Charles cit­i­zens tee off over WCD

Emotions flare in pub­lic hear­ings

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

The Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers have stated their in­ten­tion to have the water­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict (WCD) process fi­nal­ized by the end of June. But be­fore they do, the cit­i­zens of Charles County are giv­ing them more is­sues to think about.

Cit­i­zens both for and against the dis­trict showed up at Wed­nes­day

night’s pub­lic hear­ing to speak on the zon­ing text amend­ment, which sup­port­ers say is needed in or­der to pro­tect an en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive area and dis­cour­age overde­vel­op­ment in west­ern Charles County. Op­po­nents to the text amend­ment say it in­fringes on prop­erty rights and would be detri­men­tal do busi­ness devel­op­ment.

At 3:20 p.m., with the meet­ing sched­uled to be­gin at 4 p.m., the park­ing lot out­side the county ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing was nearly filled. Pro­test­ers stood out­side ar­gu­ing with sup­port­ers of the amend­ment. A sec­ond pub­lic hear­ing was sched­uled for 6:30 p.m.

Mean­while, in­side the county hear­ing cham­bers, cit­i­zens were tee­ing off from both sides of the fence on why they are on the right side of his­tory in Charles County.

Alex Win­ter, who said he owns prop­erty in Bryans Road, said the county is re­cov­er­ing from a his­tory of un­nec­es­sary and un­or­ga­nized devel­op­ment. Win­ter, who said he owns 24 acres, said he had his prop­erty di­vided and zoned dif­fer­ently by a pre­vi­ous board of county com­mis­sion­ers.

That can hap­pen again, he said, if the dis­trict is not ap­proved. “It is very im­por­tant that these ad­just­ments be tai­lored in an an­a­lyt­i­cal way that ad­dresses the true ques­tions of equity rather than some sort of quick thought on how do we deal with this,” Win­ter said.

Jim Long, pres­i­dent of the Mat­ta­woman Water­shed So­ci­ety, said one of the big­gest rea­sons he sup­ports the dis­trict is the pro­tec­tion of Naval Sup­port Fa­cil­ity In­dian Head from a base re­align­ment and clo­sure process in the near fu­ture.

The WCD would con­tinue to fun­nel busi­nesses and cus­tomers into In­dian Head and fur­ther push the county’s tourism econ­omy for­ward, Long said.

“Sup­ply and de­mand says that we should in­vest in the town,” Long said.

But there were some still in op­po­si­tion to the water­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict. Bill Dot­son, chair­man of the Charles County Repub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee and a mem­ber of the Charles County Cit­i­zens Rights Group, said there was noth­ing ad­dressed dur­ing the meet­ing that would change the com­mis­sion­ers’ minds. But now, he said, cit­i­zens see how the com­mis­sion­ers re­ally work.

Will Muster, a county ci­ti­zen, said the way he has seen county of­fi­cials op­er­ate sur­round­ing the water­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict and how the com­mis­sion­ers have pushed the zon­ing text amend­ment for­ward con­cerned him to the point where he can­not trust what they say.

“There has been a lack of trans­parency and crit­i­cal study pro­vided to the pub­lic,” Muster said. “I, for one, can’t trust you. I bet there are many vot­ers who feel the same.”

Bon­nie Bick, an Oxon Hill res­i­dent who is a mem­ber of the South­ern Mary­land Sierra Club, said she ap­pre­ci­ated the process lead­ing up to the pub­lic hear­ing and called it “a model for pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion.”

Bick said the county has pre­vi­ously been up­zoned, en­dur­ing years of un­mea­sured growth. The WCD would be a wel­come ad­di­tion for the county, she said.

Ed­ward Joel, an In­dian Head ci­ti­zen, said he had an is­sue with the pub­lic hear­ing be­ing at 4 p.m., but he showed up to sup­port the zon­ing text amend­ment none­the­less. The ben­e­fits for the county are too im­por­tant, he said.

In the past, he said, peo­ple have sug­gested that the WCD is a racist pol­icy, but that is not the case, Joel said.

Steve Kaii-Zei­gler, the di­rec­tor of the plan­ning and growth man­age­ment de­part­ment, said the county gath­ered cen­sus vot­ing data in an ef­fort to cat­e­go­rize the area by race.

African-Amer­i­cans make up about 48 per­cent of the area within the water­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict, Kaii-Zei­gler said, but whites make up the other 42 per­cent of the area ac­cord­ing to 2010 cen­sus vot­ing data cat­e­go­rized by race. Ten per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in the area also cat­e­go­rized them­selves as “other,” he said.

“It’s re­ally a mix through­out that area,” he said.

Joel said the Mat­ta­woman’s tip­ping point is the most con­cern­ing is­sue here. The water­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict would re­verse the dam­age that has been done. There is “em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence,” he said, that the zon­ing text amend­ment needs to be passed.

Some cit­i­zens said they be­lieve the zon­ing text amend­ment to be an is­sue en­tirely driven by pol­i­tics. Brian Klaas, a county res­i­dent and a mem­ber of the county’s Cham­ber of Com­merce, said Charles needs a “new day” in their pol­i­tics.

Klaas said the county is do­ing a dis­ser­vice to their cit­i­zens by tak­ing away their prop­erty rights. As a Demo­crat, Klaas said he be­lieves the role of the party is to help peo­ple. That is the op­po­site of what the county is do­ing, he said — and the com­mis­sion­ers — all of whom are Democrats — could po­ten­tially pay for it.

“We know what fair is. And this is not fair. This has noth­ing to do with the en­vi­ron­ment, it has ev­ery­thing to do with power,” Klaas said. “We’ve al­lowed flames of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions to tram­ple our rights. The en­vi­ron­ment is now used to di­vide us. The en­vi­ron­ment is now used to ex­clude us.”

Ja­son Henry, leader of the Charles County Cit­i­zens Rights Group, said his fam­ily has owned land in the county for 152 years. As a ci­ti­zen, he only wants the com­mis­sion­ers to do what is right by the peo­ple who elected them.

Henry, who has an­nounced his in­ten­tion to run for com­mis­sioner but has not of­fi­cially filed with the Mary­land Board of Elec­tions, said the cit­i­zens will re­mem­ber what the results of the vote on the dis­trict will be.

Dave Camp­bell, also a mem­ber of the Charles County Cit­i­zens Rights Group, said the county com­mis­sion­ers have sep­a­rated them­selves from those they rep­re­sent.

Camp­bell said he ap­proached an un­named com­mis­sioner about own­ing 60 acres of prop­erty in Bryans Road out­side of the water­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict. A com­mis­sioner later called, he said, and ex­plained to him the restric­tions in Bryans Road are more strict than they are in the dis­trict, but Camp­bell said it did not mat­ter.

“You all have that choice,” he said. “These peo­ple don’t have a choice.”

There needs to be a change, Camp­bell said. And if he has to run for of­fice to make that change hap­pen, he said, he is will­ing to do it.

Ciara Albrit­tain, a county ci­ti­zen who will soon go off to col­lege, said she does not un­der­stand why the water­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict is a pol­icy the county is mov­ing for­ward with.

Albrit­tain gave her tes­ti­mony af­ter her mother, Dei­dre Albrit­tain, spoke to the com­mis­sion­ers first. As Dei­dre gave her short tes­ti­mony, she broke out in tears as she talked about how the zon­ing text amend­ment would have a neg­a­tive fi­nan­cial im­pact on her fam­ily.

Ciara Albrit­tain, be­gin­ning to choke up her­self, said she has seen the neg­a­tive ef­fects the dis­cus­sion sur­round­ing the zon­ing text amend­ment has had on her par­ents. Many “real cit­i­zens” in Charles County are go­ing through the same things her fam­ily is, she said, and it is not right.

Af­ter she grad­u­ates from col­lege, she said, she wants to “re­turn home” — just as Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy’s (D) 2014 cam­paign slo­gan once said.

“Af­ter col­lege, I’d like to, too,” she said. “But this would make it hard.”

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