- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The wait is over.
Two years and countless debates after the Charles County Planning Commission first began drafting the 2012 comprehensive plan, the controversial document passed during Monday night's meeting by a 5-2 vote.
Commission Chairman Stephen Bunker and member Joseph Tieger, both long-standing opponents of the plan that passed, cast the dissenting votes.
In April, the board held the last public hearing on the matter, an event that drew citizens from all across the county and from all walks of life to voice their opinion on the matter for the board's consideration. Following a 10-day period that left the record open to allow for new commentary, county Planning and Growth Management staff compiled the submitted commentary for the board. This began a review-and-debate process that spanned several meetings and ultimately produced the draft that was passed Monday.
The Charles County commissioners still must vote on the plan before it becomes county law. In April, the commissioners replaced former Planning Commission member Louis Grasso and then-Chairman Courtney Edmonds with members Gilbert “Buddy” Bowling and Kenneth Smith, both of whom voted in favor of the document before the commission Monday night.
Despite the high-volume turnout at past meetings in which the plan was discussed, Monday's meeting only drew two speakers during the designated public appearances time. Indian Head resident Ed Joell spoke against the plan, and Grasso spoke for it.
From the start, Joell said, he was skeptical about the commission's intentions when it came to devising the plan. The compromise, Joell said, that was reached during the early stages — a “merged scenario” containing more curbs on growth from public input than the plan the commission passed Monday — was “dismantled.”
“This process was transparent in that we could all watch it happen, but it was like watching an accident that you couldn't stop,” Joell said. “In my experience, I've never seen a government commission less open and less concerned with the affairs of people. ... In my opinion, no nonelected body should be given the ability to make crucial decisions that will impact all the people in the county from now until far into the future. The comprehensive plan should have been left in the hands of professionals ... with approval from the county board of commissioners.”
Paraphrasing former President Gerald Ford, Grasso opened his remarks by saying, “Our long community nightmare is finally over ... I hope.”
Grasso then urged the board to pass the plan posthaste.
“I recognize that the plan is not perfect, but rarely does any piece of legislation reach that status,” Grasso said. “There are areas, in my view, that could be tweaked but tweaked only.”
Grasso went on to suggest the board work with PGM staff to develop a program aimed toward protecting property rights, similar to a transferable development rights program.
When it came time for the vote, Tieger was the first of the commission members to voice his stance.
“I consider the plan inadequate in several respects,” Tieger said. “The plan ignores the advice of federal and state agencies and ... lacks any means of protecting the land in the county. We've made all these comments in the past.”
Bunker simply said he would not vote for the plan.
“In my opinion, this is the wrong plan at a critical time for Charles County,” Bunker said. “While the state and other counties are looking forward in their planning, this plan is regressive. This plan assumes a future development pattern based on past development and old thinking. ... This plan threatens both the environment and the fiscal health of Charles County, in my opinion.”
The plan now will be passed to the Charles County commissioners for review and final approval before being sent on to the state. Speaking in a phone interview Tuesday morning, Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said he was disappointed with the outcome, although it was “certainly no surprise.”
The process became “hijacked,” Robinson said.
“It was clear that path would leave out our staff. ... It will now ultimately be up to us ... and I hope we take a much more progressive approach,” he said.
Commissioners' Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) spoke more hesitantly than his colleague.
“This is one additional step. Obviously we'll take the time to review the plan, and whether we approve or disapprove, it's all a part of this process that has taken nearly two and a half years,” Collins said. “Each plan has been made to try and improve on the former one, so it's hard to say what could have been done better.”
The planning commission and the county commissioners will meet to discuss the plan at a date that has yet to be determined.