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Disagreement with a county decision on subdivisions overshadowed last week’s public hearing before the Charles County Planning Commission on proposed changes to the county’s subdivision regulations.

The decision, which former director of the Department of Planning & Growth Management Chuck Beall wrote on Feb. 17, states that 22 projects created new lots using the lot-line adjustment process, which required additional public facilities and other measures because the applications now contained more than five lots.

Once a subdivision has more than five lots, it becomes a major subdivision, which requires a preliminary plan and public facility measures to account for the additional lots.

Current PGM Director Peter Aluotto upheld the decision in a letter dated Dec. 22. The decision was in response to a request from developers at a Jan. 10, 2011, Charles County Planning Commission meeting to review applications for lot-line adjustments.

Several speakers talked at the Jan. 23, 2012, meeting about the county’s decision and the impact on their investments.

Nanjemoy resident Courtney Davis said her deceased parents had requested that their lots be transferred to their children, called intra-family transfers, through the lot-line adjustment process. Davis said she did not know how she would pay for the cost of additional facilities.

Charles Bridgett, a land surveyor from Charlotte Hall, also said he had seven projects affected by the decision.

Planning Director Steve Ball said the proposed changes to the subdivision regulations only clarify the lot-line adjustment process, and that the interpretation the county provided for 22 applications for lot-line adjustment has been consistently followed by the county.

Aluotto explained in a presentation before the public hearing that lot-line adjustments are meant to resolve property line disputes, correct survey errors and provide fixes for setback and encroachment issues, not to create additional lots.

“I have no issue with clarifications, but I don’t think they should be retroactive,” Bridgett said.

Charles Schaller, an attorney representing Mount Tirzah Family Partnership, also asked that grandfathering language be included, as the county’s decision will cost project developers tens of thousands of dollars.

Commission member Steve Bunker said that because the applications affected by the decision are not before the planning commission, discussion should focus on the subdivision regulation changes only.

Those who disagreed with staff’s decision could appeal the decision through the county’s Board of Appeals, planning commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds said.

“It appears to me people are trying to gain advantage over minor and major subdivisions,” commission member Joe Tieger said. “We ought to stop giving people a free ride at the cost of the public and other developers.”

Commission member Bob Mitchell was more sympathetic to the developers’ concerns, arguing that the decision could cause them to spend a several hundred thousand dollars more to meet the requirements of the decision.

Other speakers felt the proposed changes were not clear and asked that they have a meeting with county staff to discuss what they would like to see in the subdivision regulations.

Aluotto proposed that grandfathering could be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Commission member Lou Grasso said that the surveyors should be able to meet with staff to raise their concerns about the legislation.

Edmonds said that he did not want staff to request additional input only from surveyors, but said it would be more appropriate for staff to ask a broad range of people.

Bunker said that staff can ask for clarifications on comments and address their concerns in that way.

Tieger asked Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth Theobalds to be present at such meetings to ensure that the discussion remains on the current legislation.

The planning commission voted to keep the record open for 45 days.

pwarner@somdnews.com