TRAPPE — Lakeside at Trappe, a 2,501-housing unit development first proposed 17 years ago, is finally moving forward this year.

The development has been touted as one of the largest proposed on the East Coast, and could more than double the population in the small, country town of Trappe.

Construction will be split into two separate classifications, with the first development consisting of three phases under a planned 10-year buildout. The other three phases under the second classification are not considered a priority and will be built when and if market demand meets it, according to developers.

Most of the housing units — 1,500 single family homes, townhouses and apartments — as well as a wastewater treatment plant and other water and sewer amenities, are being built in the first three phases. Construction could start by late 2021.

The first three phases include the northern section of Lakeside at Trappe, located east of the rural town, stretching from Timberwind Lane to Piney Hill Road.

The first phase is dubbed “Lakeside Village” and will include 370 single family homes and 130 townhomes. That phase is split into two parts. Phase 1A includes 86 homes and a community center and “will test the waters” of market demand.

The second phase, “Lakeside Park,” adds 252 houses, 48 townhouses and 200 apartments. The third, “Lakeside Commons,” adds 178 single family lots and 372 townhomes. Near an existing freshwater lake, a beach and park will also be constructed.

Trappe East Holdings Business Trust attorney Ryan Showalter, the landowner of Lakeside at Trappe, said the company doesn’t have a firm date yet for when construction will begin, but it will begin as soon as the developers are able. He said they are “anticipating demand” for the project.

“There is probably a year of construction before we will be in a position to deliver homes,” Showalter said. “I don’t know what the market will be then, but this property was annexed in 2003, and here we are, more than 10 years later. Any investment in infrastructure will be linked to market demands and timing.”

Yet there is a strong divide in Trappe, a town of 1,000 people located off U.S. Route 50, over whether the development will bring prosperity or ruin. Supporters of the proposed Lakeside at Trappe development say it will strengthen the town’s economic base and improve the quality of life. Opponents argue the development threatens water quality and is not economically feasible.

Developers must acquire a discharge permit and a construction permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment before moving forward. The MDE review is still pending.

Trappe East Holdings Business Trust and its primary developer, RAUCH Engineering, received the go ahead for the project after the Talbot County Council found the developer’s construction plan consistent with both its comprehensive plan and its comprehensive water and sewer plan.

The approval with the comprehensive plan indicates the development meets its planning and construction requirements as laid out by the county, and the comprehensive water and sewer plan does the same for water and sewer services.

The Trappe Planning Commission found the development consistent with its own comprehensive plan before the Talbot County Council on Aug. 11 passed Resolution 281 to amend the county’s comprehensive water and sewer plan, changing the property’s designation from an area planned for service in three to five years (“S-2” and “W-2”) to an area planned for service immediately (“S-1” and “W-1”).

The county council voted 4-1 to approve the resolution with Councilman Pete Lesher in opposition.

“Splitting the property into two separate planning classifications allows for a phased-in approach, coinciding with the expansion of the property’s wastewater treatment facility,” County Council Chairman Corey Pack said in a statement. “The split classification will also keep open the communication between the county and town planning departments to assure that citizens’ concerns are being appropriately addressed.”

Lesher, the sole council member to vote against the development, said he did so because of “water quality concerns” related to hooking up homes to the existing wastewater treatment plant.

“It has a slightly older generation of technology,” he said. “The original resolution would have required them to use a higher quality treatment, but the revised one does not.”

Trappe has officially voiced strong approval for the long-awaited project even as environmental groups and some residents oppose the project.

“The Council of Trappe supports the Lakeside development and believes that it will strengthen the economy, improve the quality of life, and build on local assets,” the council said in a statement through the town’s attorney Lyndsey Ryan. “The town has supported the Lakeside development since the annexation of the property in 2003 and is pleased to see the project finally come to fruition.”

The project’s overall concept plan has yet to go before the Trappe Town Council. Officials said they are waiting for pandemic restrictions to be lifted before they put the project on their agenda, so the public can comment.

Following approval of the concept plan and permits from MDE, the developers will be able to start construction on phase 1A. They will have to go back to the town for site plan approval for each additional phase of development.

Plans for the development date back to 2003 and were previously derailed by the Great Recession.

The town’s latest reboot of the project, beginning in 2019, has been complicated. Developers originally wanted all 2,501 homes considered for immediate development, but an intense hearing at the county council in February called for a restructuring of plans after residents showed up in protest.

The Talbot County Council kicked the consideration of the new, split-construction designation to the Talbot County Board of Public Works in March, which voted 5-0 against it, and then the Planning Commission, which voted 3-2 for it in June.

The county council approved the phased approval for Lakeside in August.

Public Works recommended for only the first phase to be approved as immediate priority status, which includes 86 homes and 37,500 gallons a day of wastewater capacity.

Ray Clarke, Talbot County’s engineer who oversees the board, thinks the development could become a burden. He advised the slower approach in part because the amendment allows for too fast of a build.

The projected development at Lakeside at Trappe is “six times the size of the full buildout in Easton Village,” which began its build in 2006 and still hasn’t finished, Public Works’ recommendation letter to the council reported.

“And how in the world can Trappe, being the small town that it is, have 2,501 homes built here?” Clarke asked in an interview. “The pandemic is a full-blown financial crisis, and that development could sit for years with nothing ever happening.”

Ultimately, the board only had recommendation power.

Still, Talbot County Planning Commission member Lisa Ghezzi also expressed opposition at the June 10 meeting.

“My level of discomfort is that I don’t think we have adequate assurances that things are going to be done as possibly indicated,” Ghezzi said just before the vote. “This area is a remarkably special area, Talbot County. We have just a wonderful community. And I want to be in a position to have the assurances that this is going to go forward with the standards that MDE has set, and yet I have so many questions.”

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