County must re­think growth with new Com­pre­hen­sive plan

Fu­ture de­vel­op­ment con­tin­ues to be source of con­tention

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

take away nat­u­ral re­sources, Robin­son said.

And, ul­ti­mately, Robin­son said, strate­gies like chang­ing those two ar­eas tier des­ig­na­tions and chang­ing Bryans Road into a mixed-use vil­lage rather than a growth cen­ter will shift lim­it­ing, but there are some who be­lieve new strate­gies for growth are at­tain­able while fo­cus­ing on preser­va­tion.

Charles County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) has con­sis­tently said the county’s new com­pre­hen­sive plan, de­spite be­ing called short-sighted by some in the busi­ness com­mu­nity, is what is best for the county mov­ing for­ward.

Ar­eas like Nan­je­moy and Mar­bury, which were pre­vi­ously open to de­vel­op­ment be­fore be­ing changed to ru­ral con­ser­va­tion ar­eas, just were not fit for land shift­ing projects that would

Just like with any­thing, there are al­ways two sides to ev­ery story. And the new Charles County Com­pre­hen­sive Plan is no dif­fer­ent.

There are some who be­lieve the plan is short sighted and

op­por­tu­ni­ties to other places in West­ern Charles County.

“I think by chang­ing the des­ig­na­tion we will be en­cour­ag­ing de­vel­op­ment, or re­de­vel­op­ment in In­dian Head,” Robin­son said. “There is cer­tainly enough aban­doned strip malls and build­ings that we can re­de­velop it with­out hav­ing to cut down a sin­gle tree.”

But while the plan has poli­cies ded­i­cated to lim­it­ing “sprawl de­vel­op­ment,” there are some who ques­tion the county’s abil­ity to grow in such a re­duced area.

David Jenk­ins, the chief ex­ec­u­tive officer of the South­ern Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Real­tors, said, with the plan be­ing just ap­proved and put into law, it re­mains un­clear what ef­fects it could have on the real es­tate mar­ket in the county.

Specif­i­cally, Jenk­ins said, amend­ments per­tain­ing to hous­ing will have some type of ef­fect on the real es­tate mar­ket. The amend­ment re­quir­ing the county to have an 80-15-5 per­cent­age split be­tween sin­gle fam­ily homes, town­homes and apart­ment com­plexes as well as the one re­quir­ing de­vel­op­ers to make 10 to 15 per­cent of the homes in a 20 unit sub­di­vi­sion “mod­er­ately priced.”

“There will be some ef­fect. We just don’t know what it is yet,” Jenk­ins said. “It’s hard to say what will hap­pen. It’s kind of an un­known ter­ri­tory.”

The best part of the plan, Robin­son said, is that it “clearly des­ig­nates” what ar­eas should and should not be de­vel­oped. That is what the plan was pre­vi­ously miss­ing and what the county needed be­fore.

Shrink­ing the county’s de­vel­op­ment district will not hurt busi­ness, he said, but will give it more di­rec­tion. And there are other ways to grow the county eco­nom­i­cally with­out re­duc­ing its nat­u­ral re­sources.

The county re­duced its de­vel­op­ment district from 52,200 acres to 23,360 acres to en­com­pass its pri­or­ity fund­ing area in the north­ern Wal­dorf por­tion of the county.

Over­all, that may not be a bad thing for busi­ness. But it is too early to tell at this point, Jenk­ins said.

Jim Long, pres­i­dent of the Mat­ta­woman Wa­ter­shed So­ci­ety, said he and the so­ci­ety are thrilled by what the plan of­fers to the county.

“For the first time in a long time,” he said, it takes Mat­ta­woman Creek pro­tec­tion se­ri­ously.

Long said the need for de­vel­op­ment in the county is not greater than the need to pro­tect the creek.

“I don’t have a good an­swer for why peo­ple do not sup­port this plan,” Long said. “When you look back, peo­ple were quite tired of unchecked growth that brings over­crowded schools and con­gested com­muter routes.”

When the de­bate over a new com­pre­hen­sive plan started in 2011, Long said, peo­ple made clear that they did not want to see more de­vel­op­ment but wanted to see the county’s ru­ral side fur­ther pre­served. This plan ad­dresses those peo­ple, he said.

But Brian Klaas, a mem­ber of the board of di­rec­tors at the Charles County Cham­ber of Com­merce, said the county pre­vi­ously came to com­pro­mises, and that is some­thing that was not done with the new plan.

The vi­a­bil­ity of the west­ern por­tion of the county, es­pe­cially In­dian Head, Klaas said, will likely suf­fer a great deal. De­vel­op­ments like the now de­funct In­dian Head Tech Park, could have served as an eco­nomic hub for the county.

The trust peo­ple place in the board of com­mis­sion­ers in the west­ern por­tion of the county will con­tinue to di­min­ish, Klaas said, be­cause of pre­vi­ous prom­ises made.

“The thing about the west­ern side of the county is that we feel prom­ises over the years have been made and prom­ise af­ter prom­ise has been bro­ken,” Klaas said.

Many sup­port­ers of the county’s new com­pre­hen­sive plan are peo­ple who ini­tially en­dorsed the de­vel­op­ment of a 50 acre sec­tion of land in Chap­man’s Forest for de­vel­op­ment in 2005, Klaas said, in­clud­ing Bon­nie Bick of the Mat­ta­woman Cam­paign for the Sierra Club.

But the let­ter does not ex­plic­itly state the county would build the tech park on that land de­spite that be­com­ing the even­tual plan of the com­mis­sion­ers in 2005. There is no men­tion of the tech park in the let­ter.

But Klaas said it seems as though every­one is “go­ing back on their word” and that does not bode well for the busi­ness fu­ture of the county.

But Robin­son said the tech park never had much in­ter­est from any busi­nesses and should never have been an idea in the first place. The tech park was des­ig­nated for an area meant to be pre­served.

This was not an ini­tia­tive started by the cur­rent board of county com­mis­sion­ers. Robin­son said there were out­side pres­sures to keep the tech park as a vi­able op­tion, but “you have to do what you think is best,” he said. What was best was pre­serv­ing the county’s nat­u­ral re­sources.

Plus, there are other ways to grow the county eco­nom­i­cally that are cur­rently be­ing worked on. In 2017, Mal­lows Bay will likely be­come a National Sanc­tu­ary and lead to many tourism op­por­tu­ni­ties in Charles County. It will be one of the big­gest com­modi­ties in the county, he said.

“For ex­am­ple, we just at­tracted At­lantic Kayak to lo­cate in In­dian Head, which was lo­cated in Alexan­dria [Vir­ginia], right on to Mat­ta­woman Creek,” Robin­son said. “That’s small busi­ness. And when Mal­lows Bay is des­ig­nated as a marine sanc­tu­ary, that’s go­ing to bring a lot of vis­i­tors to the county to en­joy what we have. This com­pre­hen­sive plan will en­sure it will con­tinue to be that way.”

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