Millions spent in Lexington Park, and more to be done
Finnacom retiring later this month from St. Mary’s economic development office
Millions of dollars have been spent to improve Lexington Park over the last 17 years — including on a new library, post office, new and renovated parks, improved roads and the removal of an entire blighted neighborhood.
Robin Finnacom, deputy director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development, has spent many of her years with county government working to revitalize Lexington Park — an ongoing effort, she said, but one that has come a long way. Finnacom, 62, is retiring at the end of this month.
Starting with St. Mary’s County government in January 2000, she was hired as the director of the Lexington Park Plan — essentially a one-person office — to bring more and improved public infrastructure to the area in the hopes that private investment would follow.
Lexington Park emerged with the creation of Patuxent River Naval Air Station in 1943. The area had been called Jarboesville and Centerville before that. Subdivisions and shopping centers were built near Pax River’s main gate to support the thousands of new workers employed at the base and shops along Great Mills Road flourished.
But by the 1980s, Lexington Park was run down. Retail and office space started moving north up Route 235 into California and large neighborhoods in Lexington Park had become blighted.
Since Finnacom was hired as the Lexington Park Plan director, millions of dollars have been invested in public infrastructure for the area, but she knows there is still much more that needs to be done.
“I think there’s been a lot of milestones reached and certainly more work needs to be done,” Finnacom said last week in an interview.
She said she knew the revitalization of Lexington Park was not going to be accomplished quickly and that it is still not finished. “No, nor did I ever expect that to be an accomplishment during my term,” she said. Her work was more of setting a foundation for revitalization. “It’s long and hard and in-thetrenches work,” she said.
Streetscape improvements were made to Great Mills Road in 2011 for $6 million. Lexington Park Elementary School was renovated in 2001 for $7.1 million and a new park on Willows Road was opened the same year for $1.5 million — John G. Lancaster Park. In 2002, a new Lexington Park library was opened for $6 million. A new Naval air museum opened last year at Gate 1 at a cost of $5 million.
Starting in late 2004, the old Lexington Manor neighborhood was taken down, its residents moved into other housing and now the land is green space, including a disc golf course, under heavily used airspace for Patuxent River NAS.
There were 342 homes in the old Lexington Manor neighborhood with about 100 people still living there in the early 2000s. The neighborhood, first built by the federal government in 1943 and called Lexington Park, was sold as surplus property to a private owner in 1963 and renamed Lexington Manor, but people still called it “The Flattops,” because the rooftops resembled the flight decks of aircraft carriers.
By 2000, the neighborhood was “grossly degraded,” Finnacom said. “Getting that project completed in my term was an important accomplishment. Now we have a pristine park in that location.”
A $6.5 million project, it was the single largest Community Development Block Grant to a local government in the history of the state’s program, she said.
Working with John Savich, then the director of St. Mary’s County Economic and Community Development, and the St. Mary’s County Housing Authority, 10 percent of the families moved out of Lexington Manor became first-time homeowners elsewhere, Finnacom said. “It was a complicated project with very positive results,” she said.
“The public has made the investment down there,” said St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan, who represents the Lexington Park area. “There is private money moving in in a variety of capacities into different areas. It’s spread out,” he said.
There is a new medical facility called East Run being built on Great Mills Road, Taylor Gas built a new office on Great Mills Road, there is a new Bay District fire house and new Lexington Park rescue squad building, and residential development continues along Willows Road.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. All these little pieces of the puzzle are coming together,” Morgan (R) said.
But there are still several challenges in continu- ing the revitalization of Lexington Park, Finnacom said.
And the area should not be written off as it is home to the largest employer in St. Mary’s County — Pax River NAS — and the largest population cluster in the county as well as the largest tax base.
“Reinvesting in Lexington Park is critically important,” she said.
Work to upgrade the roads, sidewalks and stormwater management in the Patuxent Park neighborhood still continues, even though it was supposed to take only six years.
Road replacement work began in 2009, and the total project was estimated to cost $9 million at the time.
That project is now budgeted at $13 million and is still ongoing with more roadwork scheduled in 2018. “The pieces that they’ve finished look great,” Finnacom said. “Those roads were in horrible condition.”
The St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission is also replacing water and sewer lines there.
Finnacom noted that the work to convert the old Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad into a new outpost for the sheriff’s office is “yet to be underway.”
The many smaller road connections in Lexington Park that were envisioned are “yet to be realized,” she said.
Public infrastructure investment in Lexington Park is “still to be realized in total. In revitalization you’re always 10 steps behind,” she said.
And then there is the permissive zoning in St. Mary’s County that allows development to continue on its northward trek “that’s sprawled up [Route] 235 all the way to Hollywood. That’s unwise,” she said.
Despite the millions spent on improvements in Lexington Park, the area still has a bad reputation for some — that’s it’s dangerous at night and home to low-income or jobless people.
Those criticisms “are pretty thin on the surface,” Finnacom said. “I think it’s easier to disparage a place rather than understand what’s going on, and that’s sad. I’m not naive. There are challenges here,” she said.
But there is the annual Pride in the Park parade, banners put up for Navy milestones along Great Mills Road, and a popular community theater has been performing in Lexington Park for more than 10 years now.
Finnacom was the director of the CDC for 10 years, starting in 2004, when the job was still part of county government.
And while the St. Mary’s County Community Development Corp. still continues to work toward the Lexington Park revitalization, there is no dedicated county government staff to assist in that work, Finnacom said. The CDC is now headed by Viki Volk, and the group earlier this year hosted an inaugural cherry blossom festival at the old flattops neighborhood.
In 2003, Finnacom was also designated as the county’s disaster recovery coordinator after Hurricane Isabel struck the region.
That was “an interesting and challenging assignment,” Finnacom recalled. “It was amazing the amount of work that was done to help families recover. It was a massive effort and people were in dire need.”
Isabel’s 6-foot storm surge flooded some 300 homes and businesses in St. Mary’s County in September 2003, causing at least $84 million in damage.
Finnacom’s last day with St. Mary’s County government will be Sept. 29. She said she plans to stay in the county as she is active in the Rotary Club and at Three Notch Theatre.