County continues session on WCD
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.”