Planning Commission Holds Off Approval of Major Development - Southern Maryland Headline News

Planning Commission Holds Off Approval of Major Development

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (June 26, 2008)—Developers are working to reinvigorate a mixed use project slated for construction near the intersection of Route 235 and Route 4 but the St. Mary’s County Planning Commission decided Monday night to hold off approving the conceptual plan for Oak Crest Center.

The project would redevelop land currently used by a concrete mixing plant.

The project has languished as a planned unit development for nearly two decades now because of various changes in ownership of the land and inability to get certain approvals from the county’s Department of Land Use and Growth Management (LUGM).

Monday night, though, staff from LUGM gave their recommendation for approval to the commissioners.

Commissioners decided to table the plan because they wanted more up-to-date information on traffic impacts from the State Highway Administration.

The traffic impact study currently being used by the developer, according to discussion at the regular commission meeting, to guide their planned improvements to that section of Route 235 was about four years old.

The proposed Oak Crest Center project would be built out on just under 140 acres of land, which according to LUGM reports, would translate into about 902,000 square feet of retail, dining and office space.

The planned unit development received approval back in August of 1990.

“Not one cinder block has been raised above ground level in 17 years,” said commission member Shelby Guazzo, later adding her trepidation about the level of traffic the new development would bring to Route 235.

“I want to see the concept for updated traffic improvements, if this letter [from the State Highway Administration detailing traffic impacts] comes from 2005 then the study was done in 2004.”

Guazzo said that traffic use on Route 235 has increased dramatically in just four years alone.

Though some commissioners wanted the owner of the land, St. John Properties, represented by development director Ramon Benitez, to come back with assurances from the state that road improvements would be adequate, Benitez requested a decision.

He argued that since the plan was in the concept stage those details could still be worked out after the initial approval.

“It may be comforting and informative,” Benitez said. “But it really doesn’t move things along.”

Delays proved expensive in keeping the development process going, Benitez said.

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