The commanding officer of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and the St. Mary’s County Planning Commission have finally had their face-to-face. Commanding Officer Captain Ben Shevchuk and the commission met Monday night in the office of the Department of Land Use and Growth Management in Leonardtown.
The commission has been trying for several months to arrange the meeting to get the Navy’s position on a number of issues before they made some decisions on the proposed Lexington Park Master Plan. The commission members submitted a list of 42 questions that they hoped Shevchuk would address. Shevchuk delayed the meeting to give him and his staff time to do research for the answers.
One of the key issues on the commission’s mind related to the Navy’s Air Installation Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ), an area of high noise and accident potential on and surrounding the base, The county has addressed the Navy’s concerns by creating two zones in the county zoning ordinance. The most restrictive, called APZ-1, is largely on base but does include some areas off base. The least restrictive, APZ-2 is largely off base.
Shevchuk sees in his crystal ball a flat line budget for the base. “I don’t expect the budget to increase but naval aviation’s mission is as important.” He said the base would have plenty of work maintaining existing aircraft and testing new ones such as the JSF, X-47B and a new Presidential helicopter. “We have a high profile mission here. It sells well,” he added.
The proposed Lexington Park Master Plan update creates a new town center approximately where Millison Plaza now stands. Although some commission members have posed concerns about how to provide incentives attractive enough for that private landowner to redevelop, there also have been AICUZ concerns. Millison Plaza abuts APZ-2 zone. Shevchuk said if a redeveloped Millison Plaza is successful it may lead to growth pressures (that may not be AICUZ-compatible).
The commission wanted to know if the Navy preferred the county to create a buffer adjacent to APZ-2 as an extra layer of protection. Commission member Hal Willard noted that Navy requirements, especially with new aircraft testing, may mean in the future that the APZ-2 protections weren’t enough.
Capt. Shevchuk acknowledged a concern from commission member Merl Evans about the potential taking of property rights with more restrictive zoning, but he did say “AICUZ normally likes a buffer. That is good planning.” He added, “Aircraft don’t abide by a line. It (the AICUZ) is a statistical representation.”
The commanding officer said regarding a buffer beyond the APZ-2, “Areas beyond should be viewed as transitional.” He said the testing requirements into the future will remai