County con­tin­ues ses­sion on WCD

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

On Thurs­day, the Charles County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion con­tin­ued with Mon­day’s pub­lic hear­ing on the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict. And, just like Mon­day, the crowd was as rau­cous as ever.

Thurs­day’s pub­lic hear- ing con­tin­ued to al­low res­i­dents to weigh in on the county’s com­pre­hen­sive plan, fo­cus­ing on the western part of the county where landown­ers and de­vel­op­ers are seem- in­gly at odds with those look­ing to pre­serve the Mat­ta­woman Creek wa- ter­shed area.

Jim Long, pres­i­dent of the Mat­ta­woman Wa­ter­shed So­ci­ety, said there were “at least a half doz- en peo­ple who left the meet­ing on Mon­day be­cause they felt they could not tes­tify in that en­vi­ron­ment.” He said some of them were hop­ing they would be able to tes­tify Thurs­day, but were in­tim­i­dated by the be­hav­ior of some par­tic­i­pants.

Charles County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion Chair­woman An­gela Sher­ard had to stop the meet­ing on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions be­cause of con­sis­tent ap­plause and cheers for cit­i­zens who were op­posed to the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict. Most at­ten­dees were against the dis­trict and showed as much by their num­bers and ap­plause.

A num­ber of speak­ers did not show up to the meet­ing, but were signed up to speak from Mon­day’s hear­ing.

Sher­ard said she had no is­sues with the pas­sion that peo­ple had for the is­sue, but urged them to “be re­spect­ful” of each other and re­frain from any ap­plause un­til the end of the meet­ing. At one point, things got so out of hand Sher­ard threat­ened to end the meet­ing.

But her pleas for pub­lic ac­cord were, once again, shot down by the au­di­ence that re­mained as fierce as ever.

And the tes­ti­mony from some pas­sion­ate cit­i­zens did not do any fa­vors for the at­mos­phere. When they got their op­por­tuni- ty, speak­ers did whatev- er they could to let their opin­ions be known. Ev- ery­thing from shout­ing at the board to bang­ing on the desk and was cou­pled with the in­ten­sity of the au­di­ence.

Tom DeSabla, a county cit­i­zen who pre­vi­ously ran for county com- mis­sioner, called the plan­ning com­mis­sion a “sham” and said peo­ple had the “right to be up­set be­cause you’re not do­ing what we want to do.”

“Don’t ask us to be­have,” DeSabla said. “We’re up­set. We have the right to be up­set.”

Bon­nie Bick, a mem­ber of the Sierra Club liv­ing in Oxon Hill, said envi- ron­men­tal­ists are not at­tend­ing the meet­ing to be ad­ver­sar­ial but to find solutions. Any other time, she said, op­pos­ing sides act civilly — but this time has been dif­fer­ent.

“We nor­mally bake cook­ies and pass out fly- ers be­cause we’re not en­e­mies,” she said. “We just want to find a mid­dle ground.”

But Gregg Kan­tak, the chair­man of the county’s nui­sance abate­ment board and a mem­ber of the South­ern Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Real­tors, said Bick does not have the same un­der­stand­ing as res­i­dents who live in Charles County.

As a mem­ber of the Si- erra Club, he said, Bick should know that Prince Ge­orge’s County has found a bal­ance be­tween pro­tect­ing its nat­u­ral re­sources and still al­low- ing for de­vel­op­ment in dif­fer­ent dis­tricts spread through­out the county, not just in one area.

At the end of the day, Kan­tak said, pub­lic of­fi­cials just need to “please stand in your truth and on the side of re­ject­ing what isn’t in the pub­lic in­ter­est.”

David Shank, a farmer liv­ing in Nan­je­moy, said he pur­chased a 90-acre lot in the 1980s and ini- tially split it into 30 lots of 3 acres. In 1998, he said, it was down­zoned once be­fore be­cause of county leg­is­la­tion. And now once again, he said, he is faced with an­other in­stance of down­zon­ing.

“It’s my farm,” he said. “And if I want to subdi- vide my farm, I think I should be able to. Any of you ever make an in­vest- ment in any­thing? For a mo­ment, I ask you to put your­self out here in the au­di­ence and have me sit up there and have me pon­der­ing whether I should take away the in­vest­ments of two-thirds of your life sav­ings with a stroke of a pen.”

At the end of the day, Shank said, he is an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and wants to see the en­vi­ron­ment pros­per. How­ever, he said, “I don’t like be­ing told what to do.”

Hal DeLa­plane, a mem- ber of the Con­ser­vancy for Charles County, said, de­spite the pub­lic outcr y, the Wa­ter­shed Con­serva- tion Dis­trict is ul­ti­mately a good thing for Charles County and will pro­tect the county’s en­vi­ron­men­tal future.

In fact, he said, the county may not be do­ing enough with the dis­trict to pro­tect the wa­ter- sheds. It is “suf­fi­cient to have an im­pact,” he said, but ul­ti­mately may not pre­vent Mat­ta­woman Creek from reach­ing its 10 per­cent degra­da­tion thresh­old.

And as much as peo­ple com­plain about schools over­crowd­ing, Dela­plane said, peo­ple are com- plain­ing about the dis­trict now more than ever be­fore.

“Down­zon­ing will help sta­bi­lize taxes and lessen school ca­pac­ity,” he said.

But Mike Luc­ch­esi, a cit­i­zen from Wal­dorf, saw things from a far less ab­so­lute ca­pac­ity. Just as county of­fi­cials have said pre­vi­ously, he said, there are more ques­tions about the dis­trict than an­swers.

The eco­nomic im­pact of the dis­trict on the county needs to be re­viewed and Dar­rell Brown, the head of the county’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment, needs to be con­sulted on it.

There is too much divi­sion in the county, Luc­ch­esi said, and too lit­tle progress. Mov­ing de­vel­op­ment cen­trally to Wal­dorf could still im­pact the en­vi­ron­ment neg­a­tively, he said, but there has to be a bet­ter so­lu­tion that will sat­isfy ev­ery­one.

“Not long ago, builders were run­ning crazy through Charles County,” Luc­ch­esi said. “Now the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are do­ing the same thing. We must meet in the mid­dle. Each side should work to­gether.”

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