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Asks residents to vote on Prince Frederick zoning options

By MEGHAN RUSSELLStaff writer

The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners wants residents to know that a mailed survey they may have received asking for them to vote on what development options they would like to see in Prince Frederick did not come from any county department or agency.

The recent mailing concerns current Prince Frederick Town Center zoning issues, including the future of the former Calvert Middle School site that was recently demolished on the corner of Dares Beach Road and Route 4. While the notice indicates that return responses will be sent to the Calvert County Planning Commission and BOCC, the return address is listed as 132 Main Street, Prince Frederick, or the law office of Mark Davis, who represents applicant Bargo LLC in its desire to change the Prince Frederick Zoning Ordinance.

Davis said in an email he agreed to list his office as a return address as a convenience to the applicant.

An amendment submitted by Bargo in December would triple the maximum allowable commercial use within 1,000 feet of Bargo’s current 31-acre development site near Calvert High School and the new Calvert Middle School. Currently, nothing more than 25,000 square feet can be built in that area, which is right now the demolished middle school site. The second part of the amendment permits home improvement commercial users of up to 125,000 square feet in the remainder of the New Town District, beyond that 1,000-foot setback.

At the moment, the Prince Frederick Walmart is the largest commercial retail building in the town center, at 92,000 square feet. Davis and Bargo have cited a recent study performed by Fore Consulting, at the request of the county commissioners and Department of Economic Development, as a reason to enhance what is currently allowed in the New Town District. One conclusion of that study, among others, was that the county currently loses $325 million a year in retail sales that take place outside the county.

The survey asks residents to vote on one of two options: “I support the 1,000’ set back. We need the shopping choices, jobs, and the tax revenue it would lay the groundwork to provide. I agree that the Middle School Site should be re-developed as an attractive mixed use focal point for the Prince Frederick Town Center;” or “I do not support the 1,000’ set back. I am ok with the possibility of a big box on Rt. 4 at the Middle School Site. I’ll keep driving out of the county for shopping choices. I’m OK with my taxes increasing to offset the shortfall due to our limited commercial tax base.”

John Gott of Bargo said he sent the surveys to every Zip code from Huntingtown to the southern end of the county, “just to make sure the information gets out to the public ... to give people a way of registering their thoughts on this thing and be counted.”

Bill Nichols of Lusby received the survey this week and said, “It’s definitely one-sided. I think it’s really outright deceptive. They didn’t give any other choices. Either support the 1,000-foot setback or not.”

“I find it extremely unsettling that a prominent law firm in the county is misrepresenting themselves to its residents in an effort to gain support for who I can only imagine is their client, the developer,” another resident, Nick Fox, wrote in an email. “As a resident of the Prince Frederick town center, I care deeply about what happens to the old Middle School site, and I hope people can be made aware that this mailer is not a ‘vote’ of any kind, but is instead a deceitful way to curry favor for a client.”

Davis stressed in his email that he did not draft or send out the survey but said Bargo representatives did so “to provide accurate information to the public as to the purpose of the text amendment,” since it has presented some confusion since its submittal.

“Second, they wanted to try to gauge the public sentiment toward the development of a ‘big box’ scale retail store in Prince Frederick and where in Prince Frederick the public felt would be the most appropriate location for such development,” Davis wrote.

Calvert County Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said he received an emailed copy of the mailing and “there seems to be some misinformation in it, trying to intertwine the middle school property with the text amendment. ... It sounded to me to be very misleading and very untruthful.”

The commissioners are still considering development proposals for the old middle school site. Although no decisions have been made yet, Clark said the board makes the final call, not the voters, as the mailing seems to imply.

“Obviously we demolished the school and we’re starting to move forward,” he said. “But we haven’t finished our due diligence on that site. There are quite a few issues the board needs to decide before we come up with any kind of plan.”

One such issue is the outstanding text amendment that would determine what developments can happen on the property, but Clark stressed that an upcoming public hearing on the amendment is just about the amendment and has “nothing to do at this point with the old Calvert Middle School.”

Davis said Bargo plans to provide the results of the survey to the planning commission and BOCC at the hearing to assist them in their decision-making.

“It’s easy to get people to come out against stuff. It’s hard to get them to come out and support something,” Gott said.

That public hearing will take place with the board and planning commission on Tuesday, after which the commission will make a recommendation to the board on whether to approve or deny it. Details on that hearing are available at www.co.cal.md.us/government/departments/planning/calendar.

mrussell@somdnews.com