Res­i­dents re­sist new water­shed con­ser­va­tion district

Cite sti­fling of de­vel­op­ment, lower prop­erty val­ues

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

At the last Charles County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion meet­ing on Nov. 14, Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent Joan Jones (D) spoke out against the county’s water­shed con­ser­va­tion district in the new com­pre­hen­sive plan adopted ear­lier this year.

Jones com­pared the district to “em­i­nent do­main” and said the county could po­ten­tially be shrink­ing res­i­dents’ prop­erty val­ues.

Dur­ing the com­mis­sion’s public hear­ing on the new wa­ter- shed con­ser­va­tion district, many agreed with her. More than 50 peo­ple were signed up to speak dur­ing the meet­ing with many in op­po­si­tion of the county’s new- est con­ser­va­tion strat­egy.

Their mes­sage was this: the county did not pro­vide enough no­tice for cit­i­zens, the district needs to be re­searched more be­fore mak­ing any de­ci­sions and the county’s prop­erty val­ues will shrink if these steps are not taken.

Adam Mor­man, a project man­ager and land­scape ar­chi­tect with Wal­ton Mary­land, a de­vel­op­ment com­pany, said Charles County is by far the “least trans­par­ent and least busi­ness-friendly gov­ern­ment we’ve ever worked with,” and that is ev­i­denced by the county’s con­sid­er­a­tion of the water­shed con­ser­va­tion district.

Wal­ton works in many dif­fer­ent ju­ris­dic­tions across the state, he said, and had plans for the western por­tion of Charles County where the water­shed con­ser­va­tion district will be sit­u­ated if ul­ti­mately ap­proved.

Prop­erty the com­pany owns, Mor­man said, is within the 1,160 acres the county in­cluded in the district that was for­merly a state pri­or­ity fund­ing area. Now the com­pany will be turned away by

the county be­cause of the wa- ter­shed con­ser­va­tion district — de­spite be­ing in the Port Tobacco area, he noted.

“There is no nexus be­tween pro­tect­ing the Mat­ta­woman Creek stream val­ley and pro­tect­ing the head­wa­ters of Port Tobacco,” Mor­man said.

There are al­most 9,500 af- fected prop­erty own­ers in the zone, Mor­man said, that are af- fected just as Wal­ton has been. None re­ceived proper no­tice of their land be­ing “down­zoned,” he said.

Prop­erty own­ers of one acre of land are re­quired to send out cer­ti­fied letters of no­tice to ad­ja­cent prop­erty own­ers, Mor- man said, but the county is not show­ing any of these peo­ple that same re­spect.

“There are 9,500 prop­erty own­ers and you’re not go­ing to no­tify a sin­gle one by cer­ti­fied let­ter?” Mor­man asked. “This is ab­so­lutely ab­surd.”

Chino Wal­ters, the pas­tor of Greater Morn­ing Star Apos­tolic Church of Wal­dorf, said his con­gre­ga­tion had plans of ex­pand­ing into the western por­tion of the county. But this month, he said, he was no­ti­fied via a Face­book friend that their “hope was in jeop­ardy.”

“We have mem­bers who went into their 401k sav­ings be­cause they had faith in our vi­sion,” Wal­ters said.

The church’s prop­erty has al­ready been pro­posed, he said, but there is a chance it will not be ex­empt and grandfa- thered in. It must be 25 per­cent through the pre­lim­i­nary plan or have an ex­ist­ing de­vel­oper’s rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties agree­ment to be con­sid­ered.

If there can be no ex­emp­tion, Wal­ters said, he hopes the county will re­fund the peo­ple for the in­vest­ments they have put into the project al­ready.

Gil Bauser­man, owner of the Mary­land Air­port which would be lo­cated in the district, said the re­stric­tions would limit the air- port’s de­vel­op­ment and pre­vent busi­nesses from com­ing into the western por­tion of the county.

There are many peo­ple in the area, he said, who are re­tired and look­ing to make a con­tin­ued liv­ing through a busi­ness or through the use of their land, Bauser­man said. The conser- va­tion district would limit that.

“We’re talk­ing about the el- derly. Peo­ple barely liv­ing in this age,” he said. “If you take 2,100 acres off the tax records, who is go­ing to make up the dif­fer­ence?”

Bil­lie Statchura, chair­woman of the board of the Charles County Cham­ber of Com- merce, agreed with Bauser- man and said im­ple­ment­ing the water­shed con­ser­va­tion district would be in di­rect con­trast with the county’s strate­gic de­vel­op­ment plan.

The plan holds the Mary­land Air­port in high es­teem, she said, and this would se­verely limit the county’s abil­ity to do busi­ness in that area.

De­spite all of the con­cerns about the newly pro­posed district, there were still those who showed up in sup­port. Jim Long, pres­i­dent of the Mat- tawoman Water­shed So­ci­ety, said the district is com­ing “just in time” to stop the de­cline in the Mat­ta­woman water­shed’s fish com­mu­nity.

It is an im­per­fect plan, he said, but it is a start and the county is “stepping up” to cor­rect the is­sues that have plagued the en­vi­ron­ment for so many years.

Alex Win­ter of Bryans Road said he is in sup­port of the plan sim­ply be­cause of the eco­nom­ics of it. As a Re­al­tor, he said, many peo­ple are mak­ing ar­gu­ments that the district could lower prop­erty val­ues. How- ever, he said, ar­eas like Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties all profit off of their nat­u­ral ar­eas. Charles County is just do­ing the same.

This is bet­ter than an al­ter­na­tive where the county has to in­stall new in­fras­truc­ture all over the place to ac­com­mo­date new busi­nesses, Win­ter said.

“De­vel­op­ment re­quires in­fras­truc­ture. In­fras­truc­ture costs a lot of money,” he said.

Ul­ti­mately, Mor­man said, the county needs to con­sider its eco­nomic fu­ture be­fore mak­ing any de­ci­sions. There needs to be a fis­cal study done with the re­view of the district, he said.

And at the end of the day, he said, the county’s com­pre­hen­sive plan is just a roadmap. These changes do not have to come.

“It doesn’t re­quire you to fol­low that comp plan to a T,” Mor­man said. “Please remember that.”

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