Cit­i­zens Rights Group meets in op­po­si­tion of WCD

Grass­roots group made up of those con­cerned about con­tro­ver­sial plan

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

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.”

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