Of­fi­cials pass wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict

Op­po­nents say they will pe­ti­tion for ref­er­en­dum

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE AN­FEN­SON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

By a 3-2 vote, the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers voted Tues­day to ap­prove the cre­ation of a con­tro­ver­sial Wa­ter­shed Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict that sup­port­ers say will pre­vent sprawl­ing de­vel­op­ment and pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment in the west­ern por­tion of the county, but that op­po­nents say is an in­fringe­ment on landown­ers’ prop­erty rights.

“This has been the most di­vi­sive thing to come across my desk since I’ve been sit­ting here, for six and a half years,” said Com­mis­sioner Debra Davis (D). “I stand ve­he­mently against it.”

Davis and Com­mis­sioner Bobby Rucci (D) voted against the mea­sure, de­spite a last-minute amend­ment by Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) which would have carved out ex­emp­tions.

“We do not have the right as com­mis­sion­ers to pick and choose peo­ple’s prop­erty rights in the county,” Rucci said.

The wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict af­fects ap­prox­i­mately 36,000 acres in the north­west­ern por­tion of Charles County near the Mat­ta­woman Creek wa­ter­shed.

It re­stricts im­per­vi­ous sur­face cov­er­age for most uses to 8 per­cent, but ex­empts churches and schools, and al­lows parcels un­der 3 acres to ex­ceed the 8 per­cent limit up to 10,500 square feet of de­vel­op­ment.

It lim­its pop­u­la­tion den­sity to one dwelling unit per 20 acres, although it

grand­fa­thers ex­ist­ing lots of less than 20 acres, and al­lows for the cre­ation of up to two ad­di­tional lots less than one unit per 20 acres for prop­erty own­ers who have owned the land for 10 or more years.

Un­der the WCD, per­mit­ted uses in­clude open-air mar­kets, sin­gle fam­ily res­i­den­tial units, group homes, bed and break­fasts, coun­try inns, schools, churches, ceme­ter­ies, ve­teri­nary uses and winer­ies, said Steve Kaii-Ziegler, di­rec­tor of plan­ning and growth man­age­ment.

Per­mit­ted as a spe­cial ex­cep­tion are day­cares and nurs­eries, half­way houses, el­derly care fa­cil­i­ties, room rentals, board­ing houses, hous­ing shel­ters, pri­vate schools and col­leges, li­braries and in­sti­tu­tional uses, fra­ter­nal clubs, camp­grounds, recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties, an­tique shops and gal­leries and re­search fa­cil­i­ties, Kai­iZiegler said.

The mea­sure has come up for re­view at two pub­lic hear­ings, dur­ing which dozens of county res­i­dents turned out to ex­press their views.

Over 500 com­ments were re­ceived, Kai­iZiegler said.

A num­ber of tech­ni­cal amend­ments to the WCD, mostly cor­rect­ing ty­po­graph­i­cal er­rors, were also passed by a 3-2 vote.

Davis said she didn’t vote for any of the tech­ni­cal amend­ments be­cause, “I think putting lip­stick on a pig, you’ve still got a pig.”

Rucci mo­tioned for the mea­sure to go to ref­er­en­dum, but with­drew it af­ter be­ing in­formed that the mea­sure could not go to ref­er­en­dum un­til the board voted on it.

Robin­son made a mo­tion to amend the mea­sure to al­low ar­eas pre­vi­ously zoned for com­mer­cial use to main­tain their zon­ing.

“I felt it was im­por­tant not to pe­nal­ize those peo­ple who al­ready own prop­erty and might have com­mer­cial plans,” Robin­son said.

The amend­ment also in­cludes the com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial zones around the air­port within the WCD, but adds the con­sid­er­a­tion of an air­port over­lay zone to al­low lim­ited com­mer­cial us­age with en­vi­ron­men­tal re­stric­tions.

The amend­ment, like the WCD it­self, passed 3-2.

“I found the tim­ing of this, in light of what is hap­pen­ing on the na­tional stage, to be very im­por­tant,” Robin­son said. “I think it is more im­por­tant than ever to act lo­cally to pro­tect the nat­u­ral re­sources here in Charles County that we all cher­ish.”

Jim Long of the Mat­ta­woman Wa­ter­shed So­ci­ety ap­plauded the com­mis­sion­ers’ move, say­ing the mea­sure will help con­trol un­re­strained growth and pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

“This wa­ter­shed conser va­tion dis­trict lets the county catch up,” Long said.

“It’s a real qual­ity of life is­sue,” added Bon­nie Bick, a mem­ber of the Sierra Club and sup­porter of the WCD, who lives in Prince George’s County. “Are you go­ing to have un­con­strained growth, or are you go­ing to have a higher qual­ity of life?”

Ja­son Henry, chair­man of Charles County Cit­i­zens Rights, said the group planned to file a pe­ti­tion for ref­er­en­dum.

“We have to wait un­til the com­mis­sion­ers sign this, and once they do, we’ll be­gin col­lect­ing sig­na­tures to bring it to ref­er­en­dum,” Henry said.

Henry said the WCD is a par­tic­u­lar hard­ship to African Amer­i­cans liv­ing within the WCD, who may be land rich and money poor.

“Grandma may have a house, and some land, but she’s liv­ing off So­cial Se­cu­rity,” Henry said. Henry said that in his fam­ily, his aunt sold fam­ily prop­erty in 5-acre in­cre­ments to pay for his great-grand­mother’s nurs­ing home care. “There are a lot of im­pli­ca­tions that are go­ing to be neg­a­tively im­pact­ing the res­i­dents of the county.”

In an opin­ion from Jeremy McCoy, as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral of Mary­land, to Charles County Del. Edith Pat­ter­son (D), the ref­er­en­dum pe­ti­tion must be filed within 40 days of en­act­ment of the law, and must gar­ner the sig­na­tures of at least 10 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers in Charles County.

If the pe­ti­tion gar­ners more than half of the re­quired sig­na­tures by the 40-day dead­line, the dead­line is ex­tended an ad­di­tional 40 days.

If the req­ui­site num­ber of sig­na­tures are sub­mit­ted and ver­i­fied by the Board of Elec­tions, the mea­sure will be put on hold un­til it can go to ref­er­en­dum vote dur­ing the next Con­gres­sional or spe­cial elec­tion.

The full text of the WCD can be found on the com­mis­sion­ers’ Board­Docs site un­der the agenda for the June 6 meet­ing. Go to www.board­docs.com/ md/chrlsco/Board.nsf/ Pub­lic.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE AN­FEN­SON-COMEAU

White Plains res­i­dent Jerry Feith, front, and other op­po­nents of the Wa­ter­shed Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict brought signs to the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers meet­ing Tues­day af­ter­noon, dur­ing which the com­mis­sion­ers voted 3-2 to ap­prove the WCD.

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