Residents open up against Watershed Conservation District
Bill Dotson: ‘It’s about property rights’
This passed year the Charles County commissioners passed their first comprehensive plan in 10 years mapping out what could potentially be the shape of Charles County over the next few decades.
The plan focused on preservation and the centralization of development in specific areas of the county. While there were some residents who were satisfied with that, there were many others who were not.
And those others met last Wednesday evening to discuss ways to prevent the plan’s recommendations from taking hold of the county. Specifically, residents and social leaders took issue
with the Watershed Conservation District, which they believe will strip citizens of their property rights.
“It’s not about devel- opment or being pro-development,” Bill Dotson, chairman of the Charles County Republican Central Committee, said. “It’s about property rights.”
Dotson, who organized the meeting, said there are two distinct differenc- es between the two sides. The biggest concern, he said, is having a citizen’s right to do as they please with their property removed.
Development restric- tions have been placed within the Watershed Conservation District of the comprehensive plan. There can be one lot per 20 acres according to the plan. Any development planned with more density than one lot per 20 acres would not be allowed to continue unless it is more than 25 percent completed in its preliminary plan, had a previously approved developer rights and responsibilities agreement or had been built out previously.
Tim Lessner, a representative from land planning and engineering firm Lorenzi, Dodds and Gunnill, attended the meeting to explain how the plan and the water- shed conservation district work to residents. Lessner said he was a neutral party, but said the district could potential- ly cause issues for resi- dents looking to sell land or expand their property.
“If you had a subdivision, previously it could be, hypothetically, if you had 100 acres you could put 100 lots on it. The plan would cut it down to five lots,” he said.
Lessner said his com- pany was in the process of purchasing a property from a 99-year-old wom- an in the western por- tion of the county where most of the district is proposed. But because of the plan, there are buyers who are hesitant to look at the property because of different restrictions.
Dotson said that is the reason why the watershed conservation district has to be amended.
“That was that woman’s retirement. Her land was her retirement. She can’t do anything,” he said.
Arthur Ellis, a county resident and the communications director for the Charles County NAACP, said enough is enough when it comes to property restrictions. People need direction and need to know who to go to to make a change.
No one saw this com- ing, Ellis said, and people need to be properly noti- fied of who to speak with and who to talk to.
The planning commissioners originally created the comprehensive plan, but Gilbert Bowling, chairman of the Democratic Central Commit- tee, said the plan is not exactly what was intended by the planning com- missioners.
Bowling, who is the son of Gilbert “Buddy” Bowl- ing, outgoing chair of the planning commission, said the planning commission originally intended for the plan to limit the restriction to just one unit per every 10 acres, but the Charles County Board of Commissioners increased the acreage to 20.
“That wasn’t their intention at all,” Bowling said. “They had it at 10 and increased it to 20. It was seen as a compromise originally, but it was changed.”
Dotson said all too often the county comes up with proposals that go over the heads of their residents and into law. This is a chance, he said, to show the commissioners that the residents of Charles County do not want restrictions on their property.
The vote to approve the plan was 3-2 with County Commissioner Vice President Debra Davis (D) and County Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) being the votes of dissent. All the citizens need to do, Dotson said, is convince one commissioner to reconsider.
The citizen group’s plan is to mobilize residents and get them to speak at the Jan. 9 meeting on the zoning for the com- prehensive plan where many of the concepts being proposed will turn into law.
Before the Jan. 9 meeting, Dotson said the Charles County Republican Central Committee will organize a meeting on Jan. 5 in White Plains once again to further draw out what exactly needs to be said at the Jan. 9 meeting.
“It takes all of us, not just business people. Not just real estate agents. But all of us to make this change,” Dotson said.