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Developers looking for a ‘Square’ deal


Prince Frederick, MD -
Build a quality mixed-use site in the heart of the county and the rest of the community wins. That would appear to be the message from proponents of a development project in Prince Frederick. Before it can happen, however, the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance needs to be tweaked.

The plans to develop a combination of parcels totaling over 85 acres, if the ordinances are amended, could bring a national home improvement center, premium grocery store, department and general merchandise stores plus another movie theater to the county seat.

The largest of the parcels had been the site of Calvert Middle School. That 60-year-old structure was demolished in 2012. Adjacent to the old school site is a vacant National Guard Armory. The proposed development of the parcel has been dubbed “Armory Square.” Currently, Calvert County Government, which owns the parcel, has a cooperative development agreement with Bargo LLC, described by its principals—Randy Barrett and John Gott Jr.—as a “land use development entity.”

During a recent meeting, Barrett told The BayNet that Calvert County has an annual “$500 million leakage” when it comes to the accumulation of consumer dollars, since many residents opt to shop and dine in nearby jurisdictions with much wider variety. Barrett cited a 2011 consultant’s study done at the behest of the county commissioners which indicated the dramatic shortfall.  He added a “home improvement center, quality food and department stores” are urgent consumer needs in Calvert.

Calvert County Chamber of Commerce President Bill Chambers stated that with the addition of those three components, “then you get the ancillary businesses.”

Barrett, Chambers and Calvert County Small Business Interest Group (Small BIG) representative Anthony Williams all disputed conclusions reached in a contributing writers’ story featured recently on The BayNet. The story indicated that big box stores have adverse impacts on the economy of rural communities. “These were not accurate comparisons,” said Williams, who explained Calvert’s proximity to Washington, DC made it a suburban community rather than an isolated rural location.

Chambers also disputed that the presence of a big box store would harm employment growth, stating that just the opposite has happened in Calvert in the 25 years since Walmart arrived in the county. “That ship has sailed,” said Barrett of the fear a quarter century ago that opening a Walmart in Prince Frederick would destroy commerce in Calvert. Walmart’s Prince Frederick location was the retail behemoth’s first in the State of Maryland. Barrett also opined that Lowes or Home Depot would help rather than hurt Calvert’s existing hardware stores.

In the pact presented to the Calvert County Commissioners, Barrett and Gott declared that their goal is to create a “mixed use plan” that includes “quality commercial” and residential development, a community center, and “open space and pedestrian connectivity.”

The proposed changes to zoning regulations in the portion of the Prince Frederick Town Center where Armory Square is located—labeled “New Town”—would increase residential density from 14 to 24 dwelling units per acre, increase maximum building height from 50 to 60 feet and increase the maximum size for a building housing a home improvement center, retail commercial and wholesale lumber and/or building material businesses from 25,000 to 160,000 square feet. A garden center could be as large as 50,000 square feet.

Some opposition has been voiced to the proposed changes, some of it being expressed verbally at a modestly attended public meeting Dec. 1 at Calvert High School.

Community leaders of a Huntingtown subdivision, Walnut Creek, have indicated strong opposition to the plan to build bigger stores in Prince Frederick, citing the residual impact on southbound Route 2/4 traffic. Walnut Creek Homeowners Association President Scott Deacon wrote to the planning commission, stating his organization is “strongly opposing the amendments. Incremental changes will lead to unsupportable growth along the Route 4 corridor. In the past few years the infrastructure has been pressed to the point it can barely handle the daily commuters. The addition of stores this size will make an already difficult situation intolerable.”

On Dec. 9, the Calvert County Planning Commission discussed the proposed amendments and heard a presentation from Barrett on Bargo LLC’s current plan plus a report from Lenhart Traffic Consulting Inc. analyzing level of service for roads in the area of the development. After a long discussion and an impassioned plea from Williams not to delay the issue further, the panel decided to consider a hearing to learn more about how the public feels about the proposal.

The hearing—which probably will be held jointly by the county commissioners and the planning commission—is likely to occur sometime in February.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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