Plan­ning com­mis­sion begins ex­am­i­na­tion of WCD

Calls for con­cept poli­cies for fam­ily prop­erty trans­fers

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

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.

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