Western Charles County – A graveyard for myopic economic development

Indian Head Shopping Center

Chapter 11 – The obsession with the urban development of Western Charles County is based on a myopic economic development vision. The dream of filling a development district larger than Baltimore City and needing another overflow area the same size never got off the ground because it has always been in the wrong place. The prevailing strategy over the last few decades seems to be “build it and they will come.” The skeletal remains of such whimsical fantasies still litter the landscape.

When “they” didn’t come, the strategy shifted to “how can we make them want to come?”

By this time, the land speculators had jumped all over what they hoped would be prime investment land. Various initiatives were proposed to make this venture look more attractive, like building an Outer Beltway and another Potomac River bridge between Western Charles County and Virginia. Naturally, the venture capital to get started was prohibitive without partners with deeper pockets and neither of these projects advanced past the “fantasy” stage.

Perhaps a road project like the Cross County Connector might serve as a catalyst for Western Charles County economic development with public funds serving as venture capital?

Even that win-win approach for the land speculators ran into trouble when wetland permits were denied with prejudice for the section of the highway west of Middletown Road.

Then there was the Science and Technology Park, advanced via a public/private partnership with a sweetheart bail-out provision that paid the developers a huge bonus even when it died. When the smoke cleared on this one, a study, funded with public money, was commissioned to form a market strategy for this over-priced economic development corpse. The study confirmed what many already knew – “They aren’t coming.”

Schools, existing roads, property taxes and environmental treasures have suffered the consequences of misguided policies and priorities in Charles County. Sprawl development detracts from revitalization efforts in Waldorf and Indian Head as forests and pristine streams give way to housing developments we don’t need in places where they don’t belong. Oh well – at least the Town of Indian Head added a Dollar store.

Read more from our ongoing series, “Charles County’s Comprehensive Plan fiasco.”