Com­mis­sion­ers sched­ule pub­lic hear­ing for WCD

Ready to hear cit­i­zens’ feed­back on May 24

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

The Wa­ter­shed Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict has been a hot but­ton is­sue in Charles County over the last year, but now the process is fi­nally com­ing to a head.

Af­ter be­ing ap­proved by the Charles County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and for­warded back to the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, the plan will go through both work ses­sions and pub­lic hear­ings with the county com­mis­sion­ers.

Dur­ing last Tues­day’s

board meet­ing, the com­mis­sion­ers set the date for two ini­tial pub­lic hear­ings on the same day. On May 24, the com­mis­sion­ers will hold pub­lic hear­ings at 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on the zon­ing text amend­ment.

The wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict af­fects a por­tion of west­ern Charles County near the Mat­ta­woman Creek wa­ter­shed. Sup­port­ers of the plan say the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict is nec­es­sary to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and stop sprawl­ing devel­op­ment, while op­po­nents see it as an in­fringe­ment on prop­erty rights due to devel­op­ment re­stric­tions.

Now that the plan is back in the hands of the com­mis­sion­ers, they are able to speak openly about the amend­ment and what they will be ex­am­in­ing for the first time since the ini­tial pass­ing of the county’s com­pre­hen­sive plan.

Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D) said “the devil is in the de­tails” with the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict. There are go­ing to be dif­fer­ent is­sues, such as a po­ten­tial land con­veyance pro­gram, that the county com­mis­sion­ers could look at and con­sider.

But all of that will be de­ter­mined, he said, by what the com­mis­sion­ers see and what in­for­ma­tion the pub­lic gives them. But this is a plan that the county should have ap­proved “years ago,” Mur­phy said, and he is ex­cited to start the process.

“I’m try­ing to make it as open as I can,” Mur­phy said. “The plan­ning com­mis­sion took it re­ally se­ri­ously and got it to us in a timely fash­ion.”

Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said he had a chance to look over some of the plan­ning com­mis­sion rec­om­men­da­tions af­ter the zon­ing text amend­ment was passed and saw some as­pects he liked, like a pro­posed in­ter­fam­ily trans­fer pro­gram.

“If the plan­ning com­mis­sion hadn’t done that, I would have rec­om­mended the county com­mis­sion­ers do that,” Robin­son said.

There are still likely a few is­sues that will need solv­ing by the com­mis­sion­ers, Robin­son said, which will be dis­cov­ered when the pub­lic com­ment pe­riod be­gins May 24.

An­other in­ter­est­ing as­pect of the plan that could be dis­cussed, Robin­son said, is the amount of area un­der im­per­vi­ous sur­face re­stric­tions. The plan­ning com­mis­sion talked about the county’s crit­i­cal area and po­ten­tially mak­ing ad­just­ments to the plan’s den­sity and im­per­vi­ous sur­face cov­er­age.

The im­per­vi­ous sur­face limit in the crit­i­cal area of Charles County sits at 15 per­cent. As of now, the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict’s pro­posal calls for an 8 per­cent im­per­vi­ous sur­face limit.

Robin­son said that is a con­ver­sa­tion he is in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing and some­thing that would take deep dis­cus­sion from the county com­mis­sion­ers to fig­ure out.

“There are a lot of good rea­sons to make that com­par­i­son,” Robin­son said. “I’d like to look at the suc­cess rate within the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay crit­i­cal area. If that has been suc­cess­ful over the last 30 years, that’s some­thing that I’d like to con­sider for the WCD.”

Com­mis­sioner Debra Davis (D) said she still has con­cerns about the plan and what it does to the west­ern part of Charles County, in­clud­ing In­dian Head.

There are ar­eas starv­ing for business and devel­op­ment, she said, with sys­tems al­ready in place through­out the county to pro­tect the land and water. The wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict may be a step the com­mis­sion­ers can take, she said, but it may be too ex­treme.

One of her big­gest con­cerns is the den­sity of the dis­trict. Davis has called for data or a study to sup­port the rea­son­ing be­hind the county com­mis­sion­ers vot­ing to change the area’s zon­ing den­sity from one dwelling unit per 10 acres to one dwelling unit per 20 acres.

“I just want to see some data say­ing why,” Davis said. “We haven’t seen that yet and we’ve been ask­ing for it.”

What the dis­trict does, Davis said, is sep­a­rate peo­ple in the west­ern por­tion of the county from re­sources they need and business devel­op­ment. It cen­tral­izes growth in the north­ern and cen­tral por­tions of Charles County and keeps an area seek­ing more devel­op­ment out of the pic­ture.

Cit­i­zens need to de­mand the rea­sons why at the pub­lic hear­ing, Davis said, and the com­mis­sion­ers in sup­port of the dis­trict will have to show them why dur­ing their work ses­sions.

Ja­son Henry, the leader of the Charles County Cit­i­zens Rights Group against the WCD, said the com­mis­sion­ers are just go­ing to “push it on through” and not take into con­sid­er­a­tion what a ma­jor­ity of the cit­i­zens want.

“They’ve been tout­ing the same num­bers of sup­port, but it’s been shown that those num­bers weren’t cor­rect,” Henry said in ref­er­ence to the sys­tem the county used to take pub­lic com­ment dur­ing the plan­ning com­mis­sion’s pub­lic hear­ings.

Henry said the com­mis­sion­ers are do­ing every­thing they can to “spin” the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict in a pos­i­tive way for the county. There are ways to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, he said, with­out putting cit­i­zens in dan­ger.

“They want the re­port on the WCD to be fa­vor­able, so they’ll say what­ever they need to to get that done,” he said.

Bon­nie Bick, a mem­ber of the Sierra Club in sup­port of the WCD, said ad­vo­cates are wait­ing for the process to be­gin and will con­tinue to show their sup­port of the plan.

The com­mis­sion­ers have the right ideas in place, she said, and are mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion in terms of the preser­va­tion of the county’s nat­u­ral re­sources.

This plan is about what is best for the county, she said, and will have a pos­i­tive im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment mov­ing for­ward.

“We just re­ally care about the county and we’re very pas­sion­ate,” Bick said.

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