- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A battle that has been brewing since 2011 among residents in the town of La Plata is coming to a vote April 9.
On one side is Save La Plata, a group of town and county residents who are in opposition to the annexation of 14.11 acres at the corner of Rosewick Road and U.S. 301 for the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. On the other side is Moving La Plata Forward Inc., a group of town and county residents who are in favor of the annexation and would like to see growth in the town.
A referendum vote Wednesday, in which only town residents can participate, will decide what happens.
Mary Beth Chandler is a member of Save La Plata. She was born and raised in the town. She said her mother and father both served on the town council when she was growing up. Her mother actually warned council members about the increase of traffic in town due to growth. Chandler’s brother, Wayne Winkler, is a current member of the La Plata Town Council. Winkler voted for the annexation.
Save La Plata is financially supported by United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400. Jim Jarboe, a member of the executive board of the union, lives just outside the town’s limits off of U.S. 301. Although he will not be able to vote April 9, Jarboe said he is concerned about the future of La Plata for his two daughters and five grandchildren, who do live in the town.
“This is a community-led campaign,” Chandler said. “It is organic and community-based. The union is only helping with [the cost of] signs and mailings.”
Chandler said “a very small nucleus” of residents can vote on the issue. La Plata’s population was calculated at 8,753 in the 2010 U.S. Census.
According to Tracy Dickerson, executive director of the Charles County Board of Elections office in La Plata, 6,261 town residents are registered to vote.
“This movement is actually by town residents who care,” said Vicki Kelly, a member of the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission, who has lived in town for 14 years. She grew up nearby in Port Tobacco.
Save La Plata was started before the town council approved the annexation of the land near the corner of Rosewick Road and U.S. 301 in late 2011, which is owned by Johel Limited.
Paddy Mudd, a resident of the town since 1986 and a town council member from 2005 to 2013, was one of the residents who started the group.
“If I had it to do over, I’d never vote for that Rosewick Crossing shopping center,” Mudd said, because approval of that shopping center opened the door for growth and for Wal-Mart to come to town.
John Jordan also is a member of Save La Plata. He said he moved from Mechanicsville to La Plata for “a small-town feeling, and I wanted my kid to live in this town.” But, now he is facing what he faced in Mechanicsville: growth.
Mudd said her two children graduated from La Plata High School, and both moved back to town to raise children.
Members of the group also are concerned about the traffic that the new Wal-Mart could generate, and the effect the Wal-Mart Supercenter could have on small businesses in town and on jobs.
“This place is going to be inundated [with traffic from Waldorf and other Charles County residents],” said Gary Maynard, who has lived in town for almost eight years.
Maynard’s wife was born and raised in La Plata, and he grew up in a small town in Rhode Island.
“We like our small businesses,” Kelly said. “We are a small town.”
Mudd said she is not against renovation of the current Wal-Mart on Drury Drive into a Wal-Mart that offers groceries.
“I think we have a highly educated workforce,” Maynard said. “We have a bedroom community.” Many residents in town commute to jobs outside of town. Maynard said he would like to see the town “attract the businesses that are relevant to the people in La Plata and surrounding environments. It’s not just about La Plata.”
After members of Save La Plata vote April 9, they plan to shop in La Plata.
“We wanted to make it a ‘Shop La Plata Day,’” Kelly said. The idea is to support the town by voting, then support by shopping.
“I’m taking the whole day off ... because it really is that important,” said Maynard, who works at Naval Support Facility Indian Head.
The vision that Moving La Plata Forward has for the town is a “walkable downtown,” the vision created in the town’s 2000 Vision Plan, which was created by residents, said Sue Greer of Greer Law Firm, who represents Johel Limited.
“The annexation of the Johel Property is really in line with not only the vision plan but with the zoning as it has been adopted by the town council,” said Phil McDonagh, vice president of SunTrust Mortgage, who lives in town. McDonagh was involved in the creation of the vision plan as a town resident. In the plan, larger retail was planned for the northern end of town on U.S. 301.
Parents of 5-month-old twins, Jay and Amy McKeown, both grew up in Charles County and said they are interested in the opportunity for “one-stop shopping,” such as a Wal-Mart Supercenter would provide for them in town. Amy McKeown said she also is interested in the shopping options that the retail space planned near Wal-Mart would bring and what company might open in the current Wal-Mart store on Drury Drive.
“The clientele is here for a lot of things, and I just think they need to bring it,” Amy McKeown said.
If the annexation is approved, plans include the construction of a 180,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, as well as three outlet retail buildings and a 50,000-square-foot office building.
Steve Scott of Scott Law Firm, who represents Faison Capital Development, said letters of interest in the current Wal-Mart store have been received from TJ Maxx, Kohl’s and Nick’s to have a La Plata site.
“We have a longtime corporate partner of the community who simply wants to improve the services they provide to the residents of La Plata and Charles County,” George Nash, director of business development for Facchina Construction Company Inc., said. “They want to provide something bigger and better.” Nash has lived outside the town limits in Charles County for six years but works in the town.
Nash said businesses are showing interest in the current Wal-Mart store because they know a population is here “and that the economy is here to support it.”
Cherry Stackhouse, who owns the 10 acres on which sits the vacant Mitchell Supply building with her two brothers, John Mitchell Jr. and Van Mitchell, said when Lowe’s came to La Plata on Rosewick Road her family did not protest. When her father owned Mitchell Supply on St. Mary’s Avenue in downtown, the town had three pharmacies and three hardware stores, including her father’s store. All of the stores survived.
“But it all revolved, evolved, it all changed. The community thrived. And this is what has to happen for it to survive,” Stackhouse said.
Monique Coleman moved to Charles County in 2004 from Stafford County, Va. She lives in Waldorf with her husband, and two sons, ages 13 and 8. Coleman said she supports the annexation and is a member of Moving La Plata Forward because she makes the trip to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in King George.
“I think it makes no sense to really continue that practice when a location in La Plata would be ideal,” Coleman said, adding that Wal-Mart has a bigger selection of items and better prices. She is able to buy in bulk and feed her family at a lower price. “It’s worth the trip, but I’d rather spend my money in Maryland.”
Coleman said that the first day the Wal-Mart in King George opened she spent three hours shopping in the store. A Wal-Mart Supercenter in La Plata would be “a good cash cow to get revenue in for the area.”
In March, Coleman went door to door educating La Plata residents about the vote April 9. She said she did not try to sway anyone who was against the annexation but was “providing them with information to make that choice.”
“They are exercising their right to vote,” Coleman said.
“We’re concerned,” said Phil Hamilton, who owns Judy’s Hallmark store with his wife, Judith Hamilton, near the current Wal-Mart in town.
The Hamiltons have been in business in the town for 30 years. Their Hallmark store in the La Plata Shopping Center at the corner of U.S. 301 and Port Tobacco Road was “wiped out” by the tornado that devastated the town in April 2002. They relocated to the shopping center on Drury Drive.
“This was what was available at the time,” Judith Hamilton said. The current Wal-Mart was built next door in 2001, and the Hamiltons said they were concerned when it opened, too.
Phil Hamilton said they are concerned the new Wal-Mart will divert traffic away from their store.
“It will divert traffic away from all of La Plata small business,” Judith Hamilton said.
Phil Hamilton said Wal-Mart has a “larger buying power” and has an image of cheaper prices for consumers. The Hamiltons live in Waldorf, so they will not be voting April 9.
“It’s going to affect everybody,” Phil Hamilton said. “It’s going to affect the whole dynamics of shopping in La Plata.”
Judith Hamilton said they are not against growth but support smart growth in the town. Her husband said they are not against the annexation of the land but against the proposed use of the land if annexed.
“I’m thinking of the whole community,” Phil Hamilton said.
“La Plata has been good to us,” Judith Hamilton said.