Com­mis­sion­ers con­tinue to em­pha­size trans­parency dur­ing town hall meet­ing

De­vel­op­ment process, pub­lic com­ments dis­cussed

Maryland Independent - - News - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

On sched­ule with its quar­terly town hall meet­ings, the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers hosted its Dis­trict 3 town hall at the Wal­dorf West Li­brary Sept. 27.

The com­mis­sion­ers host quar­terly town hall meet­ings to ad­dress the is­sues and con­cerns com­mu­nity mem­bers may have. Dur­ing the re­cent meet­ing, the is­sue of pub­lic com­ment and trans­parency came up.

Ken Hast­ings, a mem­ber of the Ma­son Springs Con­ser­vancy group, said the plan­ning com­mis­sion is fi­nally ad­dress­ing the “catch-22” is­sue of al­low­ing pub­lic com­ment on sub­di­vi­sion plans dur­ing meet­ings. Pre­vi­ously, those wish­ing to make com­ments had to be a party of con­cern to the plan. But if you can­not tes­tify, you can­not be a party as well, he said.

There will also po­ten­tially be early con­cept plan re­view, Hast­ings said, which al­lows for early vet­ting of de­vel­oper needs and com­mu­nity con­cerns. But still, Hast­ings said, it is un­clear on ap­peals whether a per­son has to be a “per­son, party or ap­pli­cant.”

“So at some point I think the county re­ally needs to de­cide which one of those you want to use,” Hast­ings said.

Plan­ning and Growth Man­age­ment Di­rec­tor Steve Kaii-Zei­gler said the is­sues that Hast­ings brought up are be­ing ad­dressed. Cur­rent rules and reg­u­la­tions are old, he said, and need to be brought up to date. That’s why it is cur­rently un­clear, he said, when the pub­lic can com­ment on sub­di­vi­sions and there may be some con­fu­sion on ap­peals.

“We op­er­ate un­der a set of rules and pro­ce­dures. The ones that ex­ist in Charles County are pretty old. They haven’t been up­dated in some num­ber of years,” Kaii-Zei­gler said.

The county’s “cul­ture,” he said, has been to keep the ci­ti­zens’ com­ments limited to “per­sonal ap­pear­ances.” But the cur­rent view of the county, he said, is that ci­ti­zens should be able to com­ment on projects and sub­di­vi­sions.

There will also be zon­ing code changes that al­low con­cept plans and give no­tice to ci­ti­zens on de­vel­op­ment com­ing early in the process, Kaii-Zei­gler said. With those two poli­cies com­bined, ci­ti­zens will know more about projects and have more op­por­tu­nity to speak on them.

“We’re tak­ing ma­jor steps to open up our pro­cesses,” he said.

County at­tor­ney Rhonda Weaver said as far as ap­peals go, the county is work­ing on clear­ing up the lan­guage in its pol­icy to make ju­ris­dic­tions clear. Things will “start to roll out” soon, she said.

“All of those things are be­ing worked on. They’re be­ing writ­ten up,” Weaver said.

County Com­mis­sioner Amanda Ste­wart (D) said one of the things the com­mis­sion­ers made clear to the county’s staff when they took of­fice was that they were go­ing to re­main trans­par­ent through­out their ten­ure.

“We weren’t just go­ing to use the word trans­parency. We wanted to set pol­icy to make sure that gov­ern­ment was more in­clu­sive to the ev­ery­day per­son,” Ste­wart said.

Peo­ple should not have to be a “busi­ness or cor­po­ra­tion or spe­cial in­ter­est” to be able to be in­cluded in any process, she said. The process is un­der eval­u­a­tion right now to en­sure they can ac­com­plish that, she said.

“I’m very ex­cited about see­ing a process where we can in­clude the ev­ery­day res­i­dent,” she said.

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