Com­mis­sion­ers quar­rel over comp plan

Hand­ful of amend­ments have com­mis­sion­ers up in arms

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

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.

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