Commissioners quarrel over comp plan
Handful of amendments have commissioners up in arms
After several proposed amendments from the Charles County Board of Commissioners and a public hearing, the county’s comprehensive plan is finally starting to take shape.
Commissioners have previously stated this plan will be the foundation laid for the county over the next couple of decades, so the decisions made on the plan are critical.
That is one of the reasons why there were very few amendments to the plan passing with unanimous votes during Tuesday afternoon’s county commissioners meeting.
Out of 26 proposed amendments, only six were approved by a unanimous vote. A majority of the voted amendments were 3-2 decisions with commissioners Amanda Stewart (D), Ken Robinson (D) and Commissioner President Peter Murphy (D) voting one way and Commissioner Vice President Debra Davis (D) and Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) voting another.
Murphy said he appreciated the commission’s dedication to the comprehensive plan and described the discussion throughout the day as “robust.”
Through the amendments voted on, Murphy said, the commissioners were able to “express their opinions and philosophies on how the county should grow.”
“That’s how democracy works,” he said.
But Davis disagreed with Murphy, saying the discussion was not as “robust” as it was being characterized and, should some of the amendments remain in the comprehensive plan, the county may end up regretting its decisions down the road.
Davis took issue with proposed amendments limiting the county’s ability to develop land in some of the more rural areas of the county.
Both Davis and Rucci voted against amendments designating Bryans Road as a mixed-use village rather than a growth center, including the land designated for the Indian Head Tech Park in the county’s Watershed Conservation District, granting a rural conservation designation for the Marbury and Nanjemoy areas, reducing the county’s development district to the size of its priority funding area, and one requiring developers to keep 10-15 percent of housing units “moderately priced.”
Davis said she welcomes affordable housing and preserving rural lands to the best of the county’s ability, but said the citizens she has spoken with are asking for more development — and many of the proposed amendments deter that.
Some of the proposed amendments are “illegal and ill-advised,” Davis said, proposing an amendment that would remove 1,160 acres south of Billingsley Road from the county’s Watershed Conservation District and open it for development.
Davis said people in the Marshall Hall and Marbury area are looking for amenities like nearby grocery stores and community centers, but the proposed amendments would “shut down this side of the county,” she said.
But Robinson stood firm behind his proposal and said that area would not be “an area that is appropriate for development.”
“I’m concerned we’re creating a county of the haves and have-nots,” Davis said. “I believe there are some unintended consequences that are based on financial status and based on race.”
Gary Hodge, an economic development consultant for the Town of Indian Head and a former county commissioner, said with some of the amendments, the county would all but completely shut down the potential for light rail. The commissioners had marked this as one of their top priorities in a letter to Pete Rahn, secretary of transportation at the Maryland Department of Transportation.
This could be a major hit to economic development, Hodge said, and could hinder the county’s ability to get people to come and “play, stay and recreate.”
The county will not be able to move forward until it “embraces economic development,” Davis said. Rucci agreed with Davis, saying the previous comprehensive plan designated these areas for development and now the commission is taking away what was promised.
“We promote things and now we go back on our word. It’s hard to bring people into our county if you say we’re trying to do this and now we’re going to stop it,” Rucci said.
Rucci proposed an amendment that would keep part of the land around the Indian Head Tech Park development area, which is near the Maryland Airport, accessible for development. But the amendment was voted down 2-3 with Robinson, Stewart and Murphy all voting against it.
Davis said there would be more facts needed about these amendments before she would consider approving them.
But Robinson said the amendments turning many rural areas are coming after the county has had ample opportunity to develop places such as the Indian Head Tech Park. Studies have also shown, he said, that having the tech park would not be the proper land use.
“There was never any interest,” Robinson said.
As far as housing goes, Davis said the solutions being proposed such as requiring a set percentage of units in subdivisions to be “moderately priced” and setting percentages for the county’s available single family units, town homes and apartments at 80 percent, 15 percent and 5 percent, respectively, are short sighted “Band-aid” solutions without much research behind them.
But Stewart said she gathered information from other jurisdictions who use the same strate- gies, did her own research and came up with a solution she says is workable.
“I have to disagree, this is not shortsighted. I challenge the idea that this needs further study. I speak with people in the county and they’re tired of hearing that we need to ‘study, study, study,’” Stewart said.
Overall, Davis said, so much space is being put into conservation there should be some workable compromise the commissioners can come to, such as removing the 1,160 acres from the county’s watershed conservation district.
“It complies with our intention to have smart growth and workable neighborhoods,” she said.