EASTON — The new property owners of Poplar Hill Farm plan to build 439 homes, townhouses and apartments on the 120-acre parcel of land off Oxford Road and Easton Parkway, along with commercial space and parkland, in the largest proposed development Easton has seen in years.

Property owners 5001 SHR L.C. announced the planned unit development (PUD) to the town’s planning commission on Oct. 21, opening the application up for discussion.

The plan includes developing 105 acres of the farmland, including 60,000 square feet of commercial space and 23 acres of public parkland on the northern side of Poplar Hill Farm, which would include three multi-purpose sports fields and a dog park.

An additional 37 acres will be a mix of open public and private space — with a community-only clubhouse and pool included.

Residential units include 109 single family homes, 138 villa townhomes and 192 apartment units billed as workforce housing. The apartments would be built close to the public park on the northern side of the development.

5001 SHR L.C.’s key principal Kevin Sills attended the public hearing. Sills is also the president of Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Investments Inc. While Sills only answered questions during the hearing, his attorney, Ryan Showalter, pitched the development as “meaningful for the town.”

Showwalter said it was “something different that sets this application part, and also creates a great amenity and opportunity for the community,” when touting the idea of a large public park in Easton.

“The town has a shortage of true park space,” he said. “If you don’t know that, if you go to North Easton (Sports Complex) park on a Saturday during football, lacrosse or soccer season, you will understand it in 10 minutes.”

Another 15 acres of the property is set aside for an emergency services building as part of a deal made with the county, which has long set sights on using the sprawling fields for a potential emergency post.

The hearing only opened the application up for discussion and did not allow for public comment. However, local homeowners have protested the development since 5001 SHR L.C. bought the property for $3 million in the spring from the University of Maryland Medical System.

Residents at an adjacent neighborhood, Papermill Crossing, have raised concerns about traffic on Oxford Road — as well as 65 acres labeled a critical area on the property. Poplar Hill Farm was also designated as a waterfowl sanctuary for years, with geese, turkeys and deer still migrating through the sprawling fields.

In a letter to the planning commission, Tony Newell, president of Papermill Crossing’s Homeowner’s Association, wrote he was concerned about large apartments not fitting into the historic nature of Easton and the equally large public park drawing “the roar of crowds” in his backyard and scaring off what he estimates to be the largest waterfowl crossing in town.

“The proposed PUD would be right at home in Montgomery County or Northern Virginia, but not in Easton,” he wrote. “The proposed development is not compatible with the environmental, historical, and cultural features of the former Poplar Hill Farm waterfowl sanctuary.”

Newell asked the town to reduce the number of apartment units and create a more passive park instead of a sports complex.

Newell and other residents also raised concerns about traffic, with the HOA president writing that it will introduce “a huge new source of traffic and traffic turbulence at a critical point” by dumping traffic onto the narrow Oxford Road, which already has a problem with speeders.

“There will be far too much going on in much too small a space, where cars, trucks, bikes and pedestrians all have to make split-second decisions,” Newell said. “Tragedy is almost ensured.”

Two entrances would lead into the Poplar Hill Farm community, with one built from Tristan Drive, off Easton Parkway and near the Temple B’Nai synagogue, and the other entrance constructed off Oxford Road.

The property owners ordered a traffic study and found traffic growth of 1.5% annually. But most streets and areas around Oxford Road earned a service level of C, an average grade that shows a high density volume of traffic, according to the study.

Showalter said the Oxford Road entrance is far west enough from Papermill Crossing and far enough east enough from developments on the rest of the road for traffic calming. He also suggested building a traffic light to facilitate better flow at the Tristan Drive entrance.

Planning commission member Victoria McAndrews agreed the vehicle increase from the development, which could climb to well over 800 cars, could create a “tremendous amount of traffic” on Oxford Road.

Another key issue is that the property includes 65 acres of critical areas, including Windmill Branch stream, which flows into the Tred Avon River. Neighboring homeowners say the development’s stormwater runoff would endanger critical areas.

Showalter refuted those claims. He said the developers would create public and private open space in the critical areas and implement robust stormwater management systems.

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