Commissioners greenlight Waldorf Station development agreement

Earlier this month, the Board of Charles County Commissioners voted to approve a 31-page agreement between the county and developer Greenberg Gibbons Commercial that lays out the terms for the development of Waldorf Station, which has been called the biggest development project in the county in the past 40 years.

The 140-acre mixed-use transit-oriented development will straddle U.S. 301 at the intersection of Mattawoman Beantown Road and the future terminus of Western Parkway. The plan calls for approximately 453,000 square feet of commercial space for offices, retail stores, and entertainment venues, as well as a hotel, a retirement housing complex, and 798 residential units.

By and large, the approval process for the proposed development has been smooth sailing for Greenberg Gibbons. In May, the Charles County Planning Commission voted unanimously that the Waldorf Station Development Agreement was consistent with the provisions of the county’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan, which among other things spells out the policies that developers must agree to follow in order to be allowed to build in the county. A brief virtual public hearing before the Board of Charles County Commissioners last month saw only one member of the public offer verbal testimony, which was in support the project.

Greenberg Gibbons acquired the parcels that make up the project in 2016. Previously, the property to the west of U.S. 301 had been slated for the construction of a Walmart super-center. The developer has described its vision for Waldorf Station as being a gateway to Charles County akin to the pedestrian-friendly Waugh Chapel Towne Centre development in Gambrills, which it also developed.

At a planning commission meeting in October 2018, commission member Richard Viohl described Waldorf Station as “probably the biggest development in the county in 40 years.”

The development agreement approved by the county commissioners specifies that the project will be completed in five stages. Stage One focuses on the developing the property to the east of U.S. 301 bounded by Mattawoman Beantown Road and Substation Road, called Waldorf Station East. The plan calls for the construction of between 10,000-20,000 square feet of mixed retail space, 150,000 to 175,000 square feet of retirement housing, and a maximum of 345 residential units. However, the agreement allows Greenberg Gibbon to defer the start of construction on the residential units “subsequent to any other stage of development [outlined in the agreement] at its discretion.”

Stage Two will focus on developing the portion to the west of U.S. 301 bounded by Mattawoman Creek, through which the final phase of Western Parkway will cross. Greenberg Gibbons calls this portion of the project Waldorf Station West, and the agreement stipulates that it can begin construction there before breaking ground in Waldorf Station East if it chose to. Reasons for opting to begin in one area versus the other do not appear to have been publicly discussed during the review and approval process, but would likely have to do with factors ranging from permit approvals to the ability of the developer to attract prospective tenants.

Stage Two as proposed would involve the construction of 12,000-20,000 square feet of mixed retail space, between 45,000-60,000 square feet of office space, and a “hotel pad site for future construction of [a] 110-room hotel.”

Greenberg Gibbons could begin work on Stage Three, consisting of the remaining 545 residential units in Waldorf Station East, once “sufficient construction progress” has been made during Stage Two, or it could decide to defer the start of the phase until a later date.

Stages Four and Five involve the development of the remaining commercial spaces and residential units, respectively, in Waldorf Station West. The development agreement says that Greenberg Gibbons can begin Stage Four prior to any other stage, and will not undertake Stage Five until “all other stages of development have met Sufficient Construction Progress [sic].”

The development agreement also stipulates that the county’s and the developer’s obligations are “expressly contingent upon the County allocating school capacity to the Development to ensure that the School Capacity Allocations needed for 798 residential dwelling units proposed for the Subject Property are vested and available at the time of building permit issuance in advance of occupancy permits” at the time that Greenberg Gibbons starts work on each of the phases.

As TLR has reported previously, the county commissioners have tasked planning department staff with drafting legislation that would change the county’s formula for approving new residential subdivision construction based on school capacity by providing a sunset provision that awards half of the school seats to a project after five years on the project waiting list and releases the balance of the seats if the project is still on the waiting list after six more years.

The agreement requires the county to “diligently pursue such process and schedule a vote on such legislation.”

The biggest hurdle that the project’s supporters had to clear was concern by environmental groups that the development could adversely impact Mattawoman Creek, which runs adjacent to its western boundary. The county and Greenberg Gibbons have designated a little over 34 acres of buffer along the Western Parkway extension to help protect the creek, and will each share the responsibility and costs for restoring two streams in order to meet the terms of Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Department of the Environment permits for disturbing the wetlands. The county will assume all costs for constructing bridges, culverts, and spans where Western Parkway will cross the two streams.

Residents of the flood-prone Pinefield neighborhood have testified at public hearings that they are concerned the proposed development could contribute to their community’s flooding and drainage issues.

Both the county and state are undertaking road improvement projects that will complement the development of the Waldorf Station properties. The county’s “phase three” completion of the final leg of Western Parkway from Pierce Road to Mattawoman Beantown Road is currently underway; the Board of Charles County Commissioners has allocated an additional $6.5 million to the capital improvement budget for traffic signal improvements, upgrades to Substation Road and the Pinefield Road/Mattawoman Beantown Road intersection, and for the construction of a stormwater management facility at Waldorf Station.

A “flyover” intersection between U.S. 301 and Mattawoman Beantown Road is currently in the planning stage by the Maryland State Highway Administration; a date has not yet been set for the start of construction on the flyover.

Greenberg Gibbons has not announced a date for breaking ground on Waldorf Station, but the term of the development agreement, unless modified by the county and Greenberg Gibbons, is 20 years. TLR will continue to follow the progress on this construction project and its related infrastructure improvements in the surrounding communities.

illustration: Charles County Government via Greenberg Gibbons (detail)