Mil­lions spent in Lex­ing­ton Park, and more to be done

Fin­na­com re­tir­ing later this month from St. Mary’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fice

The Enterprise - - News - By JASON BAB­COCK jbab­cock@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @Ja­sonEn­tNews

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.

Fin­na­com

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