Some feel new comp plan is ‘short sighted’
Hodge: Plan could impact future of light rail project
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.