In a quintessential case of inner-entity checks and balances, Calvert County government has obtained permission from the county commissioner-appointed board of appeals for a height variance. The planned building project is a new county government administration building in Prince Frederick.
In an application submitted by John A. Cosgrove Jr., the county department of public works’ deputy director of capital projects, a request for a variance to the Prince Frederick Town Center Zoning Ordinance Old Town District’s maximum building height of 36 feet.
In explaining the reasoning for the requests, county public works officials stated, “the current existing government building is three stories and is taller than 36 feet from the street level front entrance. The current building is an existing non-conforming use. However, if the current building is removed prior to construction of the new building, there is no existing non-conforming use and the petition necessitates a variance request.”
The application stated, “The capital projects division proposes demolishing the current administration building and constructing a new three-story administration building with an overall height of 48 feet in the same location. The justification for this proposal is that it provides the most cost-efficient use of Calvert County citizen taxpayer dollars.”
The current building, known as County Services Plaza, is located at 150 Main St. The building was constructed during the 1970s and was privately owned before the county purchased it in 1991. The structure predates the Prince Frederick Town Center Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance.
Currently located in the building are the departments of planning and zoning, public works and human resources, as well as the county health department’s division of environmental health.
“Demolition of the existing building allows for a more efficient design process and streamlined construction of the new building,” the application stated. “A three-story building makes the most efficient use of available space on the current campus. Less vertically stacked square footage requires a larger horizontal footprint which negatively impacts traffic flow and available parking areas.”
County government had previously been planning to design and build a four-story, 120,000-square foot structure at Armory Square for an estimated cost of $47.7 million. The aim of that project, which is summarized in the county’s current fiscal year capital budget was to “consolidate all of the county employees” currently located in six buildings — including the County Services Plaza and the county courthouse — in one location. County officials are expecting a $320,000 decrease in rent expenses when an administration building is constructed and ready for occupancy.
According to the fiscal 2021 capital budget, construction was expected to begin in fiscal 2023.
Due to its cost and location, the Armory Square location plan met with considerable opposition.
“It sounds like a good plan,” said Susie Hance-Wells, the board of appeals chair. During her unsuccessful run for county commissioner in 2018, Hance-Wells had expressed opposition to the plan to construct the county administration building at Armory Square.
In answer to a question by board of appeals member John Ward about why the project is needed, Carolyn Sunderland, planning and zoning’s deputy director stated county government needs the extra space, the local court system needs more space in the county courthouse and the desire by some county leaders to save on space that is leased.
Board member D.O. Baker predicted the finished project would be more compliant with the town center master plan and therefore more complaint “with what Prince Frederick should look like.”
“I think we’ve all expressed our appreciation for this project,” said Hance-Wells as the board voted to close the record prior to their unanimous vote to grant the variance.
“You’ve got a nice project coming up,” Baker told the applicants.