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Charles County Planning Commission members agreed Monday to send a draft of the county’s 2012 comprehensive plan to state agencies, though some members expressed concern about whether the plan will protect the county’s natural resources enough.

To learn moreThe 2012 Comprehensive Plan draft has been sent to state agencies for a required 60-day review prior to public hearings. After the plan returns, public hearings will take place before the Charles County Planning Commission and the Charles County Commissioners. Copies of the draft prior to changes made at the Nov. 19 commission meeting are available at www.charlescountyplan.org under “Document Library” and under the commission’s BoardDocs for the Nov. 19 meeting.A copy of the draft land use map is available on page 3-3 of the comprehensive plan draft.

The comprehensive plan guides the county’s land use policies and decisions. The plan receives a review and update every six years.

A new feature of the plan is an energy conservation chapter that establishes a work group of energy suppliers, customers, developers and others to pursue energy conservation practices, according to Monday’s presentation on the draft plan.

The chapter received its funding through the U.S. Department of Energy via the federal stimulus package, said Clive Graham, the lead consultant for the comprehensive plan update with Environmental Resources Management in Annapolis.

Graham said the plan was streamlined where possible to make it more readable.

The commission voted 5-2 to send the draft plan to state agencies for review and comment. State agencies, including the Maryland Department of Planning, will have 60 days to review the plan, required by law before public hearings take place.

Commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds, commission Vice Chairman Joe Richard and commission members Lou Grasso, Bob Mitchell and Joan Jones voted to send the plan. Commission members Joe Tieger and Steve Bunker voted against the motion.

After the plan comes back, the planning commission and county commissioners will hold public hearings and work sessions to consider public input and additional changes before the plan is adopted.

One of the major issues brought up at Monday’s meeting was whether the plan protects natural resources.

Edmonds requested that the plan strengthen language referring to a Maryland Department of Natural Resources report about the Mattawoman Creek called “The Case for Protection of the Watershed Resources of Mattawoman Creek.”

Edmonds said the draft plan should state that the report calls for additional policies to protect the creek and that the 2012 comprehensive plan is the last chance to make changes to land use policies before the creek is unable to recover from its impaired status.

The report recommends that the county protect the creek by removing it from the Deferred Development District and decreasing its permitted development density to one unit per 20 acres, adopting policies to limit growth near the creek and other policies. The report states that an increase in impervious surfaces near the creek has led to a decline in the creek’s health and fish populations.

The draft comprehensive plan keeps the creek within the Deferred Development District, a district held at a density of one unit per 10 acres, in case the county has future land use needs beyond 2040.

A motion to strengthen the language failed 3-4.

Bunker said the draft plan should have looked at additional modeling to determine the impacts of additional nitrogen and phosphorus coming from the draft plan versus a preliminary plan prepared by staff based on public comments, called the merged scenario, because the draft plan changes the agricultural conservation district to a rural residential district.

Graham said that modeling in the county’s original Water Resources Element, approved in 2011, had problems and asked the state what modeling should be used.

Graham said the state told them not to use the old model but to use total maximum daily loads for the county’s Watershed Implementation Plan and use impervious surfaces and forest cover for the comprehensive plan.

Bunker said he didn’t think the draft plan’s assessment was accurate and did not take into account that the county will be required to meet TMDL standards in its waterways.

Richard said the state “septic bill,” which sets growth guidelines based on provision of sewer service and preservation areas, is stringent enough to address rural residential development.

Growth management was another hot topic as commission members reviewed the draft plan.

Richard asked the commission to strike language in the plan that states that the county’s maintaining its growth rate “is not as a result of the county actively controlling the growth rate.”

“I think it is directly a result of us controlling growth,” Jones said.

Graham said the county does not actively set limits for things such as the number of preliminary plans or building permits.

He added that Bunker suggested looking into a growth model similar to St. Mary’s County that limits preliminary plans and building permits per year, and the commission agreed to look into it.

“I don’t know how many preliminary plans we have approved, but hypothetically, if all the plans came in for building permits at once, is there anything that prevents them from being approved?” Tieger asked.

“Not in a given year, apart from school seats and percolation tests,” Planning Director Steve Ball said.

“That’s not active management,” Tieger responded.

Richard said the county has met its growth goals for all except two years in the last decade.

Between 1997 and 2006, the county averaged a 2.28 percent growth rate. Between 2006 and 2011, the county averaged a growth rate of 1.4 percent.

Tieger responded that allowing too much rural residential development, as he said the plan permits, will cause property values to decrease because supply will exceed demand.

The motion to strike the language passed 4-3.

pwarner@somdnews.com