ing the conservancy’s plans to create an environmental education center, the land’s proximity to two schools and the land’s role in helping to protect the Mattawoman Creek watershed and the county’s air quality.
Two people spoke out against granting the easement, arguing that it would stifle economic development in western Charles County and deter potential investors from buying and expanding the nearby Maryland Airport, which abuts the southern edge of the combined parcels that make up the easement.
During the process of crafting the draft easement legislation, people representing both sides of the argument have accused Commissioners’ President Peter F. Murphy (D) of impropriety stemming from his relationship with the conser vancy.
Murphy served a one-year term on the conservancy’s board from October 1996 to October 1997.
During a work session earlier in the afternoon to discuss the particulars of the easement, Murphy took the unusual step of addressing one of the allegations, that his re-election campaign received contributions from the conservancy.
“I want to make it very clear that the Conservancy for Charles County ... [is] prohibited from making any contribution to any individuals, and I would say that I certainly have never received any contribution to my campaign, [and] I never received any financial support or money from the conservancy.”
Murphy also denied being a “founding member” of the conservancy, a claim that appeared in an online biographical summary of Murphy’s career that Murphy said was a mistake in wording.
“And if we’re going to be factual, I have four grandchildren, I don’t have two grandchildren,” Murphy added, pointing out another error in the bio.
Nevertheless, during the evening’s public hearing several people brought up accusations against Murphy, prompting Murphy at one point to interrupt Ken Hastings of the Mason Springs Conservancy as he attempted to call for an investigation into campaign contributions made to the county commissioners.
“Can we not go there, please?” Murphy asked. “Just stay on the issue, please.”
Two of the speakers, including former county commissioner and Democratic candidate for commissioners’ president Reuben B. Collins II, urged the commissioners to allow the incoming board of commissioners to make the decision on whether to grant the easement to the conservancy.
The new board will be sworn in on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 4.
The commissioners will continue to accept public comments on the proposed easement until close of business Monday, Oct. 29.
The commissioners voted in favor of legislation to ban plastic straws and stirrers in Charles County restaurants, which was amended to bring the definition of “compostable” in line with state law in response to an issue that was pointed out during last week’s public hearing.
Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D), a restaurateur, recused himself from the vote. Commissioner Debra Davis (D) voted against the bill, arguing that the commissioners had “missed a great opportunity” to invite stakeholders to join the commissioners in crafting the legislation.
At the suggestion of Commissioner Amanda Stewart (D), the final legislation lowers the maximum penalty to $150 and delays enforcement of penalties until Jan. 1, 2021, a year after the legislation goes into effect.
Following public hearings, the commissioners also approved an amendment to the county’s Adequate Public Facilities manual to increase the number of bulk school allocations that are granted to minor subdivisions by one allocation per subdivision.
The allocation is designed to help the owners of family subdivisions that have a maximum of seven lots that have to compete against major subdivisions for school allocations.
County planning director Jason Groth explained that the decision would allow several small subdivisions that had been “languishing” on the project approval list for several years to finally proceed.
The commissioners also voted to approve a modification to the county’s core employment residential zone that would eliminate the requirement that all buildings in the zone be at least two stories tall and also shorten the minimum rear yard dimensions in the zone from 50 to 20 feet.
Bryans Road businessman Amir Shirazi had sought the modification to enable him to move ahead with plans to construct a fast-food restaurant and a retail business on adjoining parcels along Route 210.
County planning staff had recommended that the Charles County Planning Commission approve the changes as being more consistent with the village-scale master plan that it approved for Bryans Road last December, but a majority of the planning commission recommended to the county commissioners that the proposal be declined.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) cast the sole vote against the zoning change.
Robinson told the Maryland Independent that he did not believe the proposal was consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan.