Some feel new comp plan is ‘short sighted’

Hodge: Plan could im­pact fu­ture of light rail project

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

The Smarter Growth Al­liance for Charles County got to­gether and cel­e­brated the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers’ new com­pre­hen­sive plan over the week­end.

Bon­nie Bick, a mem­ber of the al­liance, said the com­mis­sion­ers fi­nally heard the pleas “their ac­tual cit­i­zens” have been voic­ing for years.

But not ev­ery­one is

im­pressed by the new plan.

Gary Hodge, a for­mer mem­ber of the board of com­mis­sion­ers and an eco­nomic devel­op­ment con­sul­tant, said the new com­pre­hen­sive plan may have “dev­as­tat­ing” ef­fects on the South­ern Mary­land Rapid Tran­sit light rail project.

Specif­i­cally, Hodge said, amend­ment 23 of the plan which states the county should have a hous­ing mix of 80 per­cent sin­gle fam­ily homes, 15 per­cent town homes and 5 per­cent apart­ment units.

Lim­it­ing the apart­ment units the county can have, Hodge said, will af­fect the us­age and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of the light rail when the project is com­pleted.

“In or­der to bring light rail tran­sit to Charles County, we have to cre­ate a walk­a­ble com­mu­nity where peo­ple can live, work and play within walk­ing dis­tance of fu­ture tran­sit sta­tions,” Hodge said.

The county’s eco­nomic fu­ture is linked to the tran­sit sys­tem, Hodge said. “You can’t have one with­out the other.”

And while the amend­ment seems to be a con­tra­dic­tion to the county’s fu­ture plans of devel­op­ment and tran­sit, Hodge said the county has made clear that the light rail project is still in its pri­or­i­ties.

In its let­ter to Pete Rahn, sec­re­tary of trans­porta­tion for the Mary­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion, the county listed the light rail tran­sit sys­tem as one of its trans­porta­tion pri­or­i­ties.

The Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion also has the light rail project listed as one of its “new starts” projects be­hind the Pur­ple Line in Prince Ge­orge’s County and Cor­ri­dor Cities Tran­sit­way.

So it is clear, Hodge said, that the light rail re­mains a pri­or­ity for the county de­spite amend­ments that may ham­per it. It is be­cause of this, Hodge said, that the amend­ment will need to be re­vis­ited within the next few years.

The com­pre­hen­sive plan is re­done ev­ery 10 years, but within the next three years the state will look to move into the plan­ning phase of the light rail project. Hodge said there will be more con­crete de­tails and specifics for the project af­ter the state con­cludes its study on the light rail sys­tem this fall.

Another is­sue with the plan, ac­cord­ing to some res­i­dents, was shrink­ing the county’s devel­op­ment district to the size of its pri­or­ity fund­ing area. There is con­cern among some that this may ham­per the growth of the western por­tion of the county in the In­dian Head and Bryans Road area.

Gil Bauser­man owns Mary­land Air­port in In­dian Head, which is next to the land the county pre­vi­ously in­tended to use for the In­dian Head Sci­ence and Tech Park. He said shift­ing that land into the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion district cre­ates an is­sue for the eco­nomic fu­ture of that area of the county.

The Mary­land Air­port will con­tinue to do well, he said, but the growth po­ten­tial for the area is hurt by the com­mis­sion­ers’ new “short-sighted” plan.

“Their de­ci­sion was based on pol­i­tics and ig­nores the in­put of our fed­eral and state part­ners, the county’s own staff and the land use ex­perts that cre­ated the county-funded air­port and land use study,” Bauser­man said.

The county had pre­vi­ously funded a study show­ing the po­ten­tial of the land around the air­port and what the In­dian Head Tech Park could be. But there has been some push­back from the Smarter Growth Al­liance claim­ing the stud­ies be­ing called upon are out­dated with the land hav­ing yet to ex­pe­ri­ence any growth or in­ter­est from busi­ness part­ners.

The air­port has a “pos­i­tive 2016 fore­cast” from the Fed­eral Aviation Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Bauser­man said. With more room for aviation tech­ni­cians and pro­fes­sion­als, the air­port can still serve as an eco­nomic en­gine. But over­all, he said, the plan is still a bad one for the western por­tion of the county.

“The com­mis­sion­ers have once again missed a chance to fos­ter the type of eco­nomic devel­op­ment our county needs, es­pe­cially in Western Charles,” Bauser­man said.

Hodge said the western side of the county will con­tinue to suf­fer and lose devel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties be­cause of the plan the com­mis­sion­ers passed.

“No ex­perts were called in, no stake­hold­ers were con­sulted, no peo­ple like me who were work­ing this is­sue for 10 years. None of us were brought in to dis­cuss this with the board as a whole to ad­vise them of the de­struc­tive na­ture of that pro­posal,” Hodge said.

It is dis­ap­point­ing, he said, to see op­por­tu­nity “slip through” the hands of county of­fi­cials.

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