Sparring begins on comprehensive plan
Public wants balance in development, preservation reflected in update
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.