Prince Frederick, MD – On a 3-to-2 vote, the Calvert County Commissioners approved a zoning text amendment that will permit bigger and taller structures in a largely undeveloped subsection of Prince Frederick. The decision was delivered Tuesday, July 26 before a full hearing room. Passage of the zoning ordinance amendment paves the way for a developer to build a home improvement center to a maximum of 150,000 square feet. A store that size would be the single-largest retail store in the county.
“I knew this was going to be a difficult choice,” said Commissioner Pat Nutter [R – District 2] of his decision to vote against the changes to the ordinance, which affect the “New Town Subarea.” Nutter stated proponents believe development of the two tracts, one of them county-owned, will make the county’s center a more desirable place for residents to shop and help stop the daily exodus of residents who leave the county to spend money in other jurisdictions. Nutter stated he does not believe the new development was going to increase retail business profits. He added he was greatly concerned about the impact a development could have on Prince Frederick’s already vexing traffic issues.
“There’s no villains in this,” declared Commissioner Tom Hejl [R – At Large], who supported the zoning modifications but conceded the proposals were “a contentious and divisive issue. But Prince Frederick is the last viable option to keep our citizens here.” The home improvement center, while it could be built in the New Town Subarea, would not be visible on Route 2/4, Hejl indicated. “This will not hurt local business,” he added. “It will bring more people to Prince Frederick.”
“It will provide a lot of jobs,” said Commissioner Mike Hart [R – District 1]. “I agree with Commissioner Nutter. It’s not a ‘fix-all,’ but it’s a start. The only traffic is going to be us.”
Commissioners’ President Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R – District 3], voted along with Hejl and Hart to approve the zoning ordinance changes. Nutter and Commissioner Steve Weems voted opposed.
In approving the amended zoning ordinance, a majority of the commissioners opted to ignore the recommendations of the Calvert County Planning Commission. On Wednesday, July 20 the planning commission voted to not recommend components of the proposed zoning amendments that would reduce setbacks (distance of a building from the roadway), increase density requirements and reduce and increase the maximum building height. A provision regarding building size was modified to allow developers to construct a retail store that could be built to a size not to exceed 120,000 square feet. That would have given the New Town Subarea parity with to other sections of the town center. Furthermore, any big box build in New Town would be required to adhere to current county zoning regulations, including signing a maintenance agreement should the retail business vacate the building.
After the vote, the commissioners then received a presentation from the developers of two New Town parcels, including the county-owned Armory Square (former Calvert Middle School and Armory Properties). The developer, Bargo LLC, presented Taylor Chess, a representative from the Fairfax, VA-based Peterson Companies to provide an overview. Chess told the commissioners his company specializes in “place-making,” adding “I think we do that very well.”
During the meeting’s public comment period, three county residents criticized a majority of the commissioners for the zoning ordinance decision. Miriam Gholl of Port Republic, a former county employee involved in the drafting of zoning ordinances and master plans, asked “what happens next? When will the citizens be involved?” Gholl told the commissioners that the Calvert County Comprehensive Plan and the Prince Frederick Town Center Master Plan were being ignored and the approved amendments were inconsistent with the documents. “Retail development is not going to save us,” said Gholl.
“You don’t have an understanding of why you were elected to serve all the citizens of Calvert County,” said North Beach resident Wayne Clark, who insisted a majority of residents didn’t want big box stores and previous boards of county commissioners understood that.
Lusby resident Mark Holmes described himself as a “refugee of Montgomery County who moved to Calvert to live in a community where traffic headaches weren’t caused by the presence of mega stores. “We don’t need this,” he said.
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Breaking News story posted at 11 a.m.
Prince Frederick, MD – The Calvert County Commissioners voted 3-to-2 Tuesday morning to approve proposed text amendments to the Prince Frederick Town Center Zoning Ordinance. The amendments were requested by developers as a means to expedite a project at a county-owned parcel known as Armory Square and an adjacent tract. One of the provisions would allow construction of a 150,000-square foot home improvement center.
Commissioners Pat Nutter and Steve Weems cast the opposing votes.