- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Overdue appointments to the Charles County Planning Commission should be made as soon as possible, two county commissioners said Wednesday.
Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) aren’t the only ones who think so. Citizens for a Better Charles County, a local civic group, sent board member Ted Baker of Nanjemoy to demand that the board reappoint or replace planning commissioners whose terms expired at the end of last year. Until new appointments are made, the three — Lou Grasso, Joan Jones and Chairman Courtney Edmonds — will serve indefinitely under state law. Jones and Edmonds are eligible for appointment to a second four-year term, while Grasso, having served for more than eight years, is not.
The planning commission is too important to be neglected, Baker said, and avoiding making the appointments is “not good government. Citizens for a Better Charles County strongly encourages you to fill these positions as required by law and not allow members with expired terms to continue to serve on the planning commission.”
Two individuals also used Tuesday evening’s public forum in La Plata to complain about the situation. Howard Dent of Newburg, husband of planning commission applicant Nancy Schertler, asked the commissioners to hurry up, while Tara Carlson of Nanjemoy said Grasso should go because he has said that he ignores environmentalists and because he is too sympathetic to developers.
“My county commissioner has a favorite phrase: ‘Demand better,’” Carlson said, quoting Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D). “… But it is not [Grasso’s] fault he continues to serve. It is the fault of the county commissioners. I demand better.”
Making the appointments requires a majority vote by the board of commissioners. Kelly and Robinson would not say what happened during private discussions but noted that they were both in agreement that it should be done.
“I’m not permitted to say what happens behind closed doors. Read between the lines,” Robinson said when asked if the other three commissioners had decided to wait.
There is no timeline for making the appointments, said Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D).
“I know we have outstanding decisions with the planning commission and the commissioners will eventually do that, but I can’t report to you exactly when. ... The only thing I’m very comfortable in saying is that the board will be making the decision and will be responding to this board, as well as other boards and other commissions.”
Asked if there were particular reasons to keep the current planning commission seated for now, Collins said, “I can’t think of anything. I don’t want to get into making public comments about the planning commission.”
Davis and Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) did not return calls seeking comment.
Besides timeliness, Kelly had other reasons for wanting Grasso off the board, saying that “my opinion is he clearly has a bias toward the development community, and I find that unsavory.”
She cited the planning commission’s 4-3 decision to discard a land use map proposed by county staff in favor of one submitted by the Balanced Growth Initiative, which calls itself a property rights group. The “tier map,” drafted as required by the Maryland Sustainable Growth and Preservation Act commonly dubbed the “septic bill,” sorts all land in the county into four tiers based on sewer access and land preservation goals; the BGI map removes about 65,000 acres of land from conservation, as suggested by county staff, and designates the areas for development with either sewer or septic systems.
“I feel very strongly that it would have been one thing if the tier maps that had come to us [from the planning commission] had been tier maps that had been developed by staff and tweaked by planning commission, reworked, [and this would be acceptable],” Kelly said. “But when you have a special-interest group that appears at a public hearing, presents a developer-driven map, I find that troubling. Regardless of what is really going on, the perception is unpleasant.”
In response, Grasso said he believes in property rights but that it is not the same as being biased toward developers.
“I just think people have property rights. Obviously [Kelly] doesn’t think they’re important. It doesn’t have anything to do with development. If you had a piece of property, I’d be biased in favor of your property. Sorry,” Grasso said.