In 1970 the US Department of Housing and Urban Development guaranteed $24 million in loans for the construction of a planned community in Charles County, Maryland south of Waldorf, to be known as "St. Charles." The planning of St. Charles was begun in 1968, and was further clarified in 1972 by "Docket 90," an agreement with the county that outlined specific points of responsibility on each side.
This agreement required that St. Charles be self-sustaining and provide the county with appropriate roadways, sewer construction, school sites, and business zones. In return, the county would provide flexibility in zoning and services not granted to other county municipalities.
Approximately 10,000 acres were designated for the villages of St. Charles. On some maps it is now considered to be a separate town (as well as in census documents), although the ZIP codes for it are still listed as being in Waldorf. In the plan, over 20 percent of the acreage is designated as permanent parkland, and the area contains 16 lakes and a wildlife conservation area.
The plan called for five "villages" consisting of a mix of housing types, interspersed with parks, playgrounds, schools, and churches. Each village would surround a "village center" with shopping and community centers. The total concept was designed to house about 20,000 families in a variety of single-family homes, apartments, condominiums, and townhomes, distributed among three or four "neighborhoods".
Each "neighborhood" would have a swimming pool, neighborhood center, tennis court, parks, and elementary and middle schools, conveniently located and connected to residential areas by walking paths to minimize the need for cars within the village. The neighborhoods of a village would share a central shopping center, high school, library, and similar facilities that would be more effective on a larger scale.
Local issues would be handled by a village council in each village, and by a neighborhood association in each neighborhood. Depending on the scope of the issue, either the village or the neighborhood would be responsible. For example, stormwater management is generally handled by each village, while walking trail maintenance and garbage collection is handled by neighborhoods.
Of course, not everything goes to plan; most specifically, the concept of schools devoted to St. Charles was modified by the county. While elementary and middle schools are still located within each neighborhood, the various high school students from a given neighborhood could be split among up to three high schools, depending on their location. Westlake Village does have a high school (Westlake High) that is primarily intended for students in that Village, but some Westlake students attend La Plata High School. High school students in Smallwood Village could attend one of three high schools, depending on their location in the village.
Currently St. Charles has just opened its third village, which means the master plan is roughly halfway completed. There are 10,000 existing housing units, 2.7 million square feet of commercial space, and 1.4 million square feet of industrial space.
Despite the expectation that such a planned community would bring economic and social benefits not seen in the surrounding area, a study completed in 2002 found no significant difference in school performance, crime rate, or relative property values between St. Charles and the county as a whole. If anything, the study did find that although property values were increasing at a rate comparable to the rest of the county, this raised concerns about the future of affordable and entry-level housing availability -- expressed most directly in the difficulty of finding affordable housing for newly-hired teachers in St. Charles and surrounding areas.
The mix of housing developed by St. Charles, though, has for the past thirty years reduced the overall level of substandard housing in the County and made more quality housing available for low-income residents. St. Charles' contributions of public swimming pools and other recreational services reduce the drain on county services. And the county's providing of police and educational service to St. Charles has kept the quality of life in the community on par with the rest of the county.
St. Charles Broken Down
- Smallwood Village - the first to be completed. Surrounds "Smallwood Village Center", a modest outdoor shopping mall largely superseded by the larger mall built later.
- Carrington Neighborhood - This was the only neighborhood built before the 1972 "Docket 90" agreement; thus Smallwood Village takes on some of its "neighborhood" responsibilities, and its residents are not required to pay neighborhood fees.
- Bannister Neighborhood
- Wakefield Neighborhood
- Huntington Neighborhood
- Westlake Village - completed in 2000; it sits adjacent to St. Charles Town Center, a 1.1 million square foot shopping mall, the largest in all of Southern Maryland.
- Lancaster Neighborhood
- Hampshire Neighborhood
- Dorchester Neighborhood
- Fairway Village - Named for the 18-hole championship golf course which it surrounds. It is currently in development.
- Sheffield Neighborhood -- the newest homes in St. Charles are being sold here.
- Gleneagles Neighborhood (undeveloped)
- Wooded Glen Village (undeveloped)
- Piney Reach Village (undeveloped)
The population of St. Charles is over 33,000, with a median age of 31 years, slightly younger than the county as a whole. There is a noticeable surplus of females relative to males (Approximately 90 males for every 100 females). For those aged 18 and up, the ratio is even better (85 males for every 100 females). Median household income is about $57,000, slightly less than in the whole county.2. The racial breakdown is about 65% white, 30% black, and 5% various other races. Less than 4% identify themselves as Hispanic
- St. Charles Community Web Site
- US Census Bureau
- 17 years growing up in Waldorf