Board of Ap­peals shuts down Guil­ford de­vel­op­ment plans

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­ Twit­ter: @SykesIndyN­ews

The bat­tle be­tween conservati­on and de­vel­op­ment in Charles County con­tin­ued with the Board of Ap­peals’ re­view of the con­tro­ver­sial 438-lot Guil­ford sub­di­vi­sion that was set to be de­vel­oped in Bryans Road.

Once again, con­serva- tion pre­vailed with the board de­cid­ing not to re­mand the prop­erty back to the plan­ning board, but strik­ing it down com­pletely. The process that took six years would have to start all over again if MJM Charles, the prop­erty’s de­vel­oper, chooses to pur- sue it again.

The prop­erty in ques­tion sits along Billingsle­y Road in the Bryans Road area, along the Charles County-Prince Ge­orge’s County line. The plan in­cluded an entrance and exit along Billingsle­y. The prop­erty re­mains un­de­vel­oped with no ap­prov- als.

The three is­sues brought up on the ap­peal were traf­fic con­cerns on Billingsle­y Road, the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact on the Mat­ta­woman Wa­ter­shed and county staff not pro­vid­ing the Plan­ning Com- mis­sion with ad­e­quate in­for­ma­tion on ei­ther sub­ject to make an ac­cu­rate de­ter­mi­na­tion on what move to make with the project. The board had to make a de­ci­sion to af­firm, re­mand or deny the project.

Kurt Wolfgang, the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the pub­lic in op­po­si­tion to the prop­erty, orig­i­nally re­quested only that the project be re­manded back to the plan­ning board. El­iza- beth Theobalds, the deputy county at­tor­ney, said she would have sup­port- ed a de­ci­sion to re­mand and be­lieved it was “the right de­ci­sion.”

How­ever, that fi­nal rea- son, Board Vice Chair James Martin said, is what caused the board to strike the project al­to­gether.

The de­vel­oper with­held neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion from the plan­ning com­mis­sion and only pro­vided them in­for­ma­tion ben­e­fi­cial for the project’s ap­proval, Martin said.

“We should do a lit­tle more than a re­mand. I think there should be a penalty,” he said.

The bur­den of proof was in the de­vel­oper’s hands, Martin said — not the county staff’s. The staff could have got­ten more in­for­ma­tion, he said, but it was the de­vel­oper’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide it.

An­other rea­son the project could not move for­ward from the board of ap­peals, said board mem- ber Sean John­ston, was due to a lack of avail­abil­ity for pub­lic in­put and pub­lic com­ment dur­ing the orig- inal plan­ning com­mis­sion meet­ings.

Dur­ing a pub­lic meet­ing, pub­lic com­ment is not tra­di­tion­ally ac­cepted. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the plan­ning com­mis­sion’s by­laws, upon re­quest from the com­mis­sion’s chair­man, mem­bers of the pub­lic can pro­vide in­put.

John­ston agreed with Martin. That should have hap­pened, he said, but it never did. In­stead, he said, the pub­lic was dis­cour­aged from com­ment- ing at ev­ery turn.

“I’ve seen what I guess I would re­fer to as a gen- eral re­sis­tance to the pub­lic’s in­put,” John­ston said.

The mo­tion to re­verse the project’s ap­proval was car­ried 3-0 with Brendan Moon, chair­man of the board, also agree­ing to do away with the project.

Moon said the is­sue of the im­pact on the Matta- woman wa­ter­shed proba- bly would not have got­ten the project de­nied if it stood alone, but cou­pled with the traf­fic is­sues and the bla­tant dis­re­gard for nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion, it was a strong enough case to over­turn the plan­ning com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion.

Hav­ing lived along Billingsle­y Road, Moon said, he is aware of how dan­ger­ous traf­fic can be when ex­it­ing a sub­divi- sion. That is­sue was not ad­dressed, and the plan­ning com­mis­sion was told that staff could only ex­am­ine is­sues with the in- ter­sec­tion and not is­sues with the roads.

How­ever, Moon said, ac­cord­ing to the county’s ad­e­quate pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties man­ual, that was un­true. And that in­for­ma­tion should have been provid- ed to the plan­ning com­mis­sion re­gard­less, he said.

In the fu­ture, Moon said, is­sues like these should be avoided. The plan­ning com­mis­sion is mod­i­fy­ing its rules and will soon al­low more pub­lic tes­ti­mony dur­ing pub­lic meet­ings when sub­di­vi­sions are dis­cussed. That is nec­es­sary, he said, be­cause there are times where the pub­lic pro­vides in­for­ma­tion that experts may miss.

Howard Fink and David Hruda, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion for the ap­pli­cant, both left be­fore the meet­ing closed. Hruda took ex­cep­tion to the fact that the Board of Ap­peal’s rules per­mit­ted any in­ter­ested party to speak on a sub­ject.

“If there were an il­le­gal per­son from Alaska who came down here, you mean to tell me they could speak?” he said.

Moon said since the county’s rules per­mit it, they would be al­lowed to speak and their tes­ti­mony would be con­sid­ered. The more pub­lic com­ment, the bet­ter, he said.

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