The Leonardtown Council denied allocating equivalent dwelling units for two proposed development projects Monday, effectively stalling one developer’s plans to build a Dollar General store at the corner of Cedar Lane and Point Lookout roads.
During a council meeting, members reviewed a preliminary plan for a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General, referring to the town’s 2008 ordinance, which restricts allocation of water and sewer capacity, measured in equivalent dwelling units, or EDUs, for certain commercial developments.
That ordinance seeks to preserve water and sewer capacity before the town can expand capacity at its existing wastewater treatment facility, which can treat 680,000 gallons a day, and replace its water well, which can process up to 750,000 gallons per day.
In March, an engineering firm told the council expanding its wastewater plant would cost around $15 million, with funds for a new well and water storage tank totaling $5 million. That capacity would likely be needed around 2022, the consultant advised.
According to the ordinance, the council reserves capacity for development in the Leonard’s Grant subdivision, projects expected to be a catalyst for revitalization, development located within the town’s planned infill and redevelopment district, and projects deemed by the council as necessary to protect the health, safety or future economic viability of the town.
The proposed Dollar General — which has not yet gotten the green light from Maryland State Highway Administration or Leonardtown’s planning and zoning committee — was found to meet the provision regarding infill development, but it’s located just outside the infill district.
The store is being proposed on a vacant parcel owned by the St. Mary’s County Advanced Life Support Unit, and is part of a planned unit development there.
Regardless, “this project does not meet any of those goals” of the Leonardtown Comprehensive Plan, which seeks to build more walkable areas linking to downtown Leonardtown, the municipality’s Mayor Daniel Burris (R) said.
“I’m a little surprised by your statement,” Jeff Harman, an engineer with Becker Morgan Group, who represented the developer, said. “I think this development does fall underneath your [permitted uses for EDU allocation] in that it is infill development. … A Dollar General is not a Walmart. … It is intended to serve the local community,” and is “fulfilling what the initial intent was for that” development area.
Harman proffered to reduce the requested capacity from 250 gallons to 100 gallons per day, for one EDU instead of two.
The town has approximately 180 available EDUs, “but the expansion is probably four to five years out,” Laschelle McKay, town administrator, said.
“Hearing you do have limited capacity, we can actually work with much less than that,” Harman said. However, the town code would require the allocation of two EDUs, based on the square footage of the building.
“Our focus is on revitalizing our downtown,” councilman Jay Mattingly said. “I really don’t see how [a Dollar General is] going to help our downtown. … The traffic is already pretty much a nightmare on Route 5. I cannot support that.”
Burris noted the adjacency of a nearby Dollar General and Family Dollar. “I don’t see this community supporting [another one],” he said.
“How can you deny somebody the right to develop a legal parcel that’s in the county?” Harman said. “One EDU is not asking for anything unreasonable. … What you’re saying is no one can use this property for anything. You’re taking away the person’s right to build anything on this property.”
“We’re not denying that it’s going to be developed,” Burris said. “We’re saving these allocations for other developers. Once we do this expansion, this would be able to be developed.”
The project could be added to the queue of developments to be reviewed after more water and sewer capacity is built, McKay said after the meeting.
Councilman Hayden Hammett said Dollar General has “the right to develop [its] property. … I don’t think we need to stand in the way of two EDUs.”
The allocation was denied in a 3-2 vote, with council members Hammett and Mary Maday Slade voting against the denial. Hammett had previously made a motion to allow the project to move forward, which did not gain support.
Later, the council also denied, in a 3-2 vote, allocating an additional EDU for the proposed Olde Towne Auto shop on Hollywood Road. That property is also located just outside the infill and redevelopment district, but “it’s walkable, it’s at a major intersection, it is also developing a parcel that has been very much an eyesore at the entrance of Leonardtown,” McKay said.
The council had been recommended to approve the additional allocation, based on its redevelopment of “a vacant building [that’s] ready to fall down,” and future economic viability of the town, Burris said.
Slade said earlier in the meeting the two projects were “similar enough. I feel like if I approve one, I’d have” to approve the other.
After the meeting, Slade said the distance from the proposed projects to the town center was comparable.
The Olde Towne Auto project still has one allocated EDU, and is now tasked with cutting back its expected water usage.
In other business, the council approved a zoning amendment to allow breweries, distilleries and wineries as permitted uses in districts zoned as commercial business, commercial highway and commercial marine. The amendment replaced the current permitted use that allows microbreweries in those areas, opening the door for larger operations.