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The Charles County Planning Commission during its Aug. 18 meeting delayed consideration of a staff-proposed code amendment when several members raised concerns that expediting the review and approval of final plats might come at the expense of public input.

The amendment included a second provision that would, in step with a 2012 state law known as the “septic bill,” require public hearings on all future applications for major subdivisions within Tier III areas, or zones where major subdivisions are allowed to be built on septic systems.

Charles County Planning Director Steve Ball said the amendment would allow the planning commission to delegate approval over final plats to the planning director, thereby cutting down on the time needed to bring such matters before the commission. Ball already can approve plats that are not part of a major subdivision, he said.

“It also helps improve efficiency of the review process and streamline paperwork,” he added.

One person spoke against the amendment during a July 21 public hearing, while two spoke in favor of it, and another person asked to see additional language. The record was left open for two weeks, during which time 12 emails were submitted, all in opposition.

“I think there was some misunderstanding on some of the comments in the emails. The amendment before you only applies to final plats … it does not affect the public notification and comment process that is currently in place,” Ball said.

The notion of streamlining the approval of plats arose due to the septic bill’s requirement that Tier III subdivisions receive public hearings, Ball said.

“On that end of things it’s going to take a longer time, and part of the discussion that came up was if the bigger projects are going to take a longer time, is there anything we can do to expedite the small stuff and make it more efficient?” he said.

Commission member Joe Tieger said he opposes any changes that could cut down on the public’s opportunity to learn about and give input on development projects.

“If you want to streamline your internal process to get them before us faster, I think that’s great, but I don’t think we should do anything that discourages public participation and giving the public an opportunity to see what is being constructed in the county. … I fail to see why if the developers can take 20 years, 10 years, 15 years to bring a project to completion, the planning commission has to hurry up at the last minute to approve the last document they need,” Tieger said. “The public is entitled to see these plans at every step of the way because the public in their homes, in their neighborhoods, on their highways are going to be affected by these projects.”

Commission members Gilbert “Buddy” Bowling Jr., Kenneth Smith and Stacy Moreland echoed Tieger’s concerns.

“The option that has been articulated, is that the only option that you were able to come up with so far in terms of streamlining?” Smith asked.

The commission voted unanimously for Tieger’s motion to postpone the matter for 30 days to allow for further public comment and to schedule a briefing from staff on the proposed amendment.

Tieger also recommended that the proposal be split into two separate bills, one requiring public hearings on Tier III subdivisions and another streamlining the plat approval process.

In other business, the commission unanimously approved final plat plans for 23 lots covering 32.16 acres in the Kingsview neighborhood off Tottenham Drive in White Plains, three bulk lots totaling 1,215.53 acres in the Village of Wooded Glen neighborhood off of St. Charles Parkway in Waldorf and 60 townhomes covering 7.08 acres in the Fieldside neighborhood off of St. Rita’s Drive in Waldorf.

It also granted unanimous approval to the preliminary plan for the Potomac Chase neighborhood off of northbound Route 210. The community will have 44 single-family homes and 133 townhouses on 54.96 acres.

The commission also agreed to Tieger’s request to invite the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to present a new report on the Mattawoman Creek.

jnewman@somdnews.com