A proposal to develop one of the last remaining neighborhoods in St. Charles met with opposition Monday night from several residents who were concerned about its potential for contributing to traffic congestion in the county.
“Congestion, gridlock, that’s all you have in Charles County,” Port Tobacco resident Bill Dotson told the Planning Commission during a public hearing for the Parklands neighborhood located between St. Charles Parkway and La Plata Road. “More houses will only add to that. It’s clear we have an infrastructure problem here in Charles County. We don’t have the roads, the schools, to handle hundreds [of] more houses being built in Waldorf, but every year St. Charles builds more.”
The Lennar Corporation, which purchased most of the remaining undeveloped land in St. Charles two years ago, is proposing to build 1,002 single-family detached homes, townhouses and duplexes in the Parklands neighborhood located between Laurel Springs Regional Park and the new Stonehaven development. The 461-acre neighborhood will have one entrance from La Plata Road and two entrances from St. Charles Parkway, one of which will cross through a village commercial center that has not been designed yet.
Although a road will run through the neighborhood connecting St. Charles Parkway and La Plata Road, it will include a number of traffic circles to discourage drivers from using it as an alternate to Radio Station Road. It will also feature a pedestrian and bicycle lane that will connect with the existing lane on La Plata Road. A trail will be built to connect the neighborhood with Laurel Springs Regional Park.
Dotson said that Docket 90, which governs the process for submitting and approving designs for villages and neighborhoods to be constructed in St. Charles, is “not a carte blanche for St. Charles to build and build and build.”
Nanjemoy resident Katie Stickel echoed Dotson’s concerns, wondering how many more houses would have to be built before residents decided that the impact on traffic was unacceptable.
“How many beans can we stuff in this jar before the lid won’t go back on?” Stickel asked. “I’m not sure what the answer to that is.”
Waldorf resident Derrick Terry raised concerns about the number of permits issued for construction in St. Charles and the need for a new study to be conducted on the impact of residential and commercial construction on traffic, schools and infrastructure. La Plata resident Edward Mohler encouraged the commissioners to take a more proactive role in planning activities in the county.
Planning commission member Richard Viohl also questioned Lennar’s representatives about certain aspects of the neighborhood’s preliminary site plans, particularly the proposed roads. Viohl expressed concern that the entry point on La Plata Road would cause congestion on that heavily used route, and that a proposed connection between one of the residential roads to the commercial area would encourage people to cut through the neighborhood to shop there, disturbing residents in the adjacent townhouses.
After a lengthy discussion among the commission members, planning staff and representatives of Lennar and its engineering firm Soltesz, Viohl conceded the necessity of the La Plata Road entrance as the most direct route from the neighborhood to the nearby University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center. However, the commissioners were unanimous in recommending that the residential connection to the commercial complex be replaced with a hiker-biker trail.
Lennar vice president Richard Barnas noted that the neighborhood would not impact schools because it is intended as an adult community for residents who are at least 55 years old.
The planning commission also approved Lennar’s request for a waiver for the requirement to construct sidewalks along La Plata Road on either side of the entrance, given the “largely rural” nature of the road and the lack of other nearby sidewalks with which to connect.
In response to Terry’s question on the number of permits issued for Docket 90 projects, county planning director Jason Groth said that he estimated that the county issues between 250 and 280 permits of all types per year for St. Charles.
Groth also noted that the county’s planning staff would be scheduling briefings before the planning commission in the coming months on subjects requested by commission members, including stormwater management, economic development and the county’s school allocation process. Groth also recommended convening work sessions on the county’s affordable housing strategy and efforts to stay within the housing targets outlined in the county’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan.