Planning Commission passes comprehensive plan to county board of commissioners
The county’s comprehensive plan has not been updated since 2006, but after a unanimous motion from the Charles County Planning Commission, that will change this year.
During Monday’s meeting, the planning commission voted 7-0 to move the comprehensive plan out of their hands and into the hands of the Charles County Board of Commissioners. Planning Commission Chairman Buddy Bowling said the community played a part in creating the plan.
“I thank everyone for their participation and their comments. I also thank the general public for bringing things to our attention that needed to be brought to our attention,” Bowling said.
Now that the plan has been moved forward by the planning commissioners, the county commissioners will have a chance to look at it and make whatever changes they deem necessary to move the plan forward and pass it.
Previously, according to County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D), the board of commissioners did not have the power to make any changes to the document. Because they could not make any changes to the last document and had to remand it back to the planning commission, the plan was never passed in 2012 like it should have been.
But during last year’s General Assembly session in Annapolis, the state passed legislation permitting commission boards around the state to make changes to comprehensive plans.
After the board makes its changes, Robinson said, staff will have to review the document. The process could take up to six months, he said, but the process has changed for the better. After staff reviews the plan, there will be comprehensive zoning changes to reflect the final product.
“In the past, the commissioners could only accept or reject what was sent to us by the planning commission.” Robinson said. “This time around there’s a big difference.”
Robinson said he has not seen the plan as of yet, but there could be “significant changes” made on it once the commissioners take a deep dive into it.
Included in the current plan are changes to the county’s land map, such as designating a new redevelopment district over the Waldorf Urban Redevelopment Corridor, the creation of a new transit corridor focusing on development density around the U.S. 301 corridor from Waldorf to White Plains to make the county suitable for its proposed light rail project.
There was also the inclusion of the watershed conservation district incorporating what the plan calls “most of” the Mattawoman stream valley, plus 1,160ex- tra acres extending into Port Tobacco’s watershed area.
Jim Long, the president of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, said he would like to see a plan keeping conservation in mind and developing “where it makes sense.”
Robinson, similarly, said conserving different areas in the county will be a priority once he digs in to the plan. Robinson said redeveloping areas should take precedence over any new proposed developments and conserving as much natural land as possible has to be important to the county.
“You only get one chance to preserve,” Robinson said.
Long said the Mattawoman Watershed Society will continue to make recommendations on where and how to conserve areas where they can.
The zoning in the Watershed Conservation District is a start, but there is still work to be done, Long said. He is happy there will be no deferred development around the Mattawoman Creek area, but there is still more land to cover and more work to be done.
The watershed society will continue to recommend 10 percent impervious surface caps and different ways to protect the species within the stream valley.
The plan also features a new plan for economic development to expand the county’s employment base and address commercial land needs. According to the plan, there will be a demand for 2,773 acres for employment development through 2040 and that there are 6,807 acres of undeveloped land in Charles County designated for commercial employment uses.
The board of commissioners have remained hands-off with the comprehensive plan up until this point. County Commissioners’ Vice President Debra Davis (D) said she is not looking at any specific areas, but wants a thorough and thoughtful plan for the county’s future.
“A good comprehensive plan would be a comprehensive plan that deals with the county’s needs, not only for now but into the future for infrastructure and growth,” Davis said.
She said transportation is going to be an essential part of the plan and it is something the commissioners will have a chance to properly address when looking at it for the first time.
County Commissioner Amanda Stewart (D) shared Davis’ sentiment and said she wants a plan that works for the future of Charles County and not just now.
The plan also has to keep in mind the balance of preserving the area’s natural resources while acknowledging where the county is headed with development in the future.