Planning and Development: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Commentary by Bob Schaller

The Lexington Park Development District Master Plan Update is underway in earnest. Note the two keywords in the title: plan and development representing the two-step process. The County has prepared many comprehensive land use plans for Lexington Park previously, dating back to the mid 1940s. But, realizing the plan (development) has been the much tougher process, by far. Some will say the reason is lack of political will, that somehow our elected officials haven't the resolve to implement the vision sought by planners. While political will is always a factor in carrying out public policy, it is not the only one, and certainly not the most significant one. The reason is simple: elected office is a temporary assignment. Development, and especially redevelopment, takes far longer, often decades to accomplish.

A case in point is the dualization of MD Rt 237 Chancellor's Run Rd. Twenty years after the first BRAC affected our community's development in a way we'd never seen, this major state highway improvement was part of the original plan to accept new Navy work from points north. It's now just getting completed. Another example is FDR Boulevard, a local road project, envisioned when the railbed to NAS Pax was removed some four decades ago. Many past transportation plans include this essential roadway. The difference between the two highway projects is not political will, but political resources.

Chancellor's Run Road is state funded to the tune of $36 million. FDR Blvd is a county project that has been built to date almost exclusively by developers. Since private development occurs by neighborhood, these sections are built at the County's request each time a permit is issued. A recent example is the section off Buck Hewitt Rd behind Kohl's. The partnership arrangements the County negotiated with the retail developer, the single family housing community behind, and just-completed Victory Woods senior apartment complex behind Immaculate Heart of Mary enabled a half-mile partial section of FDR to be built. Last year the BOCC prioritized phases of the project to connect sections where it's most needed. This BOCC has chosen to redirect capital funding to advance this policy. Whether it's political will or political resources, new portions of FDR will be completed in the coming years. Though economic development textbooks suggest that local government invest in infrastructure to lead development, the reality is that a county like ours simply lacks the local resources to carry out a capital project the scale of Chancellor's Run Rd. So we must approach projects like FDR Blvd incrementally as resources allow.

In a broader context, the (Re)development of Lexington Park must also occur in a similar fashion. Because of its much larger scale and scope it will take even longer. If you look closely you'll note that much redevelopment has already taken place in the core area this past decade. But it's hard to see, especially as more popular greenspace projects like the new Texas Roadhouse continue to occur on Rt 235 in California, also part of the Development District. This represents the tension between the old and the new. Developers follow the market which favors the new while local government becomes the agent for redevelopment of the old. Again, planners don't develop. Remember that the land uses being planned are on property primarily held privately. Land is one of the four economic resources or factors of production in a market economy. Without private property capitalism doesn't work. While planning provides the vision or roadmap, development actualizes it. It is developers, not planners including local officials, who do development. So to make this a meaningful development plan, planners must get developers onboard and engaged in the planning process. This way true community investment, both economic and emotional, can occur, thus increasing the chances the plan will be realized.

Why is this important to you as a Countian? Decades ago this community, through the BOCC, established growth areas in the County. The largest - by far - is the Lexington Park Development District encompassing approximately 17,000 acres or 26 square miles from just south of Hollywood to Cedar Cove below the base. This development district is our population, employment, and commerce center in the County where 27,000 people, better than a quarter of the County, live. And that population about doubles every weekday as another 23,000 go to work at Pax. 50,000 people, the size of a full RFK Stadium, in a part of the County that was more rural than any of our water's edge communities just 3 generations ago. Well into the 1960s and 1970s, Leonardtown, our only municipality, was the power center of the County. This has all changed, accelerated by the Thomas Johnson Bridge in the 1970s, the Navy's massive rebuilding in the 1980s, and most certainly the BRAC process of the early 1990s. As we now know, our County led all others in the state in population growth last decade. Why? We have work. Where? Lexington Park. Again, why is this important? It's not just about the 27,000 or 50,000 who live, work, or play in the development district. It concerns all 105,000+ citizens of this County. The power center has shifted east, from the Potomac to the Patuxent, from Rt5 to Rt235. We can now see the future which clearly shows that as Lexington Park goes, so goes the County. That's why this is important.

Please get involved. Start at the County website The next public meeting is Wed June 15 at 6 p.m. at the Bay District Vol Fire Dept Hall. The community will review and comment on the master design concept.

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