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Commissioners answer questions concerning Calvert’s present, future at annual Chamber of Commerce event

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

The Calvert County Chamber of Commerce hosted the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners on Monday morning for a breakfast discussion with the county’s business community about current economic development efforts, the Prince Frederick Town Center charrette and the designation of a Metropolitan Planning Organization in the southern part of the county, among many other topics.

The first question posed to the commissioners at the breakfast, which was held at the Rod’N‘Reel Restaurant in Chesapeake Beach, asked for an explanation of the charrette and what the next steps are moving forward. The Prince Frederick charrette was a weeklong, public process in June resulting in a long-term vision for the town center.

Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) told the more than 100 attendees that what the consulting firm, The Lawrence Group, brought forth from the charrette is a vision.

“It’s a vision, something to move forward with,” he said. “... People drive it and money drives it. It’s gonna take a long time.”

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said he wanted to make clear that the vision that was presented to the board late last month was the citizens’ views, “not some outside consultant” coming to Calvert to tell Calvert how it should be.

The next step is to determine which of the proposed ideas “we can put into fruition,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said. The commissioners were scheduled for a work session on the charrette’s key policy recommendations during their Tuesday, Sept. 17, meeting.

The commissioners were then asked if the appointment of a new director of the Calvert County Department of Community Planning and Building affects the timeline for updating the Prince Frederick Town Center Master Plan.

Slaughenhoupt announced that a new CPB director, Tom Barnett from San Antonio, will be taking over the department Sept. 30. He said Barnett has been involved in Paducah, Ky., and Indiana.

“I’m not sure what other commissioners have said individually to this individual,” he continued. “... What I have told Mr. Barnett was if he is spending time solving the day-to-day problems and planning and zoning kinds of issues, then I consider him failing; that I think his role should be looking to the future and addressing things in the future, letting his staff folks address those day-to-day issues.”

And when it comes to updating the Prince Frederick Town Center, Slaughenhoupt said he informed Barnett that “I want you and [the Calvert County Department of Economic Development] working so closely together that it could be difficult to determine where one begins and the other one ends.”

Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) said, “I think the person that we interviewed understands that he’s not coming to start the process all over again. It’s his job to learn the process as it has already started.”

The commissioners also were asked to address the recent designation of a Metropolitan Planning Organization that encompasses southern portions of Calvert and central portions of St. Mary’s counties, what the designation means, its impacts and any future plans regarding the designation.

The federally-designated MPO, which encompasses portions of Lusby, including Chesapeake Ranch Estates and Drum Point, and Solomons in Calvert County and central portions of St. Mary’s County, is based on 2010 U.S. Census data showing the area meets the population criteria of 57,000. In May, the commissioners voted 4-1 to move forward with the urban designation. Clark was the dissenting vote.

Commissioners’ Vice President Steve Weems (R) said, “The main takeaway I guess that, you know, it was never stated clearly, but it has the potential to place a feather in the cap for the new [Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge] construction. That is the takeaway that I had.”

“I voted against it,” Clark immediately said when it was his turn. Clark explained that he voted against the designation for several reasons, including the “gerrymandered” means used to form the urban area, the redundancy of work already being completed for the region by the Tri-County Council Regional Infrastructure Committee, and that the designation doesn’t offer any potential for furthering the expansion and/or replacement of the bridge.

“It’s a very small amount of money. In my opinion, it’s just another bureaucracy that the federal government is setting up and pushing down on the counties and spending more money on,” Clark said. “There’s absolutely no reason out there for it.”

Slaughenhoupt pointed out that not participating would mean a loss of Federal Transit Administration funding to the county. According to previous reports, the county would lose $454,215 per year in federal funds to run the county’s transportation system.

In the commissioners’ closing statements, they were asked to focus on their contributions for improving the county’s business climate and any plans for improving that climate.

Nutter said, “I have a real concern and I want business in this county to thrive because it means a lot to all of us.”

He said the board is “still” working on signage regulations, how the department of economic development can help, and working with community planning and building on outdated, confusing regulations and moving new amendments and permits through the process quicker.

“We’re studying very hard how to bring success to a business here,” Nutter said.

Clark said he recognizes that “when people hear ‘no’ right off the bat, it turns into an ugly situation,” especially in community planning and building.

“And anybody that thinks it’s gonna get easier ... you’re being foolish. It isn’t gonna get easier. It’s gonna get tougher,” Clark said, adding that the county is “working hard” to try to make the community planning and building department better.

“I think in the long run, it’s not government’s place, once something’s developed and something’s built ... it’s not government’s purpose to see that you’re successful. It’s your purpose to see that you’re successful.”

Shaw said the main thing that the board has done and will continue to do to promote economic development is to keep the tax rate low. The second best thing the county does, she said, is that economic development offers a lot of free services to businesses, such as helping a business relocate and developing business plans.

“The job of government is to try to support that and not to block it. So, there’s definitely an attitude on this board that we encourage economic development, we support economic development and we’ll do that in whatever ways we can that stay within the roles of government.”

ascott@somdnews.com