County commissioners heard several briefings from local agencies Tuesday in La Plata as they considered proposed amendments and recommendations related to the Watershed Conservation District, a pilot project that would analyze public transportation needs and an updated report that will assess current conditions and market potential for an area encompassing Bryans Road and the Maryland Airport.

Deputy County Administrator Deborah Hall and Alexis Blackwell, human resources director, briefed commissioners on their work with the Government Alliance on Racial Equity, a collaborative program hosted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Hall and Blackwell are part of a cohort of five county staff members participating on the alliance which includes project manager Catherine Reisinger from the planning and growth management department, emergency medical services chief John Filer and Dina Barclay, community services director.

In their presentation, Hall and Blackwell shared information about a racial equity tool that can be applied to GARE’s public transportation project. The racial equity tool is a simple set of questions that addresses the policy, program, practice or budget decision under consideration; analyzes data and what it means; asks how communities have been engaged and whether or not there are opportunities to expand; asks who will benefit from or be burdened by such proposals and what strategies are in place to mitigate unintended consequences; and helps plan for implementation.

“It gives us an opportunity to be proactive prior to any decisions being made,” said Blackwell. “We identify clear goals, objectives and outcomes by doing a root cause analysis which consists of asking the question ‘why’ many, many times until we find out what the real issue is.”

Hall explained that the GARE approach includes three different stages — normalize, organize and operationalize. When it comes to “operationalizing equity,” she said using a racial equity tool is an important step as it “proactively seeks to eliminate racial inequities and advance equity.”

“Where we are right now is the normalize stage. We are normalizing conversations about race,” Hall said. “Those tend to be very uncomfortable conversations but they are definitely those we want to address so that we have racial equity and positive outcomes for all.”

The group’s proposal is to focus on public transportation needs in the community, a project that was chosen “because of its potential for significant, positive impact on people of color.”

A final report on Charles County’s VanGO transit development plan, which was released in January 2019 and disaggregated by race, showed that nearly 63% of riders used VanGO for a round-trip with work being the number one purpose. At least 120 responses came from African American customers and more than 41% of survey participants included riders between the ages of 25 to 49.

Among the highly-desired improvement areas that people of color wanted to see with VanGO included more frequent service, earlier morning services, additional bus stop shelter/benches, Sunday service and later evening service. A majority of white, Asian and riders of other ethnicities also responded with similar concerns.

Hall and Blackwell later provided a summary of alternatives and potential costs, based on community outreach conducted in the transit development plan, which include expanding service frequency/hours at VanGO routes in Pinefield, La Plata, St. Charles B and C, Bryans Road, Newburg, the Brandywine and U.S. 301 connectors and other selected areas. County staff are requesting the commissioners to consider a funding range between $238,000 and $428,000, based on estimates in the plan for extending service hours or adding Sunday service on select routes.

Hall said community outreach will be conducted with current riders and stakeholder groups. County staff plan to not only develop and implement community engagement strategies, but also recommend improvements and changes based upon input from diverse stakeholders throughout the community.

Further community outreach, however, is needed to determine which service option would have the greatest impact on people of color. The GARE team will then return with a prioritized list of community preferences for the commissioners to consider down the line.

Next to present at the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday were staff members from the planning and growth management department who provided a presentation on fiscal considerations related to the WCD. The information that was presented included a forthcoming Zoning Text Amendment 19-155 that would grandfather certain development projects that have recorded 10% of their lots and constructed associated infrastructure; airport rezoning that is underway; and an outline of the highest scoring criteria for designating new Rural Legacy Areas on the western side of the county.

Possible amendments include intrafamily transfers that would remove the requirement to have owned property for a period of at least 10 years; residential density and lot size that would allow one unit per 10-acre density with a 10-acre minimum lot size or reduce the minimum lot size from 20 to 3 acres if a one unit per 20-acre residential density is retained; and Transferable Development Rights in areas served by public water and sewer.

Economic development department staff updated the commissioners on the status of a report that will assess current conditions and market potential for an area encompassing Bryans Road and the Maryland Airport. This concurrent study is separate and distinct from the planning and growth management department’s effort, with a common objective of informing how the commissioners evaluate their options, according to a county press release.

The Rural Planning and Zoning Task Force’s recommendations for revising zoning regulations include updating the zoning ordinance to reflect trends in agritourism, ecotourism and related economies; strengthening the aquaculture industry; allowing agritourism uses in tandem with agricultural operations; expanding opportunities for the seafood industry and improving water quality by including a specific reference to shellfish; allowing averaging of rear yards; a 10-foot deduction in the setback for private roads in all residential zones; and changing restrictions on accessory uses and structures.

Other proposed revisions from the task force include allowing cluster subdivisions on parcels that are less than 50 acres; family conveyances to keep younger generations of farmers on the property; changes to width of private roadways; changes to road ordinances; changes to subdivision regulations; exemptions for agricultural buildings on agricultural-assessed property; revising “migrant workers housing” to “seasonal agricultural workers housing”; and eliminating county permitting requirements for piers and bulkheads.

For more information about what’s next and further operational changes proposed by the Rural Planning and Zoning Task Force, visit go.boarddocs.com/md/chrlsco/Board.nsf/Public.

The board of commissioners approved letters requesting support, from all members of the local delegation, for a fiscal 2020 Maryland Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program application.

A lease agreement with GymFIT Physical Therapy and Wellness for rental of space at the Capital Clubhouse was also approved.

The commissioners will not be meeting next week due to the President’s Day holiday.

Twitter: @JClink_MdINDY