By ANDREW SCHOTZ
5:32 PM EDT, June 11, 2012
Construction of a new High’s Dairy Store on Jefferson Boulevard near Smithsburg has begun, more than two years after Washington County approved a site plan.
The plan is to build a 3,500-square-foot convenience store with gas pumps and 24 parking spaces, including one for handicapped drivers, planning records show.
Wayne A. Newton of Messick & Associates, an engineering firm working on the project, said it usually takes three or four months to build a High’s store.
The approved site plan also shows a bank on the property east of the intersection of Md. 64 and Md. 66. However, Newton said there is no plan to build the bank now.
It’s not clear why it has taken more than two years for the High’s project to get going.
A supposed construction delay was one of the inspirations for a bill Del. Andrew A. Serafini and Sen. Christopher B. Shank pursued in Annapolis this year. Their bill tried to force the Maryland State Highway Administration to act more quickly on road-access permit applications, or the requests automatically would be approved.
Serafini and Shank withdrew their bill after meeting with state highway officials and hearing that the agency was improving.
However, it’s not clear if or how much the SHA actually held up the High’s project.
The Washington County Planning Commission approved a site plan for the project on March 29, 2010.
SHA spokesman David Buck said his agency approved access onto Jefferson Boulevard, a state road, in September 2010. The permit was good for two years.
Last month, the project was granted a one-year extension for the road-access permit, Buck said.
Newton said the long period of inactivity since the approvals were in place has been a matter of timing. High’s has one firm perform the engineering work for each of its sites and another company following with the construction, he said.
This might have been the right time to start construction on the proposed Washington County site, Newton said.
Newton and Serafini directed further questions about the delay to Briana Darnell, vice president of real estate and development for High’s of Baltimore LLC.
Darnell did not return phone messages earlier this year, when the bill was being considered in Annapolis, or in recent days, as construction near Smithsburg has gotten under way.
Newton said work at the site started within the last month or so.
The Washington County Planning Commission’s site-plan approval notes that the developer must get an access permit from the SHA and a building permit before starting construction.
County records show that a building permit was issued Aug. 31, 2010.
Tim Lung, a deputy director for engineering and land-use plan review for the county, said the site-plan approval will remain intact as long as the project doesn’t change.
SHA’s road-access approval came with conditions. One is that the developer add a left turn-only lane of less than 1,000 feet, Buck said. Also, part of Md. 64 will be milled and resurfaced.
Buck said SHA will hear from the developer before that happens so the agency can let the public know in advance about the work.
A Lewis Orchards roadside market stood at the site for more than 53 years, but was torn down to make way for the High’s store.
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