Commission talks archeological resource ordinance
CENTREVILLE — The Queen Anne’s County Commissioners heard support and recommendations from three individuals regarding an archeological resource investigation ordinance and subsequent amendments during a public hearing Feb. 28.
Prior to testimony on County Ordinance 16-14, which was introduced by Commissioner Mark Anderson last July, Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wisnosky provided amendments recommended by the county’s Planning Commission.
The ordinance with the amendments are available to be voted on during the commission’s March 14 meeting.
The purpose of the ordinance was to “tr y to protect our heritage but at the same time not to slow the development process” by requiring developers seeking application approval for major site plans, major subdivisions, concept plans for solar arrays, concept plans for major extraction permits and telecommunication towers to complete basic historic background of the property.
A major site plan, principle planner Helen Spinelli said, is any building that is more than 10,000 square-feet in site disturbance. She said a major subdivision is any piece of land that would create more than seven lots.
Using the Mar yland Historical Trust, Maryland Historical Trust Library, Maryland State Highway Administration records, National Register of Historic Places and other resource, developers seeking such an application would need to create a property report for planning staff to review. The report is to give staff an idea if the potential of an archeological resource is on the site, Wisnowsky said.
If no historic importance is found during the initial documentation and inventory, staff will sign off and the developer can proceed. If the potential for a resource is found, a phase one investigation is required.
The planning commission recommended a phase one investigation would only be required if a “high probability” of a resource was found through the research, striking “moderate probability” from the language.
The Planning Commission also recommended striking C-7 from the ordinance, which stated if any unanticipated discoveries were made during soil disturbance, all work in the area would immediately stop and the planning department be notified. Wisnosky said the Planning Commission felt it was “a bit arduous.”
If there is high probability of a historic find, such as the first Mar yland settlement found before the creation of Gibson’s Grant years ago surmised from land surveys, a phase two evaluation or phase three treatment plan may be required, the ordinance states.
A proposed amendment by the Planning Commission adds that “if phase two evaluation or phase three treatment plan is deemed necessary, the cost shall be bourn by a source other than the applicant or property owner,” Wisnosky told the commissioners, and must be completed within 180 days.
Spinelli said though the ordinance is “ambiguous” as to who would bear the investigation costs, the county is not intending to make those payments. Spinelli said the Planning Commission has spoken about seeking out grants or other funding means to offset the costs.
Jack Broderick, president of the Kent Island Heritage Society, approved of the concept behind the ordinance as the society “cares about this stuff, about our nearly 400 year heritage ... and almost 12,000 year Native American history,” but strongly recommended it be sent back to the Planning Commission for more work.
“Well, I gotta tell you, the devil is in the details here, and I’m really afraid that these details that the Planning Commission has put in and sent as amendments to you guys are almost going to ensure that we do not preserve our historic resources,” Broderick said.
Broderick raised the question of who would bear the cost of the investigations as it is not stated in the ordinance.
Citing the developers at Gibson’s Grant in Chester that voluntarily brought in a group to excavate the land because of the high probability of a historic find, Broderick was not optimistic other groups would be so generous.
“I think we can’t afford to leave our heritage up to somebody caring about it voluntarily,” he said. “The temptation’s too great to do otherwise.”
Queen Anne’s County Historian Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin also asked the ordinance be further worked on to clarify who would pay for the phase studies.
Speaking on the county’s historic significance, Goodwin said Queen Anne’s County could be as big as Jamestown or Yorktown and eventually could draw more tourists to the area. “We are the third leg of that stool of those who came here and established the whole new continent,” Goodwin said.
Jay Falstad, speaking on behalf of Queen Anne’s Conser vation Association, thanked the planning department for “thoughtfully coming up with” the ordinance, stating the organization supports the bill.
Referencing a consultant from the Smithsonian involved in a 2010 excavation project in Ruthsburg, Falstad said the person commented that because the Eastern Shore is one of the largest undeveloped areas on the Atlantic Coast in terms of paved area, “there’s still a lot of things that could be found.”
Falstad said the cost of the studies should be taken on by the developer “as a cost of doing business” as it isn’t “terribly expensive in the whole scheme of things.” He said doing a survey on high probability areas is not an unreasonable request.
Though the ordinance isn’t perfect, Falstad said, it’s a step in the right direction.
“We really want to try to streamline the process, not to try to make it cumbersome,” Wisnosky said. “But on the other hand protect our archeological and historic heritage.”
Queen Anne’s County Historian Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin spoke about the importance of preserving the county’s history and asked the commission to send Ordinance 1614 back to the Planning Commission for more work.