Public hearing set on comprehensive plan
CHESTERTOWN — Reading like an epic love letter to the local agriculture industry, the current draft of the Kent County Comprehensive Plan aims to preserve the area’s rural heritage. The Kent County Commissioners are holding a public hearing on the comprehensive plan at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 27. It will be in the commissioners hearing room at the R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. Building, 400 High St., Chestertown. The comprehensive plan is the county’s roadmap for development and land use. The plan is mandated by the state and must be updated every 10 years. The Kent County Planning Commission has been working on updating the 2006 comprehensive plan for the last two years with county staff and consultants from EarthData Inc. The draft before the Kent County Commissioners — coming in at 136 pages — is available online at www. kentcounty.com/planning/ comp-plan-update. “Properly used, the Plan provides the basis for decision-making at all levels of government and will guide the private sector toward acceptable, beneficial, and profitable activities affecting the land and our people,” the plan states. In addition to outlining the broad strokes of the county’s vision for land use and development, the comprehensive plan is broken down into chapters addressing the economy, towns and villages, the countryside, the environment, housing, transportation, community facilities and public services, historic and cultural preservation and imple- mentation strategies. The comprehensive plan makes clear on page 1 the county’s intent to preserve the agriculture industry and reinforces that focus throughout the document. “It is Kent County’s vision to preserve its historic and cultural traditions, along with its high quality of life, while embracing sufficient economic opportunities to provide for the economic well-being of our citizens. This Plan recognizes that agriculture is the keystone to Kent County’s heritage and its future,” the plan states. “Kent County cannot afford to have this key element damaged or displaced. This recognition of agriculture’s status as the highest and best use for much of the County is an essential tenet of this Plan.” Maintaining Kent County’s “superior quality of life,” provided through the natural surroundings and preserved heritage, also is of great importance in
the comprehensive plan, though a particular drawback is noted. “This special place has been purchased at a high cost, one of limited job opportunities, particularly for our young citizens,” the plan states. “Although our economy has expanded from natural resources and working lands based industries to a more diversified one that includes manufacturing industries, health care, employment opportunities with Washington College, retail, tourism, and other serviceoriented businesses, we must seek innovative ways to continue economic diversification.” From the plan: “Kent County continues to have the lowest population of any county in Maryland, but in 2010, the Census reported the county’s highest population to date. The County’s 2010 population of 20,197 represents approximately a 5% increase since 2000.” According to the comprehensive plan, Kent County’s growth rate is lower than the Upper Shore, projected at 15 percent, and the state, 9 percent. The Maryland Department of Planning reportedly estimates the county population to grow to 21,400 people by 2020 and 23,500 people by 2040, at an annual rate of .5 percent. The population of residents over 60 years old will continue to grow. While the comprehensive plan calls for the county to continue slowing farms from being turned into residential developments, it states the county’s inventory of existing undeveloped lots is expected to satisfy the next 30 years’ worth of population growth. The comprehensive plan states development should be guided to the county’s unincorporated villages and incorporated municipalities, while expanding the retail and service industries to suit residents’ needs. “Villages can serve as appropriate locations for additional growth provided the level of public services can sustain the proposed amount of development. That is, sufficient public wastewater treatment capacity and/or water supply capacity must exist for villages within a sanitary service area,” the plan states. Among the villages already served by public utilities are Worton, Kennedyville, Tolchester, Edesville and Fairlee. The comprehensive plan calls for the diversification of housing. The plan states that about 79 percent of all residences in the county are single-family detached houses. “Kent offers one of the most desirable residential locations in the Mid-Atlantic Region due to its natural beauty, moderate climate, desirable communities, and proximity to major metropolitan areas. Many of the County’s current housing problems — escalating housing cost and rents, overall demand for housing, and potential pressure of growth — result from these qualities,” the plan states. From the plan: “Seasonal and vacant homes represent a significant percentage (13.2%) of the County’s housing supply. In Maryland, only Worcester and Garrett Counties have a greater percent of seasonal housing than Kent County.” To encourage development for all income levels, the comprehensive plan states that the county will consider incentives for developers. In an effort to bolster affordable housing options, the plan states the county also will encourage new and expanded mobile home parks. Employment continues to be focused in agriculture, education, health care, manufacturing and tourism. Growth is expected in retail due to increased demand for better access to shopping, the plan states. “Many of our young adults after completing their education leave the County in search of alternative economic, social, and cultural opportunities. It is a County priority to retain young citizens by creating jobs that provide a living wage and suitable career opportunities,” the plan states. According to the comprehensive plan, the county will assist the expansion efforts of current employers, the development of small businesses and home-based and cottage industries, the enhancement of maritime trades and the promotion of tourism. The plan also calls for the county to support trade education in public schools, while working with Washington College and Chesapeake College to bolster job opportunities and adult education programs. From the plan: “Kent County is one of the counties with the least amount of forest cover in Maryland. About 24% of Kent County is forested, reflecting the County’s intensive agricultural use. According to the Department of Natural Resources, 64% of streams in Kent County have inadequate forested buffers.” Still, farming and accessory agriculture-related businesses remain the prime focus in promoting the local economy. “Economic development efforts should recognize the need to maintain agriculture’s critical mass which ensures the market for needed agricultural suppliers and services. Effort should be made to attract agricultural related industries that not only provide job opportunities for County residents but also support the diversification of the agricultural industry and use raw materials from area farms,” the plan states. Three focal issues in the chapter on transportation are mass transit, a long-proposed Chestertown bypass and the potential for a Chesapeake Bay crossing in Kent County. The county contracts with Delmarva Community Transit to provide some level of public transportation. The comprehensive plan states that the low population density in Kent County would not support more expensive transit options like a light rail. The comprehensive plan also calls for the development of pedestrian and bicycle trails — notably one linking Chestertown to Worton, the location of the county’s main recreation facilities. The county continues to back a plan to divert state Route 213 through traffic around Chestertown. This would require an additional Chester River bridge to be built. Access would be restricted to state Route 291 and Hopewell Corner, according to the comprehensive plan. “The current truck and agricultural equipment traffic over the Chester River Bridge and through Chestertown causes traffic congestion, safety hazards, and adversely affects local scenic and historic resources,” the plan states. “The proposed Chester River Boulevard will serve as an MD 213 alternative route for these vehicles and also mitigate the negative impacts of escalating roadway traffic.” The comprehensive plan also promotes the construction of an overpass at U.S. Route 301 and state Route 313 between Galena and Massey. While the state continues to study options for a new Chesapeake Bay crossing, the comprehensive plan reinforces local opposition to such a bridge terminating in Kent County. “A northern bridge crossing will have a detrimental impact on the County’s rural landscape and natural resource-based economy. It will undermine the County’s efforts to preserve our agricultural industry and develop a tourism industry based on our cultural, historical, natural, and scenic assets,” the plan states. In addressing the environment, the plan discusses at length the county’s participation in a regional efforts to clean up local waterways and the Bay through the reduction of nutrient and sediment pollution. From the plan: “There are four aquifers that supply nearly all groundwater in Kent County, they are the: Aquia, Monmouth, Magothy (and) Raritan Patapsco. ... Based on (the Maryland Department of the Environment’s) water balance methodology, Kent County’s groundwater recharges at an average rate of over 200 million gallons per day.” According to the comprehensive plan about half of the county relies on septic systems for wastewater treatment and disposal, while public sewer lines are in use in all five towns and select villages. The Maryland Department of Planning growth estimates through 2040 show that about 50 percent of new residents also will rely on septic systems. “While such systems perform a valuable function for rural residents, if not properly maintained, they can become a public health hazard and even when maintained standard septic systems do little to reduce nutrient pollution of groundwater,” the plan states, noting that some areas have groundwater bacterial contamination, among them Golts and Still Pond. The plan also covers protections of plant and wildlife resources, efforts to increase the amount of nontidal wetlands, the conser- vation of the county’s 268 miles of mostly wooded tidal shoreline, the promotion of reforestation coupled with a “no net forest loss strategy,” the maintenance of air quality and management of mineral resources, mostly sand and gravel. In addition to preserving the agriculture industry and the environment, the plan spells out ways of safeguarding historic buildings. “Economically, historic preservation increases property values, stimulates heritage tourism, and fosters supportive commercial services. Culturally, preservation continues and adds to the community fabric enriching the County’s quality of life,” the plan states. From the plan: “Since its creation in 1974 by the Maryland General Assembly, more than 700 properties and structures have been documented in Kent County through the (Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties). ... These listings on the MIHP only reflect approximately 17% of the historic structures in the County.” The Kent County Historic Preservation Commission reviews plans for renovations at designated structures. Also joining preservation efforts as listed in the comprehensive plan are the Historical Society of Kent County, Preservation Maryland and municipal boards. “The County will work with local organizations to develop education and outreach programs to help citizens better understand the benefits and values of owning historic properties. The partnership will make owners of historic properties aware of tax credits, grant and loan programs for restoring historic buildings, and provide information on their proper maintenance and repair,” the plan states. The comprehensive plan calls for the county to look into establishing local incentives such as property tax abatement and credits or waiving permit fees for property owners who list on
the local register of historic places. Heritage-related services also could provide additional income for property owners, according to the plan. “Interpreting the County’s history through guided tours and demonstrations, agritourism for example, would allow residents and visitors to experience firsthand the County’s traditional lifestyles and gain a better appreciation for rural life,” the plan states. The draft under review by the Kent County Commissioners is about 50 pages longer than the 2006 comprehensive plan, though some of the same language was rolled into the new document. The draft update includes maps and tables, locating various resources and highlighting associated statistics. “When adopted, the Plan will serve as the fundamental guide for many County policies and ordinances that pertain to public and private actions concerning land use. Public participation is critical to the success of this process, so residents of Kent County are strongly encouraged to review the Plan and make their thoughts known,” states a news release from consultant EarthData announcing the March 27 public hearing.
The Kent County Comprehensive Plan maintains the preservation of the local agriculture industry as a top priority in land use decisions. A public hearing on the plan is set for Tuesday, March 27.
As natural resources play an important role in the quality of life of Kent County, the comprehensive plan’s chapter on the environment seeks to ensure their conservation.
The preservation of historic properties like Knock’s Folly, completed in the late 1700s, is highlighted in the comprehensive plan as one of the attributes of Kent County’s high quality of life.