Planning commission begins examination of WCD
Calls for concept policies for family property transfers
After a weather-induced delay earlier in the month, the Charles County Planning Commission made it through its first work session examining the county’s new comprehensive plan.
Over the next 60 days, the planning commission will work to write recommendations to the Charles County Board of Commissioners based on public comments from previous listening sessions and previous approvals by the planning commission.
Planning Commissioner Wayne Magoon pointed out that the initial plan for the watershed conservation district that was sent to the board of commissioners by the planning commission is different from the one that has been sent back to the planning commissioners for further vetting. The WCD has come under fire from residents in the proposed district in western Charles County, with many residents claiming the WCD restricts development and property transfers from private
landowners, while those in favor of the WCD say the proposed conser vation district would help protect the Mattawoman Creek Watershed from damage due to development.
“Take it for what it is. But essentially 27 items were overturned in one meeting,” Magoon said. Included in that, he said, was the one dwelling unit per 20 acre density ratio the commissioners decided on that was increased from one unit per 10 acres.
But with new public comments and concerns, rather than focusing on the plan’s differences, the commission chose to address citizens’ concerns of the transfer of lots between family members. Planning Commission Chairwoman Angela Sherard requested conceptual policies from planning staff for the next meeting that could allow for the conveyance of property through family.
Steve Ball, the county’s director of planning, said the conveyance of property was one of the citizens’ main concerns along with allowing for greater impervious surface limits for churches and schools as well as delaying the implementation of any watershed conservation district regulations for two years.
Vicki Marckel, one of two new members of the planning commission, asked planning staff what the county would have to do to consider allowing a “conveyance” program in the watershed conservation district.
But Steve Kaii-Zeigler, the director of the county’s Department of Planning and Growth Management, said conveyance of property through family is not something the department would “recommend that or support it at the staff level” because of its potential to create smaller subdivisions and circumvent regulation.
“It has the potential to chew up those properties with lots, not dissimilar to our typical preliminary plan process,” Kaii-Zeigler said.
Kaii-Zeigler said he has seen the process of conveyance for family members in other jurisdictions used as a loophole to create smaller subdivisions. It is difficult to keep the property use similar from generation to generation, he said, and makes it more difficult for counties to manage them.
Rarely, he said, has he seen the process work. However, he said, he and staff will put together conceptual policies for the next meeting.
However, Marckel said, the county could have the potential to regulate how many years a property must remain in a family for conveyance. There may be ways the county could explore, she said, to make it work for citizens.
“I understand we may be going into uncharted territory, but so does the watershed conservation district,” she said.
Kaii-Zeigler said there may not be a “magic number” of years a family wants to own a property before it is permitted to be conveyed. And the county also cannot control how the property is split up among family members.
But Planning Commissioner Rosemin Daya said the county does not need to go through “family details” and can potentially work around the land restrictions that would already be in place.
Ultimately, she said, a solution should be worked out to bring about a compromise for families who have owned property for decades.
“I would like to see us come up with some sort of compromise with family land. I think we need to be able to give those families the opportunity to retain it,” she said. “We clearly don’t want this to be abused but I think we need to look at those families that have been in Charles County for so long and have this land.”
Sherard said she knows enforcement of a policy like that “could be difficult,” but is something the commission could potentially explore.
Kaii-Zeigler said the county could open itself up to reducing the effects of the comprehensive plan on the area because of the potential of smaller subdivided properties on family land.
Research shows that the county’s one dwelling unit per 20 acres will provide a benefit to farm land and preserved areas while the 8 percent impervious surface limit is set to keep pollutants from entering the watershed areas, Ball said.
Those both present two different benefits for the county, he said, but could also be talking points in the discussion about family conveyance.
Ultimately, Kaii-Zeigler said, he would be “more than happy” to come up with conceptual policies to continue the discussion about conveyance in the next planning commission meeting.
The commissioners are not set to meet again until April 10.