Spar­ring be­gins on com­pre­hen­sive plan

Pub­lic wants bal­ance in de­vel­op­ment, preser­va­tion re­flected in up­date

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

Charles County is slated to ap­prove its first com­pre­hen­sive plan since 2006, but dur­ing the first pub­lic hear­ing on the doc­u­ment Tues­day evening, many cit­i­zens and or­ga­ni­za­tion heads ar­gued noth­ing has changed from the pre­vi­ous plan to this one.

The plan sup­ports de­vel­op­ment projects through­out the county, in­clud­ing

the Charles County trans­porta­tion cor­ri­dor that would host light rail, the pro­posed Wal­dorf Civic Cen­ter and the In­dian Head Tech Park.

But the Charles County Al­liance for Smarter Growth, a coali­tion of re­gional and state or­ga­ni­za­tions with nearly 5,000 mem­bers, are claim­ing what the com­pre­hen­sive plan sup­ports could do ir­re­versible dam­age to the county’s wa­ter ways.

Jim Long, pres­i­dent of the Mat­ta­woman Wa­ter­shed So­ci­ety, said the com­pre­hen­sive plan presents what may be the “last chance” for the county to save streams and wa­ter­sheds in­clud­ing Mat­ta­woman Creek.

“Unchecked growth from past plans has changed Mat­ta­woman Creek, from the most pro­tec­tive tip­ping point to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay,” Long said. “We’re at the tip­ping point of ir­re­versible de­cline.”

Long sug­gested cap­ping the im­per­vi­ous sur­face ra­tio at 9.8 per­cent, where it is cur­rently, would do a great deal for pre­serv­ing the land and wa­ter­ways around Charles County.

Hav­ing a cap would mean the county would not stop ap­prov­ing de­vel­op­ment un­til the prob­lems in the county’s wa­ter­ways are solved. But Long said the county is “al­ready at the limit” of roofs, roads and park­ing lots be­ing ap­proved be­fore the Smart Growth Al­liance says ir­re­versible dam­age will hap­pen to Mat­ta­woman.

The goals of the al­liance are to re­duce the growth rate of the plan. The com­pre­hen­sive plan sets the ideal growth rate of the county at 1.7 to 2 per­cent, but the al­liance says that num­ber is too high.

The en­tire Mat­ta­woman stream val­ley needs to be in­cluded in the Wa­ter­shed Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict, Long said, not just part of it. Keep­ing the Mar­bury, Ri­son and Pis­gah ar­eas as ru­ral con­ser­va­tion zones and mark­ing Bryans Road as a mixed use vil­lage is also a pri­or­ity, he said.

Ken Hast­ings, a mem­ber of the Ma­son Springs Con­ser­vancy group, said the 9.8 per­cent im­per­vi­ous sur­face thresh­old has likely been crossed by now and has moved into 10 per­cent. Degra­da­tion in the streams around the county has been recorded and not much is be­ing done about it, he said. The plan could change that.

“Imag­ine my sur­prise when I watched the slideshows in the last meet­ing say­ing that there would be no prob­lem main­tain­ing a 10 per­cent im­per­vi­ous sur­face build­out,” Hast­ings said. “I don’t know what hap­pened.”

Hast­ings said he doubts the staff will rec­om­mend the county stops where they are, but there is some­thing wrong with the data flow go­ing through the county. Even with the county’s num­bers mea­sur­ing where they do, they “don’t really mat­ter at this point,” he said.

“We’re al­ready at the tip­ping point for the creek,” Hast­ings said.

Takako Mato, a Bryans Road res­i­dent, said the area is al­ready de­vel­op­ing too quickly for her. The com­pre­hen­sive plan would add more de­vel­op­ment, she said, es­pe­cially in the Bryans Road area.

The plan sup­ports Bryans Road adding an ad­di­tional 8,000 hous­ing units and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment in that area. Mato said she does not want to see that hap­pen.

“Charles County is de­vel­op­ing too rapidly for me. One day I’m driv­ing and say­ing ‘Wow, they cut down a tree.’ The next day I’m driv­ing and say­ing ‘There’s some­thing al­ready built,’” Mato said. “This cur­rent com­pre­hen­sive plan will de­stroy the nat­u­ral beauty of Charles County.”

More peo­ple will move into the county with more de­vel­op­ment and more peo­ple mov­ing in means “more cars and trash,” Mato said. That will af­fect the streams in Mat­ta­woman and, be­cause of that, fish habi­tats will be de­stroyed, she said.

How­ever, not ev­ery­one was dis­sat­is­fied with the county’s plan. The Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources thinks the plan will ul­ti­mately ben­e­fit the county and finds a del­i­cate bal­ance between de­vel­op­ment and preser­va­tion.

Tony Red­man, an of­fi­cial with the state’s depart­ment of nat­u­ral re­sources, said the county fol­lowed through on many of the 15 rec­om­men­da­tions made in a re­port on the Mat­ta­woman wa­ter­shed de­vel­oped in 2012.

The re­port high­lighted is­sues in the Mat­ta­woman wa­ter­shed and made rec­om­men­da­tions to cor­rect those is­sues such as set­ting an im­per­vi­ous sur­face limit of 10 per­cent for the area sur­round­ing the wa­ter­shed and set­ting bound­aries for de­vel­op­ment along the wa­ter­shed.

Red­man was one of the au­thors in the re­port, and he said they found the Mat­ta­woman was an eco­nomic driver for the county as well as an im­por­tant nat­u­ral re­source.

The stream is at a tip­ping point, Red­man said, but this pro­posed com­pre­hen­sive plan has so­lu­tions in it.

“[The Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources] is ex­tremely pleased that the county heard our case for the Mat­ta­woman,” Red­man said. “Af­ter hav­ing re­viewed the draft plan I’m hard pressed to find one of the rec­om­men­da­tions that we made that have not been ad­dressed.”

Bon­nie Mor­ris, chair­elect of the Charles County Cham­ber of Com­merce, said she and the cham­ber are sat­is­fied with how the plan al­lows for the ex­pan­sion of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in dif­fer­ent parts of the county.

The plan also main­tains the qual­ity of life around the re­gion, Mor­ris said, “all with­out dis­turb­ing the rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions of the cit­i­zenry of per­mis­si­ble use of real prop­erty.”

“The up­date builds upon the work and progress of the pre­vi­ous com­pre­hen­sive plan of 2006,” Mor­ris said. “This has re­sulted in Charles County be­ing a di­verse and vi­brant area.”

This is just the first work ses­sion for the com­pre­hen­sive plan. The county hopes to adopt the plan on July 12, but will have more work ses­sions in between. There will be an­other pub­lic hear­ing on the plan on June 21 that will re­flect any changes made by the county com­mis­sion­ers.

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