Delegation speaks out against WCD
State officials in opposition to controversial measure
State and local issues are normally kept separate by elected officials, with officials on different levels normally reluctant to encroach on issues being debated by the other side.
However, on Monday during the Charles County Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Breakfast at Middleton Hall in Waldorf, members of the Charles County Delegation were asked about their stances on the Watershed Conservation District being proposed by the Charles County Board of Commissioners within the comprehensive plan.
Charles County Delegation Chair woman Edith Patterson (D-Charles), along with Del. Sally Jameson (D-Charles) and Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles), came out in opposition to the proposed
district by the county commissioners.
“I’m one of the residents that are being impacted,” Patterson said. “When I heard of this absurd proposal, I was concerned not only for the residents, but those who would be disenfranchised and have generational heirs.”
Patterson called the proposal of a watershed conservation district and any downzoning “unconscionable” and said it was a “sheer overreach” of the power the commissioners hold.
Jameson said she recently spoke with Com- missioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) in Annapolis, and they discussed development of the western portion of the county. Previously, she said, the goal has always been to develop the county and increase its economic development.
But now, she said, it seems the goal is to downzone. If the county moves forward with any downzoning, she said, they will not be able to fill many school seats that are currently sitting empty.
“I tried to tell him then, if you keep downzoning you are never going to fill the seats that you have available. McDonough, Lackey. They are always going to be empty unless you do something differently,” Jameson said.
Jason Henry, the leader of the Charles County Citizens Rights Group in opposition of the Watershed Conservation District, said it is good to know there are state legislators who are supporting the citizenry against the district.
Few people in the county are in support of the district at this point, Henry said, which should be an indicator for the commissioners who voted in favor of the amendment to change their stance.
The commissioners — and specifically Murphy, Henry said — were called out by state officials specifically. That is a good thing for the county, he said.
“They didn’t understand where they were coming from with this amendment,” Henry said. “The military base, the questions in regard to the base and the protection of it. The [Maryland] Airport. Those were all reasons.”
The Charles County Delegation has been invited to a community meeting on March 16, Henry said, where they can hear more about the concerns the public has.
Their attendance has not been confirmed yet, he said. But Henr y called it “comforting” to know that there are state officials in support of the groups stance.
One of the things that will certainly be impacted by the downzoning of the western portion of the county, Middleton said, is the Maryland Airport. The commissioners have asked for a business plan from the airport, but to request one at this point is difficult, he noted.
Middleton said the owner of the airport, Gil Bauserman, has “exhausted every dollar he’s got” trying to build up the airport and make it a viable option for people throughout the state.
“There’s been one obstacle after another obstacle. You’re not going to get a business plan until a major developer can come in here with an interest,” Middleton said. “But the first thing is, they’ve got to know whether there is any predictability in the county that there is going to be support for a major air- port. The responsibility comes from them.”
With National Harbor, the new MGM casino in Prince George’s County, and the redevelopment of Anacostia in Washing- ton, D.C., Middleton said, there is an “incredible opportunity to really and truly bring some jobs into Indian Head.”
It is up to the commissioners to send the message, Middleton said, that they want to see more development come into Indian Head and show that they want the area to prosper economically. Downzoning, he said, is not the way to do that.
The commissioners want the county to prosper, Murphy said, and they believe they are sending that message with the Watershed Conservation District. At this point, he said, nothing is set in stone for the amendment and things can still be changed. It is too early for legislators to be taking sides on the issue, Murphy said.
“It’s still being considered by the planning commission. They’re still working through their part of the process,” Murphy said. “It’s a little premature for anybody to be making any blanket statements on these kind of issues. We don’t even know what we’re going to be getting yet.”
Murphy said he was “surprised” to hear members of the delegation take a stance on the issue. Murphy, who did not attend the breakfast, said it has always been his belief that state legislators should not interfere or comment on local land use ordinances.
The Watershed Conservation District will fall under that category, he said, and should be left up to local officials and the public they represent.
“I believe that local land use policy belongs to the local jurisdiction. The state shouldn’t be dictat- ing how we do our land use planning,” Murphy said.
Right now, Middleton said, there is a “disrespect” for property owners. There is no need for any watershed conservation district, he said, because the county already has “resource protection zones” around every waterway in the county.
“If you look at the degradation that was in the Mattawoman [Creek] before and look at where it is now, it is a success story,” Middleton said. “I just don’t see the need for this when we took measures to protect the Mattawoman already.”
But Murphy said the environmental issue is not the only one the commissioners have to consider in this situation. For so long in the county, he said, it has been “either, or” when discussing economic prosperity and the environment. But “it has to be both,” Murphy said, noting, “We think this plan does that.” Twitter: @SykesIndyNews