OVER THE NEXT two years, St. Mary's County is expecting 13,000 new arrivals in this rural Southern Maryland community. Life after such a 16 percent growth spurt may never be the same in the area Maryland colonists first settled in 1632.
Since World War II, the economic engine of St. Mary's has been the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. During the federal base-closings drive a few years ago, Pax River came out a big winner: Work at several other bases was consolidated in St. Mary's.
It will be boom time in this county of 81,000. Already, schools are overcrowded and traffic along Route 235 near the air base is gridlocked. Coping with rapid growth is proving difficult.
It could get worse if officials do not take steps to control and direct this growth. Local leaders were wise enough to enact a development plan eight years ago that attempts to funnel growth into contained centers so as to limit sprawl and protect sensitive areas.
A critical decision could come in the county seat of Leonardtown, whose population of 1,600 is expected to double in five years. A controversial developer, Mark Vogel, wants to erect 650 luxury houses, a hotel, marina and office buildings on 435 acres of town land. He also wants the town and state to enhance the value of his property by building a golf course NTC through this development -- in the wetlands and flood plain where Mr. Vogel can't build houses.
This huge project would double the town's size. Leonardtown would be responsible for bond payments on a golf course in a flood plain. State taxpayers would be spending $3 million to help Mr. Vogel leverage his investment.
If Mr. Vogel wants a golf course, fine. Let him build it himself. It is not crucial to Leonardtown's future, which looks rosy. There is no need for government handouts.
The face of St. Mary's County is changing rapidly. Over $100 million in state funds has been set aside for public schools and road improvements. Some 2 million square feet of commercial and retail space are planned at or near the air base in Lexington Park. Leonardtown and other communities will see their share of new buildings. But officials must hold firm on their land-use plans. The area's quality of life is at stake.
Pub Date: 12/03/96