Planning commission debates effects of watershed conservation district
Member concerned property values in area will be damaged
The county is still working on creating policy to match the regulation of the comprehensive plan conserving the county’s natural resources in its southern portion.
During Monday’s Charles County Planning Commis- sion meeting, Steve Ball, the county’s director of planning, came to break down the conservation district for the Charles County Planning Commission and discuss the next steps the county will take in having the watershed conservation district finalized in the western and southern areas of the county.
The district will cover a majority, if not all, of the Mattawoman Creek and Port Tobacco watershed areas in the county, Ball said. It was necessary to protect the county’s natural resources.
But to do that, he said, there were some sacrifices made for potential development in those areas. This is something the county is still managing and notifying its residents of, he said.
“It’s a significant change that affects a large amount of property in our community. We’re getting the word out and we’re getting advertisements out,” Ball said.
Planning Commission Vice President Joan Jones said she has concerns about the
effect the district could have on residents and property owners in that area. Many of the areas now in the district were places the county planned on developing and places residents moved into with plans on living in for the future. Now that is chang- ing, she said.
“We’re talking about the rural conservation district that was at one time being considered for development,” she said. “I’m look- ing at people. How does this affect them?”
Things in the area are changing, Ball said. There may be some properties effected.
In the water conservation district, there is only one dwelling unit allowed per 20 acres with very little exceptions. And for each development, only an 8 percent impervious surface threshold is al- lowed, Ball said.
There are developers in the area who may not be able to finish their development because of the district’s implementa- tion. There is a six month resolution temporarily limiting different types of development reviews
in preparation for the district’s approval.
Any type of contractual agreement, approved site development plans, preliminary plans “at least 25 percent” approved, and permits for existing lots of record will all be grandfathered in, Ball said. But otherwise, properties may be in danger of not being able to be complet- ed because of the regula- tions, he said.
That is concerning for people living in these ar- eas, Jones said.
“At what point is this down-zoning similar to the consideration of im- minent domain? Where do you have compensa- tion for property that may be rendered less valuable or property that can’t be used?” she said.
At the end of the day, Ball said, that will be left up to the legal system. It is “debatable” he said, whether property values will shrink because of the new zoning implementa- tions.
Concerned property owners in the area may write letters requesting the status of their planned developments to the county, Ball said. They have already received “eight or 10” letters from people with concerns and said they have not been unmanageable to this point.
There are “thousands” of property owners who will have land impacted by the new zoning regulations and they will receive notice of this, he said. The county is working to get the word out via social media forums, advertisements in the newspaper and open discussions at commission meetings.
Planning Commissioner Robin Barnes suggested the county look into some middle ground with impervious surfaces to see if there were any other materials that leave surfaces environmentally friendly but can also be beneficial to residents living in that area as well. Ball said that is something staff has discussed and will look into.
In the meantime, he said, at the next meeting on Nov. 28, the commission will hold a public hearing on the new district. They will close the record on Dec. 28 and prepare to make a recommendation to the Charles County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 23.
If all goes as planned, the watershed conservation district’s changes will be adopted in Spring of 2017.