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During the Jan. 8 public hearing on the county tier maps mandated by SB236, protecting property values was a concern voiced by people on both sides of the argument. It is easy to understand why.

A recent Washington Post article, “Delinquent Mortgages in Washington Area,” from Dec. 26 included a map that shows the locations throughout the Washington metropolitan area where owners have negative equity in their homes. According to the article, 60.3 percent of the homes in the 20606 ZIP code of Bryans Road have homes where the owners are underwater in their mortgages. The 20602 ZIP code of St. Charles has the worst numbers in the county, where 61.9 percent of the homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Waldorf, Bryans Road and Indian Head, most of which are mapped as Tier I, have a combined population of more than 78,000 people.

These citizens live in neighborhoods where 50 percent or more of the houses have a negative equity. Countywide, assessment values for the past three years are down by 11 percent. Between 2005 and 2009, property values dropped by 19.5 percent.

Of course people are concerned about protecting their property rights and values.

The areas of our county with the strongest housing values are areas dominated by agricultural or forest lands. These were designated as Tier IV in the map created by planning staff in September.

If we allow our land use plans to encourage sprawl development, current homeowners in the northern part of the county wishing to sell their homes will have to compete with an influx of new houses that will drive existing home values down even further.

As of 2007, there were 418 farms in Charles County. Despite claims to the contrary, everyone engaged in the debate about the tier maps understands the importance of farms and want them to retain their value as farms. There are studies showing the environmental damage adoption of the BGI tier map will cause.

Where are the studies supporting claims that a tier map consistent with the law will lower equity investments or that downzoning will limit employment and hurt local employers? The BGI map offers no benefits for the majority of Charles County residents.

The Charles County commissioners must decide whose interests are their priority: land speculators, the landed gentry and an unknown number of those 418 farmers, all looking to maximize their profits? Or the thousands of people living throughout our county paying mortgages that are higher than the value of their homes?

Nancy Schertler, Newburg