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Commission gives 30 days to resolve dispute

The Charles County Planning Commission gave 30 days for the county’s state’s attorney, the county attorney and the developer of a project to resolve a dispute about road improvements on Grosstown Road in Hughesville.

Developers for the Stoneleigh and Willow Creek projects are required to add 800 feet of 4-foot-wide pavement and shoulder on Grosstown Road near the road’s intersection with Oliver Shop Road.

The project’s engineer, Tim Lessner of Lorenzi, Dodds & Gunnill in Waldorf, and attorney Steve Scott, requested the requirements be waived because of difficulties arising from a dispute with an adjacent landowner.

County staff said the land where the pavement and shoulder are to be has been deeded to the county.

Scott said he agreed the county has the deed to the land, but the resident who supposedly deeded the land to the county disputed the claim.

Lessner said that a few years ago, contractors for Verizon apparently put out stakes to do work and a resident came with a firearm telling the contractors to get off his property.

Lessner said he was not present at the incident but was told about it after it happened.

The resident has since passed away, Scott said, but the family’s position has not changed.

Scott said that insurance companies would not cover damages or injuries incurred at the project site because it was considered an unsafe working environment.

Lessner said that 10 years have passed since the requirements have been in place, and the developers have put forth their best faith effort but have been unable to complete the road improvements.

Commission member Lou Grasso said the Charles County State’s Attorney’s Office should be involved in resolving the dispute because the land is county property and should be protected in allowing the developers to make road improvements.

The improvements also concern the safety and welfare of the community, Grasso said.

“I’m a little chagrined over saying to hell with the county rules and regulations,” Grasso said.

Commission Vice Chairman Joe Richard asked whether the county had asked the Charles County Sheriff’s Office about posting an officer at the work site.

Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth Theobalds said she did not deal directly with the case but recalled that former Deputy County Attorney Sue Greer had made phone calls to the sheriff’s office about the dispute.

Greer then came before the commission, saying she had heard the issue on television and rushed over to clarify that the county had in fact called the sheriff’s office immediately after the issue was raised and that they were willing to post an officer for protection during the work.

The issue was that insurance companies would not cover them in case of any damages, Greer said.

Lessner said that additional time to resolve the dispute would not put the project in jeopardy.

Grasso then recommended that the state’s attorney, county attorney and developer have 30 days to come back with a solution to the commission. If no solution was reached within 30 days, the commission would consider waiving the road improvements.

The first vote on giving 30 days to resolve the issue failed 3-3.

Scott said he and Lessner were in agreement to talk with the county and state’s attorney’s offices about resolving the dispute.

After discussion, the commission took another vote to give 30 days to bring a solution back to the commission. If no solution was agreed upon, the commission would consider removing the requirements. That vote passed unanimously.

Drama ensues upon reconsideration vote

The Charles County Planning Commission last week reconsidered a decision it made Sept. 24 and waived road improvements it had granted previously.

La Plata farmer Ed Kramer requested that the commission reconsider its Sept. 24 decision that rejected on a 4-3 vote a proposal to remove road improvement requirements for Fisher Farm.

The requirements were to widen one side of Penns Hill Road by three feet for 630 feet. The requirement also would involve removing part of the asphalt in existence to complete the improvements, according to the staff report.

The reason for the requirement is that Fisher Farm was at one time a major subdivision, which required additional road improvements. Now Fisher Farm consists of three lots, which is considered a minor subdivision.

Commission member Joan Jones, who voted in the majority Sept. 24, said the improvements would create additional impervious surfaces, resulting in greater runoff into the Zekiah Swamp on the west side of the road.

Commission member Steve Bunker said the road improvements were at the east side of the road, not next to the Zekiah Swamp, and stormwater on that side would not run toward the swamp.

Commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds said it did not appear to him that the grounds for reconsideration had been met, considering it required a commission member admitting a mistake, fact of law, clerical error or additional evidence.

Arguments about potential impacts to the Zekiah Swamp were made Sept. 24.

Jones said the reconsideration included “new and strengthened” arguments for protecting the Zekiah Swamp.

After discussing the issue, the commission voted 4-2 to reconsider the Sept. 24 decision.

A dispute about whether a supermajority requirement for passing reconsidered items was resolved when the majority voted again 4-2 to accept the vote.

Commission approves changes to St. Charles plan

The commission approved changes to St. Charles’ Fairway Village plan to allow for flexibility in housing types and eliminate a mixed-use project in the plan.

The St. Charles Cos., the village’s developer, will be permitted to report the village’s overall numeric breakdown of single family homes, townhouses and apartments instead of the breakdown for each neighborhood.

The changes also eliminate a mixed-use project in Fairway Village, electing only to have commercial space instead of apartments above the commercial areas.

Mark MacFarland, vice president of land development for The St. Charles. Cos, said a mixed-use project with apartments and commercial spaces on St. Patrick’s Drive is not selling well, and that market analyses have changed from more favorable reviews a few years ago.

MacFarland said the county is working on getting mixed-use development in the urban core, which he said is a more appropriate place for mixed-use development than in Fairway Village.

He said The St. Charles Cos. met with homeowners associations in Fairway Village and heard that while they wished to have commercial areas close to their residences, they had no objection to The St. Charles Cos. removing apartments from the project.

PAUL S. WARNER