Citizens Rights Group meets in opposition of WCD
Grassroots group made up of those concerned about controversial plan
The Watershed Conservation District continues to be a major talking point for citizens in the county and it does not look like it will cease to be anytime soon.
On Thursday evening, the Charles County Citizens Rights group had another meeting to show its opposition to the district proposed by the Charles County Board of Commissioners and to talk about its next steps.
Jason Henry, the leader of the movement, called the group a “nonpartisan citizen’s rights” group looking out for the best interest of the common citizen in Charles County.
“Our motto is we protect all, not some. Or we protect none,” Henry said. “We are here to advocate
and protect Charles County citizens. It’s not about [political] party.”
Democrats, Republicans, elected officials, the business community and regular citizens all joined together in their opposition. Henry said there were “about 180” citizens at the Village Green Pavillion in Indian Head with concerns about the district.
The proposed watershed conservation district is part of the county’s newly passed comprehensive plan. The WCD suggests certain development restrictions on property owners in a designated zone in western Charles County, mainly near the Mattwoman Creek watershed area, restrictions that many in opposition say are going too far. Those in favor of the WCD say the move is needed to protect the Mattawoman Creek area from sprawling development.
Brian Klaas, a businessman and member of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce, said there is a common goal everyone against the district has and that is to stop “government overreach.”
“This is nothing more than overreach. It’s not needed and destroys wealth,” he said. “This group assembled is something we haven’t seen in a long time. This is an apolitical issue.”
Bill Dotson, a member of the citizens right’s group and the chairman of the Charles County Republican Central Committee, said the county government tried to push the conservation district into law without giving citizens proper notification.
It is one thing to propose a law that downzones property, he said, but another to do it without letting citizens know.
“They were railroading this through,” Dotson said. “They weren’t even going to notify people in the western part of the county. They weren’t even going to notify you.”
Klaas agreed with Dotson. “That’s not government transparency,” he said.
Even town officials are having a difficult time supporting the watershed conservation district. Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin said he cannot support the district because of the limitations it could place on Indian Head, the surrounding areas and its citizens.
“It’s an attempt to stunt growth in western Charles County, which indirectly affects my town,” Paulin said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Housing affordability, future opportunity and the basic right to their own property are “at risk” under watershed conservation district regulations, Paulin said. Geography should not be the determining factor in someone’s fiscal opportunity, he said.
Gilbert Bowling, the chairman of the Charles County Democratic Central Committee, said the watershed conservation district is currently not what it was originally intended to be. Initially, the planning commission moved to permit citizens to have one dwelling unit for every 10 acres of land they owned, he said.
Bowling, who’s father Gilbert “Buddy” Bowling currently sits on the county’s planning commission, said that aspect of the plan was initially seen as a compromise. But it has evolved since, he said, and citizens have concerns. The planning commission is currently reviewing the WCD.
Dotson said that is the basic premise of the group, and that under Henry’s leadership, they have “rattled the chains of government.” The key now, he said, is getting one of the three “yes votes” between County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D), Commissioners’ Vice President Amanda Stewart (D) and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) to change his or her opinion on the matter.
To do that, he said, in the future the group needs to be everywhere the commissioners are.
“Commissioner Stewart has a town hall meeting in three weeks. We need to be there,” Dotson said. “If they have a pancake breakfast, I like pancakes. We need to be there.”
Bowling said the opposition to the watershed conservation district “is not an attack” on any of the officials holding office currently. The Democratic central committee did not initially take action on the matter, he said, but eventually took a vote because citizens were concerned with the policy.
“I felt it was my duty as the chair of the party to do the right thing,” he said. “We voted in pubic to oppose 11-2. It was one of the toughest things I had to do.”
Dotson agreed with Bowling, saying he did not want to target any public officials. He just wanted to ensure that citizens had their “full property rights” and were allowed to exercise them.
Henry said there is overwhelming support for the citizen’s rights movement coming from all angles, including state legislators, and it continues to grow day by day. Land is something that should not be taken away from anyone, he said, and is all some people have.
His family property, he said, has been passed down over 152 years. It has been passed down from generation to generation, he said, and he wants that to continue.
“I’m fighting for my family’s legacy,” Henry said. “That’s what it’s all about.”