Board of Appeals shuts down Guilford development plans
The battle between conservation and development in Charles County continued with the Board of Appeals’ review of the controversial 438-lot Guilford subdivision that was set to be developed in Bryans Road.
Once again, conserva- tion prevailed with the board deciding not to remand the property back to the planning board, but striking it down completely. The process that took six years would have to start all over again if MJM Charles, the property’s developer, chooses to pur- sue it again.
The property in question sits along Billingsley Road in the Bryans Road area, along the Charles County-Prince George’s County line. The plan included an entrance and exit along Billingsley. The property remains undeveloped with no approv- als.
The three issues brought up on the appeal were traffic concerns on Billingsley Road, the environmental impact on the Mattawoman Watershed and county staff not providing the Planning Com- mission with adequate information on either subject to make an accurate determination on what move to make with the project. The board had to make a decision to affirm, remand or deny the project.
Kurt Wolfgang, the lawyer representing the public in opposition to the property, originally requested only that the project be remanded back to the planning board. Eliza- beth Theobalds, the deputy county attorney, said she would have support- ed a decision to remand and believed it was “the right decision.”
However, that final rea- son, Board Vice Chair James Martin said, is what caused the board to strike the project altogether.
The developer withheld negative information from the planning commission and only provided them information beneficial for the project’s approval, Martin said.
“We should do a little more than a remand. I think there should be a penalty,” he said.
The burden of proof was in the developer’s hands, Martin said — not the county staff’s. The staff could have gotten more information, he said, but it was the developer’s responsibility to provide it.
Another reason the project could not move forward from the board of appeals, said board mem- ber Sean Johnston, was due to a lack of availability for public input and public comment during the orig- inal planning commission meetings.
During a public meeting, public comment is not traditionally accepted. However, according to the planning commission’s bylaws, upon request from the commission’s chairman, members of the public can provide input.
Johnston agreed with Martin. That should have happened, he said, but it never did. Instead, he said, the public was discouraged from comment- ing at every turn.
“I’ve seen what I guess I would refer to as a gen- eral resistance to the public’s input,” Johnston said.
The motion to reverse the project’s approval was carried 3-0 with Brendan Moon, chairman of the board, also agreeing to do away with the project.
Moon said the issue of the impact on the Matta- woman watershed proba- bly would not have gotten the project denied if it stood alone, but coupled with the traffic issues and the blatant disregard for necessary information, it was a strong enough case to overturn the planning commission’s decision.
Having lived along Billingsley Road, Moon said, he is aware of how dangerous traffic can be when exiting a subdivi- sion. That issue was not addressed, and the planning commission was told that staff could only examine issues with the in- tersection and not issues with the roads.
However, Moon said, according to the county’s adequate public facilities manual, that was untrue. And that information should have been provid- ed to the planning commission regardless, he said.
In the future, Moon said, issues like these should be avoided. The planning commission is modifying its rules and will soon allow more public testimony during public meetings when subdivisions are discussed. That is necessary, he said, because there are times where the public provides information that experts may miss.
Howard Fink and David Hruda, the representation for the applicant, both left before the meeting closed. Hruda took exception to the fact that the Board of Appeal’s rules permitted any interested party to speak on a subject.
“If there were an illegal person from Alaska who came down here, you mean to tell me they could speak?” he said.
Moon said since the county’s rules permit it, they would be allowed to speak and their testimony would be considered. The more public comment, the better, he said.