Citizens have their say on comp plan
Where and where not to develop main targets of public discussion
Many people would divide Charles County into two sectors: Those encouraging more development and those hopeful development will slow down. During Tuesday’s comprehensive plan hearing, both sides showed up.
But what ensued was discussion, satisfaction and
balanced takes on issues in the county. County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said this was one of few public hearings where “policy and principle and not politics” shined through.
“This is going to be this board’s legacy. It’s my feeling that if these amendments are added to the comprehensive plan, it should ensure great quality of life for generations who will call Charles County home,” Robinson said. “It was really about people reacting to changes we made to the original comprehensive plan.”
Many at the hearing praised the board of commissioners for making amendments that were environmentally friendly and catered to the needs of Mattawoman Creek.
Overall, 71 speakers chimed in on some of the amendments proposed earlier this month by Robinson and County Commissioner Amanda Stewart (D). Some questioned whether the commissioners would consider including a 1,160 acre area south of Billingsley Road in the county’s priority funding area and leave it open to development, move the Indian Head Tech Park and land surrounding the Maryland Airport into the county’s Watershed Conservation District, require developers to keep 10 to 15 percent of their units in subdivisions “moderately priced” and create an affordable housing committee.
Peggy Ireland, an Indian Head Manor resident, said she is pleased to see the amendments proposed by the commissioners and hopes they eventually move on to pass them. She said finally the county commissioners are hearing the voices of their constituents.
“We’re finally being heard,” Ireland said. “We felt like no one was hearing us. But now you’re hearing us.”
Lisa Garlock, also an Indian Head Manor resident, agreed with Ireland and echoed her sentiments. Preserving the county’s natural resources should be the top priority of the comprehensive plan, she said.
“We love our county. We love our trees and our streams and our valleys and our eagles. I know a lot of places, when they start overdeveloping, a lot of these resources go away,” Garlock said.
Beverly Johnson, a Waldorf resident, said the county does have the right ideas in place with the amendments proposed for the comprehensive plan. She is satisfied, but the county can still do more to preserve the natural resources in it and protect the environment.
Part of that, Johnson said, is keeping the population density down. The comprehensive plan has a targeted growth rate of 1.7 percent to 2.0 percent. That is too high, she said.
“We should be targeting people who come and play and go away and not people who come and stay,” Johnson said. Tourism should be more of an emphasis for economic development, not more build out and development on the streets, she said.
Robinson said he would also like to see tourism be emphasized more in the county, but that is not within the scope of the comprehensive plan, he said. It is something the county may look at going forward, however.
Roger Fink from the Scott Law group located in La Plata argued the 1,160 acres south of Billingsley Road should not be designated as part of the county’s watershed conservation district. That designation “lacks any reasonable basis” for any land outside of the Mattawoman Creek watershed, he said.
“I was the county attorney when this land was included in the county’s priority funding area. The priority funding area implements Maryland’s smart growth initiative,” Fink said. “It was owned for growth.”
Ed Fleming, the president of Walton Development, agreed with Fink and said the county should leave the 1,160 acres open for development in its priority funding area. Fleming said there is a proper balance in finding ways to develop the county while preserving its natural resources, and he is disappointed the county has not figured out how to do it yet.
Including this area, which is not near the Mattawoman watershed, he said, would have little effect in preserving the county’s natural resources. Fleming said the decision to do so would be “disingenuous.”
“The decision that the board of commissioners is poised to make is tantamount to a construction moratorium,” Fleming said.
Gil Bauserman, the owner of the Maryland Airport in Indian Head, brought up the issue of designating the Indian Head Tech Park and land surrounding the airport as part of the watershed conservation district. This would restrict business around the airport and stunt the area’s future growth, he said.
The airport has “more open land than a golf course,” Bauserman said, and there are only 15 acres of land available for commercial construction.
“It would limit the airport for only that 15 acres and no expansion. The FAA and the state, when they put money into an airport, they expect, once it’s fully developed, it will expand,” Bauserman said.
Bauserman also said turning Bryans Road into a mixed use village and removing some of the capability for development will result in “businesses drying up” in the area.
Overall, Robinson said, the discussion was fruitful and people got their points across without politicizing issues. The commissioners will have another work session and discuss what they heard from the public throughout the hearing.
There will be more opportunity to add, he said.
County Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D), during the county commissioner’s meeting, said he wanted to apologize to the county’s planning commission for all of the proposed changes to the document they put together.
Robinson said, personally, he does not have anything more to add to the document. He just wants it to reflect the future of Charles County, he said.