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Development district plan ready for prime time

Lexington Park, MD -- After more than four years a Lexington Park Development District Master Plan is ready to go to the county commissioners. That’s how long it has taken the St. Mary’s County Planning Commission to get to this point. Along the way the commission has pivoted on several issues after much debate.

The most difficult challenge facing the commission was how to balance the needs of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station with the challenges of redeveloping the historic downtown of Lexington Park just outside the base’s Gate 2. In the end the plan calls for that redevelopment but also recognizes the need for a commercial core outside Gate 1, which has become the base’s main entrance.

The 165-page document was unanimously approved by the planning commission Sept. 28 and will go to the county commissioners. It will be presented to the commissioners at their Oct. 6 meeting. It will be up to the commissioners to decide how to proceed from that point.

It was on May 25, 2011 that the process publicly began with a kick-off meeting at the Bay District Fire Hall. In the beginning a consultant was hired to work on the plan but the consultant was eventually jettisoned in favor of a document developed in house by the Department of Land Use and Growth Management staff. That decision considerably slowed the process.

The staff’s first draft was released in 2013. The planning commission has since then held workshops in the LUGM office conference room to hammer out the minute details of the plan. Although the meetings were open to the public, there was rarely anyone there except an occasional press member and Laura Clarke, who is a development consultant.

The planning commission document is available online at http://www.stmarysmd.com/lugm/LPDD.asp

The plans major recommendations are:

• Provide a mix of governmental, cultural, residential, office, retail, entertainment, and recreational areas throughout  the Development District;
• Promote job growth, economic diversification and increased attention to and management of the health and service needs of the community’
• Improve perceived and actual safety in Lexington Park;
• Maintain cooperation with the Navy;
• Within six months of adoption of the Plan, revise the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance to fully achieve the vision and objective hereof;
• Within 12 months of adoption of the Plan, revise, supplement or develop new ordinances necessary to achieve the physical characteristics of development envisioned for the Development District;
• Conduct a study to identify areas where public sewer and water infrastructure has not been constructed or is inadequate for the redevelopment described in this Plan;
• Budget the funds.

The recommendations include sub recommendations in many of the above categories.

Regarding the Lexington Park downtown that developed along with the base in the 1940’s, the plan says: “The growth of Downtown will require redevelopment, and improved transportation network of Complete Streets, and attractive landscaping. Essential ingredients of the long-term success of the Downtown, the adjoining corridors, and the Development District as a whole should include better street lighting, enhanced security, routine property maintenance, coordinated parking, marketing and public event programming. Phasing and funding of capital improvements should occur within Downtown to support the infill, redevelopment and revitalization of older commercial areas before significant investment elsewhere.”

The plan goes on to prioritize two areas outside the AICUZ (the area designed to protect the Navy that include high noise and accident potential). One of those areas is north and west of the older commercial areas outside Gate 2. It includes a new “Central Business District” between Shangri-La Drive and Great Mills Road, including St. Mary’s Square.

The second area is to the north is called “Downtown Gateway” and extends along FDR Boulevard south of Pegg Road. According to the plan this area “can take advantage of easy pedestrian and bike access to the Three Notch Trail, Nicolett Park, the Navy museum, and to the central business district via FDR Boulevard.

Regarding design standards, the plan says, “This plan recommends the development and adoption by ordinance of guidelines and standards that address the design elements to ensure that new construction and improvements fit into and enhance the community. Community design can provide more privacy in residential areas and encourage more activity in the public realm. Ultimately, implementing these community design recommendations will create a cohesive community image and draw people to more actively use the Development District.”

The Bay Net will follow this story, including a report on the county commissioners’ reaction to the plan and whether they intended to hold public hearings on it.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com

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