Plan­ning com­mis­sion con­sid­ers fam­ily land con­veyance

Staff drafts pol­icy, but it is met with skep­ti­cism over ram­i­fi­ca­tions

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

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.

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