Calvert County Commissioner Susan Shaw
Prince Frederick, MD – While some local residents are growing impatient with the snail’s pace at which the development of a prime parcel of town center property is moving, the current board of Calvert County Commissioners appears to feel it would be wiser to move the plan along in a deliberate manner.
The parcel is located in Prince Frederick at the corner of East Dares Beach Road and northbound Route 2/4. The old Calvert Middle School (CMS) once stood on the tract. The iconic building was razed last year. The project has been dubbed “Armory Square,” since the old National Guard Armory is just to the east of the parcel. That building is still standing but is in a dilapidated state.
During the commissioners’ Tuesday, Oct. 7 meeting the board voted unanimously to allocate $47,500 from its contingency fund. According to a joint memo from the Department of Community Planning and Building’s Director Thomas Barnett and Community Designer Will Selman, the allocation will be used “for advertising and professional review of the submittals” of potential “master developers” ($7,500) and “to support the cost of an economic impact study of this specific project for the developer selected” ($40,000).
“A master developer will engage with the county for redeveloping the site into a mixed use project with public use, commercial, retail and residential opportunities set within a master-planned project that is walkable, sustainable, connected and economically viable,” the department officials stated.
In recommending the course of action, Barnett, who was not the department’s director when the process for determining the future of the old CMS site began four years ago, recommended the board reject any previous proposals so the reset button could be pushed.
Commissioner Susan Shaw [R] said the county was implementing this strategy “rather than doing a piecemeal development. We are looking for a comprehensive development.”
“This is a different approach than what has previously been done,” Commissioner Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. declared.
“Timing is everything and we don’t have the ability to foresee the future,” Shaw added. “It’s dragged on for a longer period than we hoped it would. But it’s important to do it correctly.”
After two votes—to allocate the contingency funds and reject all previous proposals—the commissioners voted unanimously to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Bargo Development Partnership, a private entity. “A memorandum of understanding is needed to clarify the vision and intent of the property owners and the intended function of the property in relation to this development project,” Barnett and Selman stated in a second memo to the commissioners.
The two principals of Bargo—Randy Barrett and John M. Gott Jr.—were in the hearing room when the commissioners took their votes. Barrett and Gott had already signed the memorandum.
“Armory Square is intended to function as a civic, commercial and residential hub for the Prince Frederick community and the county as a whole,” the memorandum states. “While the ultimate design and mix of commercial tenants and residential types will be guided by the private market, principles of walkability, mixed use and sustainability shall guide the project. The vision for the Armory Square project grew out of a week-long public charrette process held during June 2013.”
The current board of county commissioners has been criticized in the past by the Calvert County Chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV) for their handling of the old CMS/Armory tract. In a study entitled “Transparency of County Governance,” the LWV stated, “this site is public property. Several assumptions were built into the original RFP [request for proposal] without any public input or explanation. There was no possibility that the site would be used for a community center, county office building or park, the school site would be developed commercially with no long-term financial commitment by the county and the building would be demolished.”
The transparency study, which also covered the commissioners’ annual operating budget process and the board’s role in the proposed liquefaction unit at Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas Plant in Lusby, will be formally presented to the public Thursday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at Calvert Library in Prince Frederick.
Contact Marty Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org