County res­i­dents at odds over con­ser­va­tion district

Tem­pers flare at plan­ning comm. zon­ing hear­ing

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

The Charles County Com­pre­hen­sive Plan and its pro­posed Water­shed Con­ser­va­tion District has fi­nally be­come the talk of the town.

Res­i­dents from all over the county packed the Charles County Gov­ern­ment Build­ing on Mon­day night dur­ing a plan­ning com­mis­sion meet­ing. The build­ing was so crowded that some even had to stand to wait their turn to speak.

More than 130 cit­i­zens signed up to speak on the pro­posed water­shed con­ser­va­tion district zon­ing. There were so many speak­ers that An­gela Sherard, newly se­lected chair­woman of the com- mis­sion, and the com­mis­sion mem­bers elected to con­tinue the meet­ing on Thurs­day evening af­ter three hours of speak­ing.

In the face of a large and im­pa­tient crowd, Sherard said she and the com­mis­sion wanted to hear each and every cit- izen’s con­cern. Cit­i­zens are up­set, she said, be­cause the district is a big is­sue.

“We un­der­stand,” she said. “We want to hear their con­cerns as citi- zens. This is im­por­tant.”

A ma­jor­ity of the au­di­ence showed up against the water­shed con­ser­va­tion district zon­ing, cit­ing prop­erty loss and “the right to due process,” ac­cord­ing to Bill Dot­son, the chair­man of the Charles County Re­pub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee. Dot­son helped or­ga­nize many peo­ple and can­vassed “thou­sands” of doors, he said, to bring peo­ple to Mon­day’s meet­ing.

Through­out the night, a ma­jor­ity of the crowd

ap­plauded when dis­cuss- ing prop­erty rights and booed at any men­tion of con­ser­va­tion district zon­ing. At one point, one speaker had to be forcibly re­moved by se­cu­rity af­ter go­ing over his speak­ing time by a minute.

Dot­son, who de­scribed him­self as a “con­serva- tion­ist,” said this is what hap­pens when peo­ple’s free­dom comes “un­der at­tack.”

“Some of their life sav- ings are into th­ese prop­er­ties,” he said. “Three com­mis­sion­ers af­fect­ing thou­sands of peo­ple. I’m here to rep­re­sent th­ese dis­en­fran­chised peo­ple.”

Dot­son said peo­ple did not get a chance to vote on this district. It did not come down to any re­fer- en­dum or any op­tion for cit­i­zens. It is just like the “rain tax” he said, that was “made up by ex­trem­ists.”

“That didn’t work out so well,” he said.

Jerry Feith, a White Plains res­i­dent, said many gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have used lan­guage like “too early to tell” and “hard to say” about the district and its ef­fect on sur­round­ing prop­er­ties. And that, he said, should be a con­cern to cit­i­zens in it­self.

“Th­ese are the type of re­sponses from peo­ple who make more than $100,000 per year and are paid by us,” he said.

Feith said three com- mis­sion­ers vot­ing for the com­pre­hen­sive plan should not be able to im- pact thou­sands of cit­i­zens in a neg­a­tive way. Com­mis­sion­ers are elected to “serve, not rule,” he said, and what the wa­ter- shed con­ser­va­tion district would do is a vi­o­la­tion of a right to “due process.”

There is a con­cern about prop­erty tax hikes and land value de­creases, but Alex Win­ter, a cit­i­zen from Bryans Road, said many prop­er­ties would ben­e­fit from hav­ing this zon­ing, in­clud­ing his own 24-acre prop­erty.

Win­ter said he pre­vi­ous- ly had his prop­erty rights vi­o­lated when the county chose to mark the de­vel- op­ment district right on the edge of his prop­erty line, which brought down the value of his land be­cause of the po­ten­tial for in­creased devel­op­ment. Now, he said, that has a chance to change.

There are a lot of inac- cu­ra­cies in the in­for­ma­tion go­ing around, Win­ter said, and peo­ple who do not own “40 or 60” acres of land will not be af­fected in the ways they are think­ing.

“Most of the peo­ple who are hurt are peo­ple who have suf­fered from the in- tense overde­vel­op­ment,” Win­ter said. “There are many peo­ple here who have been mis­led be­cause of non­sense that’s be­ing spewed, but most peo­ple don’t feel that way be­cause they’re hav­ing to pay for the in­fras­truc­ture for the gross overde­vel­op­ment.”

But Ja­son Henry, who re­sides on Chi- ca­muxen Road, said his great-grand­par­ents who pur­chased land for their fam­ily af­ter be­ing freed from slav­ery could now see their legacy tar­nished be­cause of the district.

His par­ents bought 30 acres of land that has been in the fam­ily for “over 152 years,” he said. “This land has passed through four gen­er­a­tions.”

If the amend­ment is adopted, he said, his fa- ther will not be able to leave the land to him or his grand­chil­dren or any great-grand­chil­dren be­cause it will have no value.

“Fam­i­lies like mine have had to work very hard to ob­tain the Amer­i­can dream,” Henry said. “By adopt­ing this amend­ment, you’re pre­vent­ing that.”

Ken Hast­ings, a mem- ber of the Ma­son Springs Con­ser­vancy, said he was en­cour­aged to see so many peo­ple show up to the hear­ing ready to speak but also said he would have liked to see them ap­pear be­fore.

The 2011 com­pre­hen­sive plan’s process was “the most trans­par­ent” he has ever seen, he said, and had ar­gu­ments from both en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and “the lobby” for de­vel­oper rights. But this time around, he said, the push back from de­vel­op­ers did not ap­pear un­til re­cently.

Pre­vi­ously, he said, there had been op­por­tu­ni­ties to bring peo­ple in who were ex­perts to talk about the process from both points of view, but that did not hap­pen. And now, he said, the county is at the cur­rent mo­ment de­bat­ing over the con­ser­va­tion district’s zon­ing.

“I see a lot of war here, and not a lot of peace,” he said.

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

County res­i­dents pack the au­di­to­rium of the Charles County gov­ern­ment build­ing on Mon­day night in prepa­ra­tion to speak on the water­shed con­ser­va­tion district plan.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL SYKES II

Ken Hast­ings, a mem­ber of the Ma­son Springs Con­ser­vancy, de­liv­ers his re­marks on the water­shed con­ser­va­tion district to county plan­ning staff and the Charles County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion.

Jerry Feith, a Charles County cit­i­zen, pre­pares to walk up to the podium and speak on be­half of prop­erty own­ers through­out Charles County against the water­shed con­ser­va­tion district in front of the plan­ning com­mis­sion dur­ing Mon­day’s meet­ing.

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