- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Another state agency has taken a stance against the controversial Charles County comprehensive plan.
In a letter dated Aug. 23 from Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary James Smith to commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D), Smith urged Kelly to consider MDOT’s “additional concerns with the draft plan” that passed in a 5-2 vote by the Charles County Planning Commission last month.
“MDOT is concerned that given a finite market (as is true for any county), opening new rural areas to proposed growth and additional development will compete with the proposed mixed use development in the Transit Corridor,” Smith wrote in the letter.
Smith went on to write that concentrating growth outside of the urban area contradicts the county’s stated plans for future transportation projects, and added that it “may adversely affect the competitiveness of any future federal application for transit funding as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s scoring is for local land use policies/regulations and the relative supportiveness of these policies and regulations to the success of the proposed transit service.”
Smith concluded by urging Kelly and the other county commissioners to examine the plan further while it is before them, and added that MDOT would be open to discussion on the matter.
Kelly expressed her appreciation for “such a straightforward letter” in a phone interview Friday.
“The quality of life for our citizens depends on a reasonable commute, and I’m glad [Smith] said it,” Kelly said. “I repeat then what I’ve said for the last year or two, but some of the planning commission members’ relationships with lobbyists and special interest groups ... are inappropriate and are not in the best interest of the citizens. The plan has been universally panned by every state agency, and they can’t all be wrong. This plan is wrong. This is the plan of a special interest group influenced in a way that is unacceptable.”
Kelly remained firm in her stance against the plan.
“It’s very discouraging that my colleagues ... would have been so reckless about this,” Kelly said. “They stood by and watched this all happen, and anyone can see that this doesn’t pass the smell test. I can’t imagine how this board wouldn’t want to see this plan get rejected.”
Earlier last month, Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Rich Hall referred to the passage of the plan as “pitiful” on his personal Facebook account. Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) responded in a letter to the editor Aug. 14 in the Maryland Independent, defending the action taken by the planning commission and stating that the issue is one of “local autonomy.”
Collins said Friday that he had read Smith’s letter “about four or five times already.” Smith, a former circuit court judge whom Collins said he respects immensely, may not have had all the facts, Collins said.
“It was very inconsistent with previous documentation from the state. Smith has not had an opportunity to look at all the facts and everything the county has done,” Collins said. “Had he had that before him, I think he’d have made a different decision. I’d also like to know what jurisdiction the state is using as a model of smart growth that’s anywhere similar to Charles County in terms of growth over the last decade.”
Collins noted that the county has remained consistent in centering growth inside the confines of the development district.
“That’s smart growth,” Collins said. “The county has worked hard to develop a relationship, a partnership with the state for that sorely needed tax money. I hope and pray that in no way has nothing been done to politicize it. There’s been a consistency in our policies. The county has been consistent with our goals and objectives relative to transportation. One of the arguments I’ve heard is that the new plan is too much like the 2006 plan. Everything we’ve shown the state has been based on the 2006 plan. I think if anything else, we’re willing to listen, but the protocol historically has been responses and suggestions come after approval, and this plan hasn’t been approved yet.”
Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) said she had not yet read the proposed plan.
“I stand by my position that land use is local, and for some reason, this is important for the state, for them to continue usurping their powers,” Davis said Tuesday. “We haven’t even had a chance to look at this plan yet, and I don’t know why they’re so anxious about it.”
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said the letter from MDOT came as “no surprise” to him, given that the board previously has received letters from other state agencies criticizing the contents of the plan.
“My feeling is that what’s currently been approved is a regressive plan, and completely dismisses the hard work of expert county staff and the input and time of so many citizens,” he said Tuesday. “I think we all know that if this plan is approved, there will be consequences, and secretaries Hall and Smith have made that clear.”
Planning Commission Chairman Stephen Bunker said he sees MDOT’s letter as “adding to the chorus” of state agencies that stand opposed to the plan.
“I think when [MDOT] reviewed the plan earlier this year they were looking at its technical issues,” Bunker said Tuesday. “Now they’ve realized that there’s other issues and that they need to come down a little harder. The message, I think, is that Maryland won’t want to invest in communities that don’t practice smart growth and won’t protect the environment.”
Earlier this year, the Maryland Department of the Environment and Maryland Department of Natural Resources wrote letters criticizing the contents of the comprehensive plan. MDOT and MDP also sent letters weighing in.
County Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) and planning commission Vice Chairman Joseph Richard did not return requests for comment.