As the July 23 public hearing on the Calvert County Comprehensive Plan Update for 2040 nears, citizens and businesses share thoughts on the guiding document that determines how and where the county will grow.
Overwhelmingly, growth is the focus of concerns, as well as the need to address the proposed plans impacts to traffic and existing public facilities.
Prince Frederick resident Andrea Gibbons said she is not opposed to growth, but is not in favor of “unchecked growth” as the county’s “small-town vibe” is one of the things she loves about Calvert. However, she believes a county with nothing but residential parcels and very few commercial ones cannot sustain itself.
“It will inevitably fail to provide the services needed to support its citizens,” Gibbons said.
She said while that nobody is in favor of raising taxes to accomplish this, residents do want to live comfortably in an area with great schools.
Gibbons, a former environmental protection specialist, points to the “Cost of Community Services Studies,” an analysis used to determine the fiscal impact of existing land uses on a jurisdiction’s budget.
Gibbons said Calvert would be a great place to perform the case study because it has residential, commercial and industrial parcels in a given area. The study could determine each parcel’s ability to provide enough revenue to support the services it requires.
“This is the plan that was initially touted as being a vision for the county when in fact it is a policy document that will determine the direction the county goes for the next 20 years,” Dunkirk Area Concerned Citizens Association President JP Sherkus said.
Sherkus, who has lived in Calvert for more than 24 years, said that Dunkirk does not want a technology park, as one commissioner suggested, that will potentially sit vacant for the next 20 years, referring to Patuxent Business Park in Lusby.
Sherkus feels there are many issues with the plan, that extend beyond Dunkirk, that should be addressed before it is passed to include the absence of a cap on growth to ensure the county has adequate public facilities, and the availability of potable water with unrestrained growth given the county’s issues with water quality and low aquifer levels.
“Are we going to wait until we have no water before paying attention to this?” Sherkus asked.
Dunkirk resident Tom Mero said he was “floored” by the commissioners’ split vote decision to do away with the county’s long-standing designation of major and minor town centers. Mero is a also a member of DACCA, which he said he help to create.
“Planning and Zoning, as well as some commissioners, failed to honestly describe a key difference between major and minor town centers,” Mero said.
Mero, who has lived in the county for 35 years, said major town centers have sewer to support an explosion of high-density residential development like in Prince Frederick. Mero has been active in the town’s fight to thwart sewer for residential development in Dunkirk.
“Townhouses and apartments that would crowd our schools, create more gridlock on Route 4, and, with all but senior housing, result in a net loss to our tax base. This is because high-density housing typically pays less per unit in property taxes compared to single-family housing, and are generally owned by younger people with school-aged kids,” Mero explained.
Mero said without regard to the planning commission’s decision, and citizens outcry, to keep Dunkirk a minor town center, the commissioners voted to get rid of the “pesky minor town center label” that would limit high-density residential development in Dunkirk.
“It is games like this, driven by pressure from developers, that help explain why even the Calvert County Republican Central Committee spoke out against our all-Republican BOCC and the current version of the draft comprehensive plan,” Mero said.
Catherine Grasso, chairman of the GOP committee, who expressed opposition to the plan during the public comment period at the June 25 commissioners’ meeting, noted that the county’s “quality of life is being threatened by a significant increase in buildout” and that a significant spending plan will lead to a tax increase.
Three weeks later, Grasso stands by her comments and takes exception with Commissioners’ President Thomas “Tim” Hutchins (R).
Hutchins “touts his experience in developing Charles County, as he represented Charles for many years. [He] doesn’t understand that Calvert County residents want nothing to do with the urban sprawl, overdevelopment and gridlock of Charles County,” Grasso said. “Mr. Hutchins is living in the wrong county.”
Prince Frederick resident Jeff Klapper said the proposed plan is “flawed” and is based on a “body of lies” repeated by the developers and the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce.
Calvert Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Carpenter said the organization keeps abreast of the comprehensive plan, but has not taken a position.
“We have members of the organization that are supportive of the plan. We have members that are not supportive of the plan,” Carpenter said.
With a membership of nearly 400 individual operators, small, mid-sized and large businesses, the chamber reflects a variety of industries.
“We represent all our members, we don’t represent a specific segment,” Carpenter said. “We are promoting all businesses.”
Klapper, who has lived in the county more than 40 years, also takes exception with the commissioners’ president and his June 25 statement “we need to find every square inch that we can within a town center to use as an economic development possibility.”
Hutchins “has taken it into his head … that we have to commercially build out this county,” Klapper said.
Throughout the comprehensive plan process, some residents have complained about the level of access the business community, primarily the Small Business Interest Group and developers, has to county government staff and the past board of commissioners. Klapper is no exception, and accuses a couple county staffers by name of furthering SBIG’s agenda.
Klapper is also opposed to extending Huntingtown Town Center across Route 4.
“This is for the benefit of Commissioner McConkey who owns the property and will reap a financial windfall when he sells to Royal Farms,” Klapper said, referring to McConkey’s two parcels of land at and near the intersection of Cox Road and Route 4 and rumors of the land’s future use.
“This is the worst ethical outrage since the political assassination of Lusby and Phipps from the planning commission,” Klapper said, referring to the 2017 removal of planning chairs Maurice Lusby and Michael Phipps for the alleged purpose of opening the county up for development.
Calvert developer and former SBIG president Anthony Williams said he supports the comprehensive plan based on the tier mapping. Williams has built apartment and townhouse communities in the county and has one underway in Prince Frederick.
In 2017, the commissioners adopted a growth tier map, in compliance with the state’s septic laws which seek to minimize pollution by limiting the expansion of private septic systems on the development of major subdivisions and large residential lots.
Tier I addresses areas already served by public sewerage systems and Tier II addresses areas proposed to be served by public sewerage systems or mapped as locally designated growth areas, locales where growth is concentrated in existing population and business centers, growth areas adjacent to these centers, or strategically selected new centers.
Tier III is the designation of areas within the county planned and zoned for large lot or rural development, but are not planned for public sewer services. Tier IV is reserved for areas zoned agricultural or forest lands that are not planned for sewer service.
“Tier mapping drove the plan,” Williams said. “Growth is supposed to be in the town centers as approved by the tier mapping. They are following it to a T.”
Economist Anirban Basu CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc., who was hired by the county to write its five-year economic development plan for 2017-2021, pointed out in August 2017 that the county had an aging population and needed to address the “dearth” of in-migration of younger families and workers.
Basu recommended many things to include radically accelerating the development of town centers and noted that a compact town center with plenty to do can further the county’s strong tax base.
Throughout the plan process, developers have long conveyed the need to provide workforce housing, spur job and economic growth in the county as well as expand its commercial tax base.
In response, Klapper looks to a 2006 study on the fiscal Impacts of Land Uses on Local Government where author and University of Georgia professor Jeffrey Dorfman stated “while residential development brings with it new tax (and fee) revenue, it also brings demand for local government services. The cost of providing these services exceeds the revenue generated by the new houses in every case studied (American Farmland Trust).”
In the same study, Dorfman also said “empirical evidence shows that while commercial and industrial development can indeed improve the financial well being of a local government, residential development worsens it.”
“From a small business standpoint, the comp plan does nothing to ensure the success of the locally owned independent business,” said Trish Weaver, owner Dream Weaver Events and Catering in Prince Frederick.
Weaver, who has been in business for 28 years, said that the celebration of the national chains is a way to cheat the local citizen, resident and taxpayer in a way that clearly finds more value in a retail or restaurant chain that pays only minimum wage and provides few benefits as possible.
“The small business owner is the one sponsoring sports teams, donating to just about every charity and school in the area, and vesting everything in the community. With the newer comp plan the developed areas will only be affordable for national corporations, and we already have a staff shortage in the area,” Weaver said.
Weaver said there appears to be a lack of citizen and local input as well as data supporting the feasibility of the buildout planned. She would like the county to create a panel of locally owned business folks to help build charming, viable, interesting shopping areas similar to the charrette to gather public input on what the community wanted to see in Armory Square, the area of Prince Frederick slated for the new development.
Citizens will have the opportunity to share their views on the plan in writing to the commissioners until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, July 22, and in person at the July 23 public hearing on the adoption comprehensive plan at 5pm at Calvert Pines Senior Center in Prince Frederick. A draft of the plan can be found at www.CalvertCountyMd.gov/FutureCalvert.