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The Charles County commissioners rejected on a 3-2 vote Tuesday the proposal of a six-member work group charged with drawing a state-mandated septic tier map for Charles County, instead opting to move half of the 18,000-acre deferred development district spanning Waldorf and Bryans Road into a zone planned for future sewer service.

The approved map essentially shifts 9,000 acres of the deferred development district out of Tier IV, which is reserved for forest and resource conservation, and into Tier II, where future sewer service is planned.

Charles County Environmental Program Manager Charles Rice presented the panel’s map proposal to the commissioners alongside Director of Planning and Growth Management Peter Aluotto and Planning Director Steve Ball. The three staff members recommended the board take action on the proposal.

“Is there any more land by law where we’re allowed to build?” Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) asked.

Rice said the large deferred development district, which technically is planned for future sewer, could have been placed in Tier II but was put in Tier IV because none of it has been released for development. He also noted that half of the deferred development district already is protected lands.

It made more sense to keep the deferred development district in Tier IV until it is actually released for development, Ball said.

Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) asked for a breakdown of “anything else that could be either or, specifically in the deferred development district.”

After a short break, staff returned with a new map putting half of the 18,000-acre deferred development district in Tier II, with the other half being made up of protected Mattawoman Creek watershed that remained in Tier IV.

“We feel this meets the intent of the septic bill,” Rice said.

Having just seen the new map, Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Rich Hall said he was unable to determine whether it was legal.

“This sends the absolute worst message imaginable,” Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said. “We’ve heard for years how threatened the Mattawoman is, and this is just too close.”

“It doesn’t make any sense to me to take this area that was pristine, necessary for the protection for the Mattawoman,” and open it to development, board President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said.

Robinson and Kelly voted against the altered map, while Rucci, Davis and board Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D), who originally proposed the work group in early January, voted to approve it.

The panel fell short of completing its task by the Feb. 28 deadline and instead presented the board with a near-complete template last week.

The commissioners voted to table the matter until their meeting this week, but the work group elected to meet again when Collins said it was critical that the panel reach a finished proposal.

The work group is composed of Hall, Charles County Planning Commission Chairman Steve Bunker, former planning commission member Joseph Richard, La Plata farmer David Lines, local developer Doug Meeker and former Calvert County Planning Director Greg Bowen.

In addition to the template, the work group recommended 11 amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan, including the creation of a purchase of development rights program; a $5 million loan fund for land trusts; and a local agriculture, forestry and fisheries advisory board. The commissioners will take the amendments under consideration for a vote at a later meeting.

State and county staff met March 5 to conduct the necessary tweaks and presented separate recommendations to the panel Friday.

The group’s meeting got off to an awkward start Friday when Lines objected to the absence of Richard, who alerted the panel the previous day that he would not participate in its meetings beyond the original Feb. 28 deadline.

Collins originally chose the group’s members with the idea that it would be made up of three proponents of the pro-growth draft map in Richard, Lines and Meeker, and three opponents in Hall, Bunker and Bowen.

“Until that’s addressed, until we have one more person on this group that more or less represents the views of this side of the table, I don’t think we should go forward,” Lines said. “I think the commissioners have to appoint another person, and I think to continue is pretty much a farce. There is no way we can get a consensus with two guys here and three guys over there.”

“It seems to me it’s still worth going through the map to get the group’s opinion,” Hall said.

Lines countered that the template puts 175,625 acres in Tier IV, more than the 167,000 acres county staff put in Tier IV in its original fall 2012 recommendation. He walked out of the meeting.

Ball said much of the additional acreage in Tier IV was due to already-protected lands being moved from Tier III into IV.

“The protected lands are a big part of the number, and they don’t matter in the calculation. They are protected lands … that weren’t going to be built on regardless,” Hall said. “The law is not driven by how many acres are in one tier or another.”

Bowen said the group reached a 6-0 consensus at its Feb. 28 meeting to present the commissioners with the template.

“We presented this map, but I think we all agreed that we were going to tweak it, and this is the tweak, and I think it’s entirely appropriate even though we’ve lost two of our members to go back to the county commissioners,” Bunker said.

County staff proposed converting a tract southwest of Hughesville and east of the Zekiah Rural Legacy Area from Tier III to Tier IV, moving 900 acres covering the northern end of the Cliffton on the Potomac development from Tier III to Tier II — allowing future sewer construction in an area with a failing wastewater plant — placing a chunk of Port Tobacco with failing septic systems into Tier II, extending Tier III south of Dentsville and Bel Alton and into Nanjemoy, switching a strip east of MD-227 in Marshall Hall from Tier III to Tier IV, and expanding the Tier III area near Morgantown to reflect existing development.

Ball said the Newburg-Cliffton-Aqualand subarea would be designated in the comprehensive plan as a future receiving zone for transferable development rights.

MDP senior planner Graham Petto pinpointed three areas of concern the state had with county staff’s recommendations — Tier III chunks east of Bel Alton Newtown Road and south of Hughesville as well as the extension into Nanjemoy.

Rice said roughly 75 percent of the area south of Hughesville already had received preliminary subdivision approval, which is why county staff placed it in Tier III. However, placing the strip east of Bel Alton Newtown Road in Tier IV made sense because it borders the Zekiah Rural Legacy Area, Rice said.

As for the Nanjemoy area, Rice said the lower half of the extension contained existing development, while the upper half was dominated by forested land, but he asked that the designation remain consistent rather than creating a Tier III island in Nanjemoy surrounded by Tier IV. In the end, both staffs agreed to put the entire extension in Tier IV.

“Are we done?” Bowen asked at the meeting’s end.

“We’ve got a map,” Rice said.



jnewman@somdnews.com