A blueprint meant to shape the pattern of development in western Charles prompted angry protests this week from dozens of residents, who accused the county commissioners of ignoring their concerns.
The unusual outburst came after the county commissioners approved changes to zoning regulations that set the rules for growth in the Bryans Road area. The vote Monday afternoon touched off anxiety about traffic, the environment and crime in the fast-growing county.
One by one, about 40 residents held up signs on white sheets of paper bearing messages to the commissioners, who were seated on the dais in the County Government Building: "Delay the vote, resolve the issues. Bryans Road doesn't have to be another Waldorf. Vote for your constituents."
County Planning Director David Umling sought to reassure the audience that "this zoning plan is not going to bring in the bulldozers or change the community overnight."
Umling promised that the county would continue to monitor and tweak the zoning ordinance to ensure a "vibrant, attractive setting in accordance with the principles of smart growth."
Commissioner Edith J. Patterson (D), whose election district includes Bryans Road, went further, proposing a committee of local residents to advise county planners to "make it a really excellent community."
Then, without further debate, the commissioners voted unanimously to proceed with the changes. That prompted angry shouts from residents, many wearing "Protect Bryans Road" T-shirts.
"We'll remember in the next election," said Ronald Lockwood of Bensville.
"Shame, shame on you all," said Stephanie Ward of Indian Head.
The commissioners' decision Monday was the latest chapter in a long-running discussion about how to develop the crossroads at Indian Head Highway and Route 227. The Bryans Road sub-area plan, which recommended the zoning changes, was first adopted in 2001. Since then, the plan has been discussed at Planning Commission meetings, public hearings and work sessions, including one in March attended by more than 300 people.
The county's vision calls for a pedestrian-friendly town center with clusters of townhouses, offices and retail stores. Umling said the county is trying to concentrate development in one area, "rather than spread out across the landscape in a hodgepodge fashion, which is happening now."
Delaying the decision would just allow such scattered development to continue, said Patterson. She added: "That's my neighborhood. That's where I shop."
In an earlier response to concerns from residents, the planning board and county commissioners eliminated the possibility of high-rise apartments and wineries. The height limit for buildings was reduced from seven stories to three or four, and the commissioners added requirements for security lighting or cameras.
Opponents said they consider those changes minor tweaks and called the vision a "fantasy" and unrealistic for the community.
"Old Town Alexandria is a fine, nice place, but you can't slap it down in Bryans Road," said Alex Winter, a longtime resident of the area, who called it a "major mistake for them to go forward with this when they've seen time after time that the people don't want it."
After the meeting, Linda Redding, an accountant from Nanjemoy, asked in disbelief, "How can they do that if the people who live here don't want it to happen?"