- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Charles County neighborhood leaders concerned with the effect of sprawl development held the first two in a series of planned candidate forums Saturday in Indian Head and Monday in Waldorf.
The crowds at both forums generally were critics of the county’s draft comprehensive plan and land use policies that permit growth prior to the construction of supportive infrastructure.
The Saturday forum, held at the Potomac Branch library in Indian Head, was held in place of the South Hampton Homeowners Association’s regular community meeting. The Monday forum was held at the Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department Fire and EMS Station 12 in Westlake.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) attended both forums, and said that, as a former foster child, one of his proudest accomplishments since taking office has been bringing foster children to Annapolis to testify on bills “because I know what it’s like to not have a voice.”
Wilson also spoke about fighting his own party’s bills on the floor of the House of Delegates because he felt it was the right thing to do.
“I’ve learned that politics is where arrogance collides with ambition,” he said.
Del. Peter F. Murphy (D-Charles), who is running for president of the county commissioners, attended the Saturday forum and voiced concern with the “process” the comprehensive plan update has followed.
Many of the opponents to the draft plan as approved by the Charles County Planning Commission are the same residents who participated in the charettes and vision sessions that ultimately led to the “merged scenario” that was discarded in favor of a plan heavily influenced by the Balanced Growth Initiative, a pro-growth group. Murphy lamented that residents were asked to participate in the process only to have their input tossed aside.
“It still disappoints me today that we haven’t changed much in local government,” he said. “They ask people to get involved, but they ask people to get involved because they law requires it.”
Murphy also said he was “disappointed in the makeup” of a six-member work group appointed by the commissioners to draw the county’s septic “tier” map, in accordance with a 2012 state law, and make associated recommendations on the comprehensive plan. Several critics, including Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) and District 3 candidate Amanda Stewart of Waldorf, have noted that the group consists of six white men.
“I don’t think it represents our county at all,” Murphy said.
Murphy believes his “background” as a professional mediator and lawmaker will lend itself well to a commissioners’ board that has been marred by discord in recent years. He said he can also help mend the county’s relationship with state agencies, several of which have publicly criticized the draft comprehensive plan.
“I love my work in Annapolis, but frankly I think I can do more here,” Murphy said. “We are so positioned, and we’re growing, so the state looks to us all the time. We don’t need to be looked at like we are now.”
Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) attended the Monday forum and called the work group “an attempt” at compromise over the tier map — a state mandate that divides the county into four “tiers” based on perceived future development — and comprehensive plan. He said he has harbored reservations about the BGI plan since it was passed by the planning commission, and that he chose the work group’s members in conjunction with Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Richard Hall, who sits on the panel.
Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) went to the Monday forum and said the draft comprehensive plans would exacerbate the county’s growth and infrastructure problems.
“The draft comp plan will succeed in ensuring that your taxes will go up in ways you cannot possibly support or sustain,” she said.
Robinson attended both forums, and credited those in attendance Saturday with stalling a vote approving the draft comprehensive plan. The October public hearing during which opponents outnumbered 3-to-1 those supporting the draft plan made Collins and Commissioners Debra M. Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) reconsider approving the plan, Robinson said.
“You have scared my three colleagues,” he added.
Robinson also echoed Mattawoman Watershed Society President Jim Long’s take on the importance of the primary election.
“Jim mentioned it’s likely whoever wins the Democratic primary will be the elected official. No, it’s 1,000 percent,” Robinson said.
Stewart (D) of Waldorf also went to both forums, and cited her employment as a teacher in Prince George’s County as evidence that Charles County teachers are underpaid. Stewart said she can make as much as $5,000 more than her local counterparts.
District 2 commissioner candidate Johnnie DeGiorgi (D) attended both forums, stating Saturday that the county is losing the rural character that first spurred him to move to Nanjemoy in 1979.
DeGiorgi also took a shot at the composition of the work group, whose members were originally recommended by Collins.
Fellow District 2 candidates Melanie B. Holland (D) of Pomfret and Larreic Green (D) on Bryans Road also showed up at both forums.
Holland discounted a “subtle rumor” that she is a member of BGI and said she currently opposes the draft comprehensive plan. Green railed against school overcrowding, stating it has been a problem since he attended Indian Head Elementary School, even though “I could see J.C. Parks [Elementary School] from my house.”
The Feb. 15 forum began with a slideshow presentation from Long.
Long noted that among Maryland counties, Charles features the highest property tax rate, greatest percentage of students attending classes in trailers, longest commuting time, second-lowest number of jobs per household, most forest cut per dwelling unit and the fastest growth outside of priority funding areas.
Charles County also pays its teachers less than the state average and their counterparts in Prince George’s, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties, Long said.
“We’re a very wealthy county, and yet our teachers are the lowest paid,” he added. “There’s some disconnect there.”
He described the Mattawoman as a “recreational centerpiece” that annually generates tens of millions of dollars in commerce from the largemouth bass fishery alone. Up until 2005, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources described the Mattawoman as “the best, most productive tributary to the Chesapeake Bay” with “near to ideal conditions.”
But the Mattawoman’s health, as measured by the number of fish it sustains, has since deteriorated rapidly, Long said.
He blamed the creek’s degradation on longstanding land use policies that encourage sprawl development and limit economic preservation.
“The ultimate responsibility lies with our local government,” he said. “A very wise man once told me that when you’re in a hole, stop digging.”
Long endorsed the county’s plans to redevelop Waldorf as a walkable, downtown area supporting a light rail line linking the county with the Washington, D.C., Metro system. He encouraged voters to learn about their local officials before participating in the June 24 primary election.
“In Charles County, we tend to vote Democratic, so the primary is where there’s the most action,” he said.
Democrats hold every elected office in Charles County.