Development requirements change with new comprehensive plan zoning
Residents debate what new limits will bring
Over and over again, supporters of Charles County’s newly ratified comprehensive plan have talked positively about how the plan eliminates “sprawl” development.
Local environmentalists and plan supporters have said the Charles County commissioners should be commended for passing a plan that citizens have been asking for for years.
“They finally listened to what their actual citizens wanted,” Bonnie Bick, former Chapman’s Forest Foundation president and Sierra Club member, said when the commissioners first passed the plan.
But the controversy over the 105-acre plot of land in Nanjemoy being considered for the Washington’s Discovery subdivision being planned by Lorenzi, Dodds and Gunnill, a landscaping architecture and environmental planning group, has prompted discussion among citizens on whether larger subdivisions such as this one are in the spirit of the county’s new comprehensive plan.
Bick and others have said this subdivision plan would go against the spirit of the county’s new comprehensive plan and is exactly what sprawl development looks like. Subdivisions like this one may do harm to the environment in irreparable ways, she said.
The area is in Nanjemoy,
which the county has plans on changing to a rural legacy area, Bick said, and will be designated as a priority preservation area. A development like this prevents preservation, she said.
While some believe large subdivisions like Washington’s Discovery are being lined up for approval, others say they could be in danger with the new comprehensive plan’s zoning regulations.
Outside of the county’s development district in the northern portion of the county, which is the same size as its priority funding area, there will be many considerations planners have to make when creating a site plan for a project.
County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said the next stage in the process for the comprehensive plan is to officially re-zone the county according to the plan.
New zoning will be developed according to different land use districts in the county. Densities across the county for different zones will change.
Robinson said it will take “about a year” to complete all the changes in the process.
The commissioners will be briefed sometime this month on the schedule for zoning implementation over the next year for the comprehensive plan, Robinson said.
“We think it’s going to be a year long process. There are a lot of changes and each one of those goes through the public process,” Robinson said. “We want to make sure we get it right.”
In the county’s watershed conservation district, which includes the Mattawoman Stream Valley area along with 1,160 acres east of the district that include the Port Tobacco watershed area, there will be one dwell- ing unit permitted per 20 acres.
Densities in agricultural conservation and rural conservation areas are also shifting from one unit per three acres to one unit per 10 acres.
Gary Hodge, a former county commissioner and economic development consultant, said this will be detrimental to property owners in the western and southern portions of the county.
With the amount of space for development shrinking per acre, Hodge said, the plans for developing land must change.
“We really don’t have any idea how this plan will change things,” he said. “We’re talking one unit per 20 acres. That’s huge.”
Within the comprehensive plan, the county acknowledges that there were previous projects planned in the area where the watershed conservation district is now located that required sewer and water. Those projects will have legal, non-conforming uses once zoning is official according to the plan.
But still, Hodge said, for common citizens and property owners in Charles County, that changes what they can do in the future. And that may affect how people view Charles County in the future.
There are still some who are disappointed in developments continuously being approved.
Linda Redding, a Nanjemoy resident living on Adams Willett Road, said she is in opposition of the Washington’s Discovery plan, but also said the surrounding area cannot support such development.
Redding said the planning commission has been “rubber stamping” projects like this over many years. Washington’s Discovery, along with other subdivisions, need more consideration before approval, she said.
The board of county commissioners is aware that the planning commission is reviewing the Washington’s Discovery, but like any other plan, they will remain out of it Robinson said.
He said the county commissioners completely place their trust in the planning commission and believe they will make the right decisions regarding any subdivision plans, large or small, that come before them. As long as they fit the land use criteria for the area, he said, things will be fine.