Existing New Life Wesleyan Church in Mechanicsville. Photo by Ron Bailey.

Leonardtown, MD — The St. Mary’s County Planning Commission has heard a number of recent cases in which there was significant neighborhood opposition to proposals. The opposition has resulted in long hearings and often decision postponements. The Jan. 11 meeting was a case in point, with one split decision on a previously postponed case and one decision deferral in another. The meeting lasted four hours.

A new 17,245-square-foot Real Life Wesleyan Church building in Mechanicsville is planned for a 24.58-acre property at the intersection of Old Village Road and Baptist Church Road. The existing building will continue to be used for offices. The planners, on a 4-2 vote, approved a concept site plan for the new church. And, after hearing testimony they postponed a decision on the preliminary plan for a 48-lot subdivision on Sandy Bottom Road in Hollywood.

The church decision had been deferred from the Dec. 14 meeting amid neighborhood opposition based on concerns about storm-water runoff and traffic on Baptist Church Road. Those concerns were renewed by several neighbors at the Jan. 11 meeting.

Representatives of the Guy family, which owns an adjacent farm, testified that the amount of water coming onto their property had gotten worse since homes of the property were constructed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But they were unable to identify the culprit, either a pond on the church property or from development in the area. Nor was Public Works Deputy Director John Groeger able to point a finger at a culprit.
The lack of information on the cause of the runoff led member Patricia Robrecht to vote against it. “No one knows what’s causing it,” she said about the commission’s lack of information upon which to make a decision.

At the Dec. 14 hearing residents complained about the proposal to have an entrance to the new church building off Baptist Church Road in addition to the one that now exists on Old Village Road. Neighbor Mary Walton reiterated that concern at the Jan. 11 meeting. She talked about vehicles using narrow, winding Baptist Church Road as a shortcut and also about speeding along it.

But Commission Chairman Howard Thompson disagreed, saying the second entrance would relieve traffic on Old Village Road. He said parishioners living on Baptist Church Road would use the road regardless of where they exited the property. He suggested the neighbors ask for more police patrols to catch speeders.

The church hired a consultant to do a traffic study. Their consulting engineer Jay Hopson said the study showed little road impact from the project. Hopson said the storm-water management is designed to retain whatever is generated on the property

Church representatives met before the Jan. 11 meeting with neighbors to listen to their concerns. As a result, additional plantings were proposed and the driveway was moved slightly. Those who spoke praised the church for their efforts. Thompson noted after the vote that the church should continue to be mindful of the neighbors. Pastor Todd Croford replied, “We appreciate our neighbors and will not walk away from the discussion that we have had here tonight.”

Woodmore Subdivision

The proposed Woodmore Subdivision in Hollywood has been controversial since a request was made in 2014 to change the county’s Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan to allow for the project to hook up to the Metropolitan Commission’s system. Residents opposed that change for a variety of reasons, including fears that it would require them to abandon their working septic systems and hook up to the central system. There also were major concerns about the narrow Sandy Bottom Road that serves the subdivision and connects Route 235 with St. Johns Road.

Those concerns were reiterated by several neighbors at the Jan. 11 hearing. The sharp angles of the intersections of St. John’s Road and Sandy Bottom Road, and Lawrence Hayden Road and Sandy Bottom Road were of particular concern.
After closing testimony for the event Thompson suggested that a decision be postponed. The planners were particularly interested in finding out additional plans for Sandy Bottom Road, a county road, and would hear about any state plans for the area.

The concern about forced hookup to the MetCom system was also raised again. The planners were told by MetCom Assistant Engineer Christy Hollander that the neighbors would not be required to hook up to the central system. But she added the same caveat that was stated during the water and sewer plan hearings – “For now.” She noted the county commissioners were looking at the hook up policy and at some future date the policy could be changed.

Woodmore is planned for 47 lots, of which 20 would require development rights to be purchased. Builder will be Quality Built Homes. Consulting engineer Randy Barrett said the subdivision would have a neighborhood park with playground equipment that would be accessed only by a foot path.

At the end of the four-hour meeting, Thompson asked developer’s attorney Chris Longmore whether they wanted the hearing to be continued in two weeks or four weeks. Longmore opted for the commissioner’s Jan. 25 hearing, even though that is expected to be a busy one with the continued discussion of the Hollywood Commercial Center at Routes 234/245 on the agenda.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com