- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Several speakers leveled criticism at the Charles County Planning Commission on Monday, calling on the members to consider preservation of the Mattawoman Creek and the Indian Head Rail Trail in its decisions.
Some speakers also had jabs for the Balanced Growth Initiative, an organization that has opposed restrictions to rural development and downzoning.
Indian Head resident Edward Joell, who also serves on the town’s Board of Appeals, criticized the commission for what he called ignoring material in the course that every planning commission member and board of appeals member must take in the state of Maryland.
The course states that the purposes of planning are “the protection of public health, safety and welfare,” the “conservation of resources,” “protection of the natural environment,” “efficiency, orderliness and rationality in the built environment,” predictability” and “public participation — planning cannot be successful unless plans represent the values and desires of the public in general,” Joell said.
Joell blasted four members of the planning commission Vice Chairman Joe Richard and members Lou Grasso, Joan Jones and Bob Mitchell for actions that he said defied their training and the state law mandating the course by passing comprehensive plan elements that ignored public participation, recommendations of county planning staff and consultants, permit denials by state and federal agencies, public testimony presented to the commission and the testimony and recommendations of three commission members.
Jim Long, an Accokeek resident and president of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, quoted a report, “The Case for Protection of the Watershed Resources of Mattawoman Creek: Recommendations and Management Initiatives to Protect the Mattawoman Ecosystem,” drafted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources that states that the Mattawoman Creek is “at a turning point” and that the 2012 comprehensive plan represents “the last opportunity to preserve the Mattawoman’s resources,” and also that keeping an area held for future development, the Deferred Development District, virtually assures that watershed degradation will occur.
“It is within the power and responsibility of the planning commission to fix the problems by drafting a smarter growth plan,” Long said.
“I frequently hear the cry in support of property owner’s rights, but those property owners do not own the rivers and creeks that define a large part of our county,” Newburg resident Nancy Schertler said. “If we do not protect, restore and stabilize the Mattawoman Creek, we will lose a world-class fishery that brought in an estimated $40 million in revenues in 2007 — 40 million, you can write that down — and our tax bills will rise as we try to reverse the predictable damage to all our rivers and creeks caused by bad land use decisions.”
Schertler also asked the commission to reject a draft tier map stipulated by the state “septic bill” that calls for planned sewers in the Mattawoman Creek watershed, Tier 2, instead advocating for one that only allows for minor subdivisions, Tier 4.
The commission did not act on the draft tier maps Monday, as it is awaiting direction from the county commissioners on the process and schedule to adopt tiers, expected to come by Aug. 21.
The maps are available on BoardDocs on the county government’s website, www.charlescountymd.gov.
Waldorf resident Beverly Johnson criticized the commission for moving forward with a “business-as-usual” plan and including the cross-county connector in the comprehensive plan despite state and federal denials.
In addition, Johnson noted that the county has several hundred vacant homes available for sale and another 1,000 homes still to be built.
“Instead of clearing more land, cutting down more trees, increasing pollution and adding to the heat index, why not explore more ways to move these vacant homes,” Johnson said.
Beverly Johnson and her husband, Philip Johnson, who live in Zachia Manor, asked the commission to reject a rezoning proposal close to their neighborhood, citing concerns about runoff into wetlands.
A proposal is before the commission to rezone six acres to community commercial near Route 5 and Billingsley Road. Zachia Manor residents expressed opposition at a public hearing May 21, citing runoff concerns, the rural character of the area and available amenities elsewhere.
Waldorf resident Tara Carlson said that the county’s wetlands and the Indian Head Rail Trail are important economic assets and that taking away farms, forests and wetlands make the trail “just a short road.”
“Please keep the quality of life in Charles County and keep development zones away from environmental areas of the county,” Carlson said.
One speaker had a different perspective.
Vince Hungerford, president of the Western Charles County Business Association and an Indian Head resident, pointed to the three Southern Maryland counties being named as among the top 15 richest in the nation as a reason not to change the county’s ways.
Hungerford asked for support from the commission for the Indian Head Science and Technology Park, the Maryland Airport and sewer in the area in light of potential Base Realignment and Closure proceedings.
Hungerford expressed concerns about environmentalists affecting the county’s future by restricting growth to only urban housing in the future.
One member of BGI, Steve Scott of Scott Law Group in La Plata, attended Monday’s meeting and responded Tuesday that much of what was said Monday had already been said before.
“There wasn’t anything said substantive enough to merit a response,” Scott said.