A concept site plan for an Aldi grocery store and a Chick-fil-A restaurant was put on hold by the St. Mary’s County Planning Commission on Monday, Feb. 13, due to traffic concerns.
The two businesses would like to locate on a 48-acre site in the 29900 block of Three Notch Road in Charlotte Hall, southeast of Golden Beach Road.
Traffic concerns were the proverbial elephant in the room during the nearly four-hour meeting, with the commission wanting answers to several questions before approving the plan.
The site plan includes a 20,599-square-foot Aldi, a 30,000-square-foot area for flea market buildings, a 5,200-square-foot Chick-fil-A, 2,675 square feet of retail space, and 2,437 square feet for another unnamed restaurant.
Commissioners were concerned about the heavy traffic that Chick-fil-A restaurants create, which can result in many vehicles in a drive-thru line.
“There are three really bad intersections in St. Mary’s County, and this is one of them,” Commission Chair Howard Thompson said, referring to Route 5 and Golden Beach Road. Another intersection south of the site at routes 5 and 6 is also a concern.
Traffic consultant Jackie Chandler said recent traffic studies resulted in D grades for intersections on Route 5 at Golden Beach Road and Traveled Lane. The intersection at routes 5 and 6 was a C, but changes made by the Maryland State Highway Administration after the study gave it an F, she said.
The change removed an additional thru-lane headed west toward La Plata and added a flashing beacon that users of the Three Notch Trail can use by pushing a button.
Chandler said she’s trying to get the state to add the thru-lane back but will have to wait on an answer. After a conversation on Jan. 23, the SHA made some changes in traffic light timing that brought the intersection up to a D, which is still failing by county standards.
Developer Justin Rosemore said a new traffic light is planned for Route 5 and Traveled Lane, the latter of which is a private road that would be used to access the site. “Hopefully that will help,” he said.
Commissioner Joe VanKirk asked if the developer could put the Aldi store on the front of the property along Route 5 and swap locations with the Chick-fil-A. The Aldi is currently planned to go behind the restaurant.
Rosemore said that Chick-fil-A wants to be on Route 5, noting that the popular eatery likely wouldn’t be interested in the site otherwise.
“Aldi wants to be there because Chick-fil-A is there bringing traffic,” Rosemore said.
In response to a question from VanKirk, Chandler confirmed that the site at buildout would generate 7,325 daily trips. Half of these would be coming into the site, and half would leave.
The commissioners also asked Rosemore if he could add a roundabout traffic calming device on Traveled Lane going east where it meets with Henry Lane from the north. Henry Lane eventually connects with Golden Beach Road after passing by the farmers market, which would be relocated according to the plan, and a St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission water and sewer site.
“A roundabout on Henry Lane and Traveled Lane is really needed,” VanKirk said.
In response to a question from Commissioner Patricia Robrecht, Assistant County Attorney John Houser said that the county could approve a site plan even if it is rated a D as long as the improvement results in the traffic situation being better than it is currently.
“We’ve been presented many risks” with this plan, Robrecht said.
Engineer Nelson Arocho said as many as 50 vehicles could be backed up at Chick-fil-A onto a loop road. He noted that the site would add a new “spine road” running north to south, separating Chick-fil-A from Aldi, along with some greenery and landscaping.
In response to a question from Charlotte Hall resident Jule Thorn, Commissioner Merl Evans said the county has the name “town center” in its zoning but noted no master plan. He said the comprehensive plan has guidelines but added, “this county is completely dependent on developers.”
Evans noted that Calvert County has town center master plans, which results in specific themes and rules for each town center. St. Mary’s County developed one for Callaway years ago, but he said the commissioners didn’t approve it.
The planning commission voted unanimously to postpone the issue to their March 6 meeting.