Planning commission considers family land conveyance
Staff drafts policy, but it is met with skepticism over ramifications
During the last Charles County Planning Commission meeting, the commissioners asked county staff to come up with a few family land conveyance policies that would enable residents in the proposed watershed conservation district in western Charles County to split parcels of land off to their immediate family.
And during Monday’s meeting, staff presented a plan to the planning commissioners. But the discussion surrounding the policy was shaped differently than it was the previous week with a few commissioners questioning whether the policy was worth considering in the long run.
Steve Kaii-Zeigler, the county’s Planning and Growth Management director, and Planning Director Steve Ball, along with their staff, came up
with a preliminary family conveyance policy to present to the planning commission.
The policy allowed citizens to transfer property to their immediate families, Ball said. The property would have to be owned for at least five years by the family, he said, and would allow families to have no more than two lots on 12 acres of land and no more than three lots on 60 acres of land.
Kaii-Zeigler, who said he would not make a recommendation for a family conveyance policy, said under that policy the county would be allowing for more development than what is currently zoned if families were allowed to have more lots.
“I don’t think the planning commission wants to recommend a zoning scheme that allows for more development than you currently do and one that allows for more than one lot to 20 acres,” Kaii-Zeigler said. “The last thing in the world we’re going to do is give you a provision that allows that to happen.”
Planning Commissioner Nancy Schertler said she was open to the possibility of having a family conveyance program, but after looking through the policy struggles other jurisdictions are having and researching them more, she has decided against it.
There was a lot of “emotional” testimony in favor of being able to transfer land between family, she said, but it could create a loophole for minor subdivisions that could ultimately hurt the county.
The land that is considered most for family conveyance programs is farmland, Schertler said, and most of the land within the district is not farm land. Ball said 83 percent of the lots within the district are 3 acres or less.
“We’re not talking about farms where the kids have to come milk the cow,” Schertler said. “Is this a big problem that we’re trying to solve? Or is it a problem, and it’s not so great, that we’re opening a can of worms that we’re going to regret opening?”
Planning Commissioner Rosemin Daya, who previously supported a family conveyance program, agreed. The commissioners may not be able to regulate family conveyance without opening themselves up to the possibility of having more development than intended.
“That is now a big concern of mine,” Daya said.
But Planning Commissioner Vicki Markel said she was more concerned about leaving citizens’ concerns unheard. There has been a public call for a family conveyance program, she said, and that is something the planning commission has to consider.
There may be concerns, she said, but the problem is big enough for the planning commission to take a look at it and come up with a solution.
“This is exactly what the community is saying is a major problem with the WCD,” Markel said. “We could change the language. We could even change the amount of years. We have the power to change it.”
Planning Commissioner Richard Viohl said the suggested policy from staff is conservative. As it stands, the zoning density would still be one dwelling unit per 20 acres.
“That’s one to 20 zoning, so what did you accomplish?” he said.
But Kaii-Zeigler said the policy was kept that way intentionally. The goal, he said, was to match up the conveyance policy with the policies of the watershed conservation district.
The county currently has a similar conveyance program for its critical area, he said, and this policy mirrored that one. That policy is rarely used, he said, and the goal would be to also have similar results with a new conveyance policy for the watershed conservation district.
“We need to provide a reasonable amount of interfamily transfer potential that doesn’t exceed what can be done in the current zoning now,” Kaii-Zeigler said. “That would be really wrong.”
But planning Commissioner Wayne Magoon said the county may need to consider doing more. There needs to be some policy in place, he said, because, for some people, their land is the only thing they have to leave behind.
“This is what they do. I can’t just say ‘so what’ to that,” Magoon said.
But ultimately, Kaii-Zeigler said, the debate over a land conveyance program is not going to chance any opposition opinion on the watershed conservation district. He said it would be “naive” of the staff and commissioners to think it would.