Calvert County government’s planning and zoning department led a virtual meeting June 2 to kick off the process to update the Dunkirk Town Center Master Plan, which will shape the future look and feel of the area.
Mary Beth Cook, planning and zoning director, reminded participants the she and her department staff “do not set policy.” The decision-making process will be handled by the county planning commission, with the final call to be made by the county commissioners. The revised plan will take shape after the public has opportunities to weigh in on the components.
The feedback process began during the kickoff meeting. Participants also responded to multiple choice questions asked during the 90-minute session.
“Help us plan,” said Jenny Plummer-Welker, long-range planner, to the participants.
Over 50% indicated they wanted to see more restaurants in Dunkirk, Calvert’s northern-most town center. Right behind additional eateries, more parks and green space found favor with 45% of the poll participants. Only 8% favored more housing.
When the first Dunkirk’s first master plan was adopted, a goal was to make the town center the “gateway” to the county and “create a positive image” for Calvert. Commercial development in Dunkirk was encouraged.
It was 23 years ago that a clamor to apply the brakes on residential growth in the town center caused controversy. Hundreds of Dunkirk residents voiced opposition to the Democrat-controlled county commissioners’ decision to allow for a public sewer system to be built to serve the town center. Opponents feared public sewer — which could only happen after a feasibility study and procurement of state funding — would result in high density residential and commercial development.
Following the 1998 General Election, the new board of commissioners, with two Democrats and three Republicans, approved stricter residential growth control measures, which all but killed public sewer in Dunkirk. Two private sewer systems serve commercial developments constructed over the last decade-and-a-half.
During the kickoff’s comments segment, town resident Tom Mero declared the biggest challenge to revising the master plan would be the retention of Dunkirk “as a minor town center. More houses would be a disaster.”
In response to a poll question, 62% of the participants indicated sidewalks, bike paths and trails are the infrastructure amenities they would most like to see.
Public sewer garnered 34% in the infrastructure category followed by broadband (31%).
Nick Martin, who said he bought a home in Dunkirk recently, said the lack of public sewer in the town center’s older neighborhoods is a problem since the land on many properties no longer percs.
During a poll question, 27% of participants identified sewer as an impediment to the town’s economic viability.
Jess Alexander said for Calvert to retain its rural character, the county needs to “allow additional density within the town centers” and make “any future developments walkable.”
Dunkirk’s rush hour gridlock was cited by participant John Kaiser as a concern, despite the county’s primary goal of “efficiency and safety for Route 4.”
“We’ve slowed the traffic down to next to nothing in the afternoons,” Kaiser declared.
While a poll question suggested participants believed the number of vacant store units wasn’t surprising, those offering comments indicated the situation still wasn’t acceptable.
Kelli Grant stated it was sad to see “the woods being torn down while there are so many empty buildings.”
At least two participants suggested that Dunkirk needed a community center as a location where youth can congregate.
Plummer-Welker added that additions to the master plan for future consideration could also include a public library or senior center, “if there’s public interest.”
Phase one of the three part plan to revise the Dunkirk master plan will continue with a “hybrid” meeting planned next. In-person and online participation will be blended to gather more citizen input. It will be followed a plan development phase this fall. Next spring, the adoption phase will commence.
Steve Jones, planning commission chairman, noted that while many negative things occurred during the pandemic, the use of the internet to conduct meetings and hearings has led to a rise in citizen participation.