Artist’s rendering of propoded Hollywood Commercial center

Leonardtown, MD — An attorney says the St. Mary’s County Planning Commission erred in denying the proposed commercial center at the Route 235/Sotterley Road intersection in Hollywood, Maryland. Chris Longmore, attorney for the property owner Dean Partnership LLC and the developer Hollywood Partners Three Notch LLC, made the argument before the St. Mary’s County Board of Appeals at a June 9 hearing.

The appeals board listened to the applicant’s case and began accepting public testimony but Chairman George Alan Hayden ended the hearing after three-and-a-half hours. The case will be resumed June 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Leonardtown.

The case before the appeals board is unusual for them. The applicant’s other option would have been to appeal the decision to circuit court. County Attorney George Sparling explained to the board that they had the authority to hear the case all over from scratch and make their own decision without considering the planning commission’s conclusion, although they were provided minutes of their meeting.

Longmore argued that the planning commission took into their deliberations issues that should not have been considered at the concept plan review stage but instead were more properly reviewed at the final site plan stage, which is handled administratively by the county planning director.

One of those issues was the determination of adequate public facilities, including a traffic plan. Traffic concerns were the main reason for the planning commission’s denial. They were worried especially about the new five-lane road the applicant proposes between Route 235 (Three Notch Road) and Old Three Notch Road to replace a two-lane, congested 500-foot section of road.

Chairman Hayden expressed confusion that if the planners weren’t supposed to rule on the adequacy of the traffic plan, why were they presented a traffic study from the developer’s consulting engineers?

During the case before the appeals board, the applicant’s principal Kevin McFadden brought up several new facts not presented to the planning commission. They included:

• One of the tenants in the new shopping center will be a relocated Burch Mart. The convenience store/gas station currently sits on the opposite corner to the new center.
• Truck traffic will be discouraged or prohibited on the narrow Old Three Notch Road.
• The Old Three Notch Road entrance, one of three for the center, will be redesigned to make it difficult for trucks to use.

One of the five speakers to give public testimony was Planning Commission Chairman Howard Thompson, who lives close to the proposed center in Hollywood. He said he was speaking personally and not for the planning commission. Thompson said, “With the changes made (by the developer) there could have been a different decision (by the planning commission).

Thompson insisted he was not against a center at the intersection but had concerns about traffic. He said in spite of assertions from the engineers, people–including truckers–would use Old Three Notch Road, which he described as an old farm road too narrow for some trucks to pass each other.

Karen Dean and her brother are the principals of Dean Partnership LLC. She talked about her late father Frank Dean, owner of Dean Lumber, and how much he and her mother contributed to the community. She said he bought the property because he wanted for it to be developed the right way.

Former county commissioner Ford Dean, speaking for the partnership–although he is not a member–said the center complied with the county’s master plan calling for growth in designated town and village centers, such as Hollywood.

The developer’s engineers insisted that the plan for the five lanes between Three Notch and Old Three Notch Roads met with state approvals and would improve a dangerous intersection by providing for designated turn lanes. Several speakers, however, expressed concern about what would happen on the opposite side of the intersection for traffic coming from Leonardtown.

Hollywood resident David Ryan pointed out that a large population uses Sotterley Road and Vista Road, the two roads on either side of the shopping center, as their only way in and out. He said about 400 homes were affected in addition to Greenwell State Park and Sotterley Plantation.

The shopping center will be built in three phases, with a relocated CVS Pharmacy in the first phase and the relocated Burch Mart in the second phase.

The 22-acre property owned by Dean Partnership LCC includes eight acres that will be conveyed to a business entity other than the shopping center developer and which is not subject to consideration by the appeals board. A car dealership, reportedly Winegardner Chevrolet, is expected to locate on that eight acres and use an entrance off Route 235 that will also be used by the shopping center.

Speakers before the planning commission said the traffic impact for the proposed car dealership should be considered with the shopping center proposal. The concept plan for that other parcel would be considered as a separate project by the planning commission.

The planning commission voted 5-2 to deny the proposal. See The BayNet’s story on that decision here.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com