Lexington Park business owners continued to protest the weekend closing of Gate 2 at the July meeting of the Lexington Park Business and Community Association (LPBCA).
Capt. Ben Shevchuk, Naval Air Station Patuxent River Commanding Officer, had announced the decision shortly before closing the base’s original main gate at the end of Great Mills Road during the overnight hours and on weekends beginning June 19.
The outcry from the impacted business community is supported by the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions of St. Mary’s County. A letter from the Unified Committee to Capt. Shevchuk was distributed at the LPBCA meeting. The letter states, in part, “Business owners and community partners have been working hard to revitalize Lexington Park . . . Closing the gate on weekends means that patrons from the base going in and coming out would use the first gate which is more accessible to shops and restaurants outside of Lexington Park proper.”
Businesses in the core of Lexington Park see this as a second hit.
Starting last October, Gate 3 at Route 712 has been closed during the lunch hour. Restaurants and services in the center of Lexington Park suffered an immediate loss of business. One restaurant owner explained that a quick trip to her restaurant now took base workers too long to navigate with more vehicles using Gate 2 and the new traffic patterns that resulted. Patrons could no longer reach the restaurant, eat lunch, and make it back to their desks during their allotted break.
These logistical changes result in a noon-hour traffic congestion of up to three blocks deep lining Great Mills Road into Gate 2. Instead of spotlighting the businesses along the corridor, the closing of Gate 3 during the day has made it more difficult to reach them.
The closing of Gate 2 during the weekends further exacerbates the heaviest burden Lexington Park businesses face, which is competition from big box stores and chain restaurants north of the base along Route 235. Gate 1, as the letter from the UCAC indicates, bypasses the entirety of the core of Lexington Park.
This core is at the heart of the Lexington Park revitalization efforts. The business and community association officers encouraged attendees at last week’s meeting to write to the CO of NAS:Pax River asking for a reversal of the weekend closures.
Some attendees worked on base and spoke of the security and fiscal demands that drove the recent gate closure decisions. The reduction in gate hours reflects the overall belt tightening being endured by Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Washington, as the Navy shifts its financial resources from domestic bases to fleet operations in advance of expected defense cuts, Capt. Shevchuk explained when announcing the Gate 2 decision. Additionally, Gate 1 is logistically and technically better equipped to handle ever tightening security measures.
President of the Lexington Park Business and Community Association, Mark Pinekenstein, acknowledged the importance and legitimacy of these concerns. He also said he was aware that funding for upgraded security technology at Gate 2 was held up with current funding obstacles. But keeping it open on weekends in the meantime, he suggested, wouldn’t be too huge a security threat.
Robin Finnacom, CEO of the county Community Development Corporation, added that keeping Lexington Park attractive and economically stable was in the longterm interest of the Navy and mandatory for the future well-being and financial health of St. Mary’s County.
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