The St. Mary’s County Planning Commission approved a concept site plan for the proposed Hollywood Square on Monday night, opening the door for development of three food service businesses near Bruster’s, under the condition the developer builds a pedestrian crosswalk from the building leading to the ice cream shop.
The owners of Bruster’s, through Fountain Group LLC, are seeking to build a 3,825-square-foot retail building directly adjacent to their current business on Mervell Dean Road near Clarke’s Landing Road, dubbed Hollywood Square, and hope to bring a coffee shop and carry-out and fast food restaurants, Gene Burroughs, an engineering designer with Little Silences Rest Inc., the project consultant, told county planners.
The plan leaves 600 square feet for an outdoor seating area, and proposes adding 42 parking spaces, along with traffic-guiding signs.
“We’re hoping with the additional spaces, we can create a joint-use agreement to alleviate some of the problems that Bruster’s has” with congestion, Burroughs said.
But with two access points — an in-and-out entryway and a right-out exit only — and one-way traffic navigating the parking lot and two drive-throughs on a property than spans just 90 feet wide, county planners were concerned with pedestrian safety. They questioned the few proposed sidewalks in the plan.
“It’s a busy little corridor, and getting busier by the day now,” J. Howard Thompson, planning commission chair, said. “Because of where it’s at, you have to go the extra mile. … I’d like to see some kind of sidewalk that goes down along … so they can get into Bruster’s in a safe fashion.”
“If people are coming out of any one of the three shops, they’ve got to cross the two-way entrance into the little sidewalk to get over there,” Joseph VanKirk, vice chair of the planning commission, said.
Before the conditional approval, the plan proposed two sidewalks, each spanning 5 feet, in front of Hollywood Square facing Route 235 and another one, disjointed from the building, that would lead to Bruster’s.
“People walk through parking lots all the time,” Burroughs said, noting First Colony Center.
“And they’re a mess,” planning commission member Caroline King said. “We’re looking toward the future now to try and make things a little more [pedestrian]-friendly. It’s our prerogative to change.”
“We might be able to get that permitted, but I’m not sure if that’s just an effort in futility” to build a sidewalk circumventing the parking lot through the buffer yard, Wayne Hunt, a land surveyor with Little Silences Rest, said. “If we put a sidewalk in, there’s no way to really enforce them. They’re going to walk to the parking lot to get to Bruster’s.”
“I’m taking my kid by the hand and we’re taking the sidewalk,” planning commission member Clarke Guy said, later adding, “We’re required just about every place like this to have a sidewalk so that people are not walking through the parking lot.”
Beyond the sidewalks, King said, “It concerns me that you have two businesses that are gonna provide a drive through and there’s just not a lot of room there for a line of cars, especially with just that one entrance.”
“How do you think that’s gonna work and not back up traffic onto Mervell Dean?” she asked. Burroughs said the owners are “not anticipating having peak periods for both [restaurants] at the same time of day.”
“They believe this model will work for them,” Wayne Hunt, a land surveyor with Little Silences Rest, said. “The public will let them know if it works or not by how much business they give them.”
“We’ve got on site the required amount of queuing, but if it gets that bad, we’ve also installed a deceleration lane and if they need to they’ll queue up in that area,” Hunt said.
The conditional approval requires the developer to construct a sidewalk from the proposed Hollywood Square building to Bruster’s, but the commission cannot mandate that the ice cream shop build a connecting sidewalk.