Recession forces changes in Chaney project

Waldorf Crossing home numbers slashed

Friday, Jan. 23, 2009

Share a comment The Charles County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 on a request to amend some conditions of the master plan for the proposed Waldorf Crossing mixed-use development to be built by St. John Properties Inc. that will span both sides of U.S. 301 in northern Waldorf near the Prince George's County line. The hearings will be held in the county commissioners' meeting room in the county government building, 200 Baltimore St., La Plata. Call 301-645-0540.

Despite the sharp downturn in the economy, Chaney Enterprises is moving ahead with plans to build Waldorf Crossing, a 140-acre mixed-use development that will span both sides of U.S. 301 in northern Waldorf.

The project, which will include residential, retail and office uses near the Prince George's County line, was the reason that the Charles County commissioners approved the creation of the transit-oriented development zone in 2004. The zone is geared toward transit-friendly development that includes a dense mix of high-rise apartment and condominium units, retail shops and office buildings in a "European village" type setting that encourages walking, bicycling and the use of mass transit.

St. John Properties Inc., a large regional developer, is working with Francis H. Chaney II, chairman of the board of Chaney Enterprises in Waldorf, to revise a master plan for the community. The developer is asking the Charles County Planning Commission during a public hearing Monday evening to recommend approval of several amendments to the plan to better reflect the flagging economy.

One revision to the plan is to build a parking facility to be used as a centralized transit hub and park-and-ride lot on a 1.8-acre parcel on the northbound side of U.S. 301, according to a county planning staff report. The current plan calls for park-and-ride sites on both sides of the highway.

Another revision would allow the developer to drop plans to build 123 single-family homes and reduce the number of townhouses to be built from 129 to 88, according to county planners. In turn, the developer wants to hike the number of apartment/condominium units to be built at Waldorf Crossing from 546 to 698.

Chaney also wants to tweak the minimum size of the townhouse units, from 2,000 square feet in the current master plan to 1,650 square feet, according to the staff report.

In addition, county planners said the developer wants to remove a condition from the current master plan that holds them to offering sale prices for residential units that would be within the highest 20 percent of new housing for comparable styles and square footage of units being built in Charles County.

Current economic conditions will make it hard to adhere to that mandate in the plan, said Steven Tripp, Chaney's marketing manager.

"The economy has changed quite a bit since this plan was first created," he said. "The rental rates 10 years from now may be much higher or lower than what is stated in the plan. We want to set the rates according to the market."

The developer is also asking the county to approve a revision to the plan that would allow improvements along southbound U.S. 301 and the access interchange from U.S. 301 and Western Parkway to be completed first, arguing that the initial rules in the master plan are "detailed and restrictive to the point that it is detrimental to the welfare of the project," according to the staff report.

Concurrent with the construction of Western Parkway by the county, the developer will begin building the residential, office and retail portion of Waldorf Crossing on the western side of U.S. 301 — the side of the highway that now contains the Waldorf Hotel and the Chaney Enterprises headquarters building.

There is no set date when construction on the project will begin because it is still in the early phase, Tripp said.

"We don't know how this is going to play out, yet," he said. "Nothing is settled. We hope over the next couple of months to firm up our plans. This public hearing will help people feel more comfortable about us moving forward."

Waldorf Crossing will add to the county's coffers once it is completed, according to the county's department of fiscal and administrative services. The annual property tax revenue generated by the project is estimated to be a little more than $1.1 million when it is completed.

An annual fiscal impact study done by Daraius Irani of RESI Research and Consulting at Towson University states that the annual cost for the county to provide services to people living or working in the community would be $1,586 for residents and $404 for nonresidents, but the planning staff said that those numbers need to be confirmed, according to the staff report.

Plans to build Waldorf Crossing are still on the drawing board and much more work needs to be done before ground is broken for the project, Tripp said.

"A lot of this is in flux right now," he said. "We'll have more detailed information to give to the community at neighborhood meetings in the next six months or so."