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Charles County, long before the passage of the septic bill, was committed to preserving 50 percent of the county from development and already has preserved more than 125,000 acres. In keeping with that policy, the Charles County Planning Commission wants to preserve farmland and agriculture, but to do so, we must preserve farmers and respect their property rights. Regrettably, the three proposed tier maps drafted and presented to us by the planning staff fell considerably short of that goal and, by any fair measure, would have been a hardship on the real stewards of the land, the farming community.

The tier map approved by the planning commission was a product of a countywide, broad-based coalition of taxpaying citizens, homeowners, the farming community, property owners large and small, and other stakeholders using the same data as the planning staff.

The map is in compliance with the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 as amended. The amended legislation requires the tier map to conform with the county’s land use map, which it does and also allows for a closer linkage of the Tier III and Tier IV definitions as they apply to our local planning and zoning criteria.

Consequently, the agricultural conservation zone, which is the point of contention in this debate, does not mandate agricultural conservation as its sole purpose and should, therefore, be placed in Tier III.

The tier map as submitted is an equitable, fair and reasonable option to preserve the farmers’ land value, whose livelihoods are at stake, and motivates land preservation. It’s critical to understand that even if farmers are not planning to develop, their land still has a value, which is based largely on its development potential. This value is used as collateral to pay for their operations.

Simply put, when your right to develop is taken away or you have to downzone, your land value decreases, and this law offers no compensation.

The critics of this tier map are well-intentioned, but the hue and cry that this tier map will release a wave of uncontrolled development is not supported by the facts. The multitude of restrictions on land use and environmental initiatives, along with the state regulation mandating the use of the best available technology septic systems, which come with a hefty price tag, will limit future development on septic systems significantly, making it an ever-increasingly complex and expensive process.

This debate, which is ongoing throughout the state of Maryland, is about real people who will be adversely affected by these tier maps. We both protect property rights and values and comply with the law; the planning commission is standing by the farmers of Charles County and their families.

Joe Richard, La Plata

The writer is the vice chairman of the Charles County Planning Commission.