The following commentary on plans for the Lusby Town Center was originally written as a letter to Calvert County Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby) by the officials of the various communities whose names appear at the end.
This discussion focuses on important and disturbing transportation and zoning issues associated with the Lusby Town Center. But it is really about much more than specific development issues. It is about trust -- the trust that must exist between a government and its citizenry. And it is about process -- a methodology of governance that permits the relationships between citizens and their government to flourish -- and the breakdown of both these elements.
On Dec. 4, 2001, the Calvert County Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners held a joint public hearing and considered the proposed Master Plan and Ordinance for the Lusby Town Center.
On Jan. 8, 2002, the Board of County Commissioners voted to adopt the Master Plan and enact the Zoning Ordinance with no substantive changes. At that point, the government of Calvert County and the citizenry of Lusby joined into a contract to develop a unique "destination" that would, among other things, change Trueman Road into a main street with fronting stores, construct a parallel parkway that would facilitate through traffic through the area, and establish a village green that would provide traditional "old town" amenities and atmosphere.
It is now three years later and though untold hundreds of trees have been felled, and untold tons of earth moved, none of those goals have been reached, and, in fact, there is every reason to believe that -- unless drastic corrective action is taken immediately -- they never will be.
The reality is a Lusby Center development that even the county consultant admits is nothing more than a dressed-up strip mall. There are no stores fronting on Trueman. There is a Food Lion big box grocery store with a parking lot.
The reality is a "parkway" that currently appears to lead into the back yard of residences and the Chesapeake Ranch Estates-owned and -maintained roads network. Without public notification or consultation, the original parkway link to an already available Lusby Lane connection was supplanted by a Master Plan change that puts the Food Lion grocery store directly in line with the original parkway route. The county consultant admits there is no readily available solution to the situation. Without the parkway there is no "Main Street." Without the "Main Street" there is no "Village." Without the "Village" there is no Master Plan.
The reality is a transportation plan that essentially ignores any improvement of Trueman Road south of Rousby Hall Road, emasculates the "Main Street" concept with a four-lane road -- with additional deceleration/acceleration lanes -- and envisions a full turn intersection into the truncated "parkway" off Rousby Hall Road mere feet from an already overtaxed Trueman Road/Rousby Hall Road intersection.
The reality is a Master Plan that has been tattered beyond recognition and an incomplete, developer-dependent patch job that will bring all the headaches of development without the benefits promised by the government when it made its compact with the citizens in approving the original Master Plan.
The county consultant says this is all part of the development game. Adjustments must be made as part of the negotiation process. But what has happened to the Master Plan is not mere negotiational adjustment. It is abandonment. The entire character of the center has already been fundamentally altered by the location and configuration of the food store big box. Trust has been violated and due process ignored. The government has failed its citizenry.
But all is not lost. There are options and time to pick up the pieces and move ahead -- to renew the trust, reinvigorate the process and build the best Town Center in Southern Maryland.
But the government must pay attention, provide adequate oversight, inform the citizenry and listen to its constituents.
To ensure the viability of the Master Plan, and to reinstate the trust in our government and its reliance on due process, the following is recommended:
1. Begin immediate steps to ensure eventual availability of the required right of way for the uncompleted parkway. It is recognized that the poor judgment and lack of due diligence exercised in modifying the Master Plan makes this far more difficult and will require extraordinary efforts in creativity and -- perhaps -- some heretofore unbudgeted funds from either the county or the state. If this is not done promptly, however, the Master Plan becomes truly a travesty, and the citizens will hold the government accountable for pandering to a "good old boy" developer and grossly violating the intent of the Master Plan contract.
2. Establish an aggressive public information campaign that will keep all stakeholders informed of the progress of the Lusby Town Center. At a minimum, the campaign should consist of the following:
* a Lusby Town Center Web site that will contain all pertinent information -- including occupancy permit requirements, legal documents, proffer agreements, transportation studies, points of contact for all involved agencies, etc.
* a Visitors Information Center in the Lusby Town Center area that will display all pertinent hard copy maps and documentation concerning the center. Ideally, the site should be located in the immediate vicinity of the development, such as in a construction trailer. If this is impractical, the nearby Southern Community Center Library could be used. Costs for this could be borne by all the developers in the project.
* an e-mail list server that will automatically generate e-mails announcing to involved citizens any pertinent public hearings, the results of such hearings, architectural site plan review meetings and other relevant activities.
3. Accelerate development plans for the Southern Connector. The public has been told that a best-case estimate for completion of this essential transportation element was 2007. That date should be strictly adhered to.
4. Follow the recommendations of the county's Lusby Town Center consultant to name a resident Lusby Town Center coordinator from the county staff. This county employee -- preferably, but not necessarily, from the Planning and Zoning Department -- should be a resident of Drum Point, Chesapeake Ranch Estates or Olivet who can witness personally, on a daily basis, the progress of the development and share in the frustrations of its creation.
5. Charge the resident Lusby Town Center coordinator to form a Lusby Town Center Advisory Committee as outlined in the Master Plan.
6. Take advantage of the ongoing Commercial Zoning Ordinance review to explain to the Lusby community those zoning tools not now present that will be required to implement the intent of the Lusby Master Plan and solicit community support for those tools. Post these needed tools on the Lusby Town Center Web site, with sample letters of support. If the planners on the staff will tell us what we need to do to support them, we will do just that.
The Bottom Line
Listen. Renew our trust. Invigorate the process. Let us build a great Town Center -- together.
John A. Eney
President, Property Owners Association, Chesapeake
President, Drum Point Property Owners Association
The Rev. Mervin Gray
President, West Lusby-Appeal Community Association
White Sands Civic Association