A divided St. Mary's County Board of Commissioners chose a tract known as the Gabrelcik property as the site for the new Lexington Park library on Tuesday in a move that prompted expressions of disappointment by library officials and their advocates.
The commissioners voted 3 to 2 in favor of the location, which they said was best suited to make the library a catalyst in the revitalization of downtown Lexington Park. In voting for the Gabrelcik property, they rejected the seemingly more popular Nicolet Park site a half-mile away on Route 235.
"It's okay. We won't die. We're getting a library in Lexington Park," said Clare Whitbeck, a county resident who had lobbied to put the new building in Nicolet Park.
County Commissioners President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large) called the choice a "win-win" proposition that will allow the county to preserve the 35-acre Nicolet Park as a community park, while helping to initiate a revival of Lexington Park by locating the library in the heart of a new downtown.
The Nicolet Park site had been preferred by the library board, and it was the choice of residents who responded to a survey.
"The folks of the library board are right to focus on the library. They are experts on this field," Randall said. "Our charge is to look at more than the library . . . the future of Lexington Park."
That theme was repeated by Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly Sr. (D-Leonardtown). "We're building more than a library," he said. "It's actually going to be the focal point of the community."
Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills) joined Randall and Mattingly in approving the Gabrelcik site.
Last week, commissioners announced that Robert F. Gabrelcik, a local developer, is donating the site on South Shangri-La Drive, across the street from the Lexington Park Elementary School. The 4.2-acre parcel is valued at $325,000.
But that move did not appear to mollify supporters of the Nicolet Park option who earlier had argued against the Gabrelcik property because it seemed that the county would have to buy the site, then take it off tax rolls.
"I'm very disappointed," said Fred Powledge, chairman of the library's board of trustees. "They've [commissioners] put a development plan over the needs of the library."
Powledge said Tuesday's vote confirmed what he had suspected: that a public forum a few weeks ago was not really meant to gauge public sentiment on the final two choices for a library site.
"It was a fait accompli," Powledge said.
Commissioners Joseph F. Anderson (D-Drayden) and Shelby P. Guazzo (R-Chaptico) voted against the Gabrelcik property, citing support for the Nicolet Park location from library advocates and a majority of residents surveyed. They said they agreed with library advocates that the Gabrelcik tract lacks room for future expansion and presents the uncertainty of how the commercial property that surrounds it would be developed in future.
"We've listened to the people. We've listened to their recommendation and we should run with it like the wind," Anderson said before the vote.
Guazzo said the Nicolet Park site, across the street from a 7-Eleven, two restaurants, a movie house and a gym also presents "an opportunity to develop the urban hub called for in the Master Plan."
Guazzo said she "found it ironic" that she and Anderson, two county commissioners who were former members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and most familiar with redevelopment plans for Lexington Park, voted for Nicolet Park.
Guazzo had argued that even though the county does not have to buy the Gabrelcik property, making it the library site still will take it off county tax rolls, resulting in tax revenue loss. She estimated that if it were developed commercially, the Gabrelcik site could have generated $40,000 in annual tax revenues.
"Nicolet Park has more chiggers but the Gabrelcik property has more ticks," said Commissioner Raley, trying to lighten the somber discussion that preceded the vote.
But Raley had argued that "in reality, both sites are really our second choices," because if library officials had their druthers, they would have chosen to expand at the existing site near the main gate of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
However, expansion was ruled out because the existing library is too close to the Navy's aircraft landing approaches. The county's own zoning rules prohibit expansion close to so-called "no-fly" zones.