On the day of the public hearing to adopt the Calvert County Comprehensive Plan Update, residents share their final thoughts before the Board of County Commissioners potentially make a decision that ends a three-year process to determine the direction of the county for the next twenty years.
On the minds of the many citizens ahead of the hearing, is the removal of the major and minor town center distinctions, referring to the BOCC's split decision during the final work session on June 25.
Huntingtown's Von Willey wants to know if the town center designations have not achieved the economic development desired to attract more residential density that is currently allowed by the zoning ordinance, what data shows that expanding those areas will have the desired affect for economic growth in the county.
Willey also wants to know the fiscal impact to Calvert County by removing the language which ties growth to adequate public facilities and removing the household growth cap which will allow substantially increased high-density residential growth adjacent to the main arteries of Rt.2/4, Rt. 260, Rt. 231 and the Solomons Bridge. To date, none of the answers to these and numerous other questions have been sufficient, according to Willey.
"I'm not happy about all this," Willey said. "If I wanted to sit in endless meetings listening to people who would rather spend more energy on avoiding and hiding things than actually fixing the problems, having to bear witness to attempts to lie [and] justify bad decisions, I would've become a preacher or a politician."
Instead of passing the current proposed plan, Willey would like to see "essential studies" where data and information are critical to the success of any plan of this size and scope.
"Opening up all of Calvert's smaller communities to unbridled development possibilities is simply irresponsible," Sunderland resident Margaret Dowell said.
Dowell also said it is irresponsible to "polarize" the county's future into the "simplistic" growth/development versus land preservation model.
Instead, she prefers to put the scenario aside and work in grayer areas, such as employing the infill development concept, a process of developing under-used parcels, which she believes would allow the county to keep its rural feel completely intact while growing or expanding already existing developed areas.
"I'm surprised that nobody in planning has talked about this yet," said Dowell, an adjunct art professor who admits she does not have planning experience. "I just go with my gut."
"Infill development can prevent buildout sprawl," Dowell said. "It can also bring new jobs, residents, offices, parks, to major/established town centers such as our county seat."
She said there is no reason for running strip malls and making small communities bigger in the county. She believes "sensitive planning" could create a unique sense of place for residents and visitors alike – all without exceeding current town boundaries.
"Such purposeful, significant growth could certainly embrace and champion the precious farmland and waterways which have defined Calvert County all along," Dowell said, calling it a possible "win-win" for all.
"The people that will hate this [idea] are those people buying up all the vacant land in areas [to which] town centers would expand," Dowell added.
"Nobody who is fighting this is saying they don't want any growth or are against all growth," Port Republic resident Lili Sheeline said on the perception of growth versus rural character. "They are saying let's do this in a smart defined way. Let's do it in a way we don't sacrifice our quality of life."
Sheeline, said she had some hope that in 2019, with a new board of county commissioners, Calvert residents' overwhelming concerns about unrestrained growth and its likely impact on quality of life would finally get the hearing and consideration they deserved.
"It's been a deep disappointment to see that we simply have more of the same," Sheeline said, comparing the current and past board of commissioners.
She believes in recent decades the county has been developed without sacrificing its rural and agricultural character. However, she also believes that the majority of the current commissioners, seem happy to ignore citizens' desire to sustain that mix in favor of "either/or" and are willing to allow unrestricted growth without ensuring first that the county has the resources to support it.
"[Commissioners' President Thomas "Tim" Hutchins (R)] told me that the "major" vs. "minor" town center distinction is meaningless: "…to try and discriminate one from the other through a label achieves nothing," she said, referring to a July 8 email correspondence from Hutchins.
Sheeline said the designation is a planning tool, not simply a "label" and suggested the commissioners survey those, like her, who live near a minor town center on their thoughts about the distinction.
"This label makes a big difference in our quality of life; the distinction is in its definition," Sheeline said pointing to text in the December 2018 draft of the comprehensive plan, which defines "minor town centers have a more limited variety of residential development than major town centers. Minor town centers are suitable for additional small-scale commercial development and various types of single-family dwellings at a conventional density of one dwelling unit per acre."
Sheeline also points to the plan's text that "major town centers have a conventional density of three dwelling units per acres, which can be increased using TDRs to a density consistent with the approved town center master plan. These communities allow a wide variety of commercial and residential development" and text "major town centers are to serve as regional centers, providing goods and services that attract visitors from the entire county and/or from outside the county (as in tourism). Minor town centers are to serve as local convenience centers."
Sheeline said Hutchins also told her "…we must avail ourselves of every opportunity for business development in the towns" and that the town center master plan allows us to control how development will occur.
She believes that losing the guidance provided by the town designations will make it even more difficult for residents "to fight the pressure and deep pockets of large scale development." Instead, she sides with those who have presented persuasive arguments in favor of creative planning approaches that allow for local emphasis, small business development, entrepreneurship, and retention of rural character.
She said Hutchins pushes innovation, but she believes "there's no innovation going on. They are not innovative – they are being very old school – responding to pressure for development."
"But that would require our county government leadership to show true innovation, creativity, and concern about what the citizens really want. Instead, we get a "we know best what's good for you" attitude," Sheeline said.
Sheeline, a realtor, has lived in Calvert 14 years, said there is a misconception that the entire real estate community is aligned with the desires of the development community. In fact, she said the resell of older homes gets harder as it competes with new developments.
"If it goes in the direction of the new draft, it is going to get harder and harder. It's going just to bring in new people to buy the new homes," Sheeline explained.
She does applaud Commissioners Steve Weems (R) and Earl "Buddy" Hance (R) for their efforts to respond to citizen's concerns, but hopes in the end that the other three Commissioners will pay some attention as well.
Like Dowell and Sheeline, Prince Frederick resident Robert Daniels is displeased with some of the proposed changes to the town centers in the plan and feels it will ruin the beauty of the county and make it no different than any other county.
"This is not a government that is representing its constituents; it is a government representing special interests," Daniels said.
Daniels said he had a house built in Calvert County in 1995 to move his family away from the "urban sprawl and crime" of Prince George's County, despite the 44-mile one-way way work-day commute to Washington the relocation presented.
"Now these commissioners want to bring P.G. down to me and make all our sacrifices worthless, in spite of the overwhelming majority of citizens being against it," Daniels said, noting the BOCC has received and ignored more than 1,000 citizens' comments.
Daniels said that Calvert County has a commissioners' president who has not lived in the county for 55 years, yet he feels he better knows what is best for the county than its residents.
Daniels said Commissioners' Vice President Kelly McConkey, "is pushing for a change in the Huntingtown zoning that will net him millions of dollars when he sells that property - the very definition of conflict of interest."
McConkey owns two properties within a proposed expansion to Huntingtown that is now up for reconsideration. Daniel said McConkey's recusal during the June 25 work session on the plan was not a recusal and that he should have been required to leave the room.
Daniel further questioned the legality of Weems and Commissioner Mike Hart (R), who own stores in the county potentially reaping benefits from the proposed plan, of not recusing themselves during town center discussions.
The hearing will take place 5 p.m. today at Calvert Pine Senior Center. The Calvert Recorder will provide a comprehensive write-up of hearing outcomes for online Wednesday and for publication in Friday's edition of The Recorder.