Watershed plan remains topic of controversy
Town hall meeting sees county staff, officials defending measure
After the Charles County Board of Commissioners’ 3-2 decision to approve the creation of the controversial watershed conservation district earlier this month, tensions remained high between
between a handful of supporters and detractors at Tuesday evening’s second quarter town hall meeting at the Charles County Government Building.
The meeting, held for District 2 Commissioner Debra Davis (D), followed the format of previous town halls; citizens submitted their questions in writing, which were then read aloud by County Administrator Michael Mallinoff and addressed by the heads of staff of various county government departments.
With the vast majority of submissions regarding the watershed conservation district,
Planning and Growth Management Director Steve Kaii-Ziegler fielded most of the questions.
Citizens were able to submit multiple questions. Gary Hancock, an Indian Head resident who is against the watershed conservation district, submitted nine.
In one of his submissions, Hancock asked why western Charles County was being “singled out” on additional impervious surface restrictions when the entire county is within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
In response, Kaii-Ziegler highlighted that the preservation of the Mattawoman stream valley was a “very high” priority in the county’s comprehensive plan adopted last year, with the decreased residential density zoning
of the WCD reflecting that. Having more impervious surface restrictions was a natural addition to that legislation, he said.
“There was clearly an environmental factor that was very controversial and very well thought out through the entire comprehensive plan update process,” Kaii-Ziegler said. “At the end of the day, the commissioners made an informed decision.”
Other questions from Hancock asked about the legal authority for some of the WCD’s content, including its intra-family transfer component.
Both Kaii-Ziegler and County Attorney Rhonda Weaver cited Maryland’s land use article as justification, saying that under Maryland law, county commissioners have very broad powers on land use
and zoning decisions.
“It’s entirely consistent,” Kaii-Ziegler said. “The commissioners have the legal right to do what they did.”
Peppered in between Hancock’s questions were other comments from WCD supporters, many of whom simply thanked the commissioners for passing the legislation. Jim Long, president of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, presented 77 signed thank you letters for the three commissioners who voted for the district earlier this month: Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D), Commissioners’ Vice President Amanda Stewart (D) and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D). Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) and Davis voted against the WCD.
Many WCD supporters,
however, questioned and criticized the allowance of commercial and industrial development around the Maryland Airport, one going as far as asking what the point of the WCD is if this development is allowed.
“My view is it was a bit of a compromise,” KaiiZiegler said, adding the predominant purpose of the WCD was to limit residential growth and that existing commercial and industrial zoned land made up only a tiny portion of the WCD landmass. That land was left in place, but with updated impervious area limitations, he said.
A few non-WCD questions were mixed in with the night’s fare, such as one regarding Mallows Bay’s pending designation as a national marine sanctuary and where the commissioners weigh in on the different size options for the sanctuary.
Robinson responded by saying the commissioners have no say on the final decision for the sanctuary’s size; he said the federal government will make a recommendation and NOAA will go from there.
At the town hall’s conclusion, Davis ended by saying that she did not feel the evening’s policy questions were answered to her standard, later saying it might be time to change the town hall format. She explained that she didn’t feel county staff should have to answer policy questions when it’s the commissioners who make the policies.