, Groth said.
The civic campus presents an opportunity to create a historic arts district that could help attract young professionals to the area, Kelly said.
“That’s what we’re lacking here, and as a mother, they don’t want to come back, and until we get them back here, we’re not going to be able to really see the kind of synergy and economic development that we need because they are the workforce of the future,” she said.
Collins recalled a conversation with a recent Charles County high school graduate whose yearbook’s superlative section included a spot for the student “Most Likely to Stay in Waldorf.”
“That was really like a slight, so we got a long way to go,” he said.
Robinson and Groth also said the county is nearing a resolution with CSX to improve the railroad’s crossing at Leonardtown Road.
“It’s molasses-paced, but we’re close,” Groth said.
As the tour continued north to Acton Lane — the northern edge of the WURC — Groth highlighted the outdated, one-story commercial and industrial development along Old Washington Road.
“Some businesses are doing really well because of the type of business they are and the client base. Other businesses struggle. This plan looks to reinvigorate this area,” he said.
Impressed with the county’s plans, Bean nonetheless said a lot of work remains to make the WURC a reality.
“It’s fascinating and ambitious, and it’s going to take a lot of things coming together,” he said.
On the way back to La Plata, Kelly detailed the economic development potential around Indian Head given the presence of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, the proposed Indian Head Science and Technology Park and newly expanded Maryland Airport in Pomonkey.
The commissioners made a couple of stops in White Plains before arriving back at the county government building, first for a photo opportunity with Bean at the trailhead of the Indian Head Rail Trail and then to grab some coffee and cannolis at Commissioner Bobby Rucci’s (D) new restaurant, Bobby Rucci’s Famous Italian Deli & Doughboys.
“The more time I spend in Charles County, the more time I want to spend in Charles County,” Bean said at the beginning of a presentation he gave on the council during the commissioners’ meeting Wednesday afternoon.