Commissioners continue to emphasize transparency during town hall meeting
Development process, public comments discussed
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.