Commissioners Bobby Rucci, Reuben Collins and Debra Davis have once again ignored the voices of a majority of county residents opposed to a destructive and costly growth plan for Charles County.
Despite what was marketed as a fair process to update the county’s comprehensive plan, the undertaking has been marred by a development lobby’s control and now also by three elected leaders who lack the conviction to do the right thing.
Instead of rejecting the development lobby’s growth plan, the trio voted to devise a workgroup to review the plan and the highly criticized “tier map” that the plan was written to justify. The tier map was created by the development lobby calling itself the Balanced Growth Initiative (BGI) and defies state law by encouraging sprawl development. The tier map is required by state legislation – known as the “septic bill” – intended to limit major subdivisions on private septic systems in areas designated for agriculture and conservation.
In a debate that followed Collins’ motion to set up the workgroup, Commissioner Ken Robinson described setting up such a committee as the board “shirking” responsibility and “punting” decision-making linked to what has become a very controversial growth-and-planning vision. Likewise, Commissioner President Candice Quinn Kelly pointed out that “we were elected to do a job” and creating the workgroup is akin to “hiding” behind a committee in lieu of the commissioners addressing overwhelming public input against the current tier map and related draft comprehensive plan.
Collins’ scripted motion came at a Jan. 7 commissioners’ meeting after planning staff reported that the county received 2000 comments in opposition to the plan during the comment period and 30 comments – yes, a mere 30 – in support of the plan. Has anyone wondered if the numbers for and against were reversed, how important this work group would then be?
Also worth noting is that the comments came after an Oct. 29 public hearing in which an overwhelming majority spoke out against a growth strategy that will increase school overcrowding, taxes and traffic problems as well as destroy the county’s rural and natural characteristics. Their message was clear: “Please don’t ruin our quality of life.”
In voting against the workgroup, both Robinson and Kelly emphasized that the Board of County Commissioners are elected to be responsive to the citizens of the county and it’s clear that a wide margin of citizens are against plans endorsing more sprawl residential development.
The vote was preceded by a prepared motion, read by Collins, in which the workgroup members were identified, but some members apparently didn’t know it yet or hadn’t agreed to join the cast.
Also worth noting is the entire board of commissioners did not select the members, nor sanction diverting this kind of responsibility to a newly formed ad hoc committee.
Collins typified the workgroup of six people as three “proponents” and three “opponents” and said that this kind of split could help lead to some sort of consensus – an odd observation when one considers Collins is ignoring a public consensus that already exists.
Interestingly, the three “opponents” include Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Richard Hall and former Calvert County planning head Greg Bowen. This is somewhat bemusing considering that criticism has been levied by those who support the tier map and related comprehensive plan that the debate over the county’s future has included influence by those outside of the county. The other “opponent” is Planning Commission Chairman Steve Bunker who already gave his feedback at the Planning Commission stage.
The “proponents” include Charles County farmer Dave Lines who, ironically, appears to support a plan that credible experts say actually promotes the conversion of more farmland to developed land. The other two proponents are local and regional developer Douglas Meeker and termed-out Charles County Planning Commission member Joe Richard who has spoken highly of Murray Levy, a BGI lobbyist.
The people of Charles County deserve better from their elected officials than this kind of political gamesmanship and Commissioners Robinson and Kelly know this.
Unfortunately, Commissioners Rucci, Collins and Davis don’t seem to share this belief. Instead of listening to the people of Charles County, they’ve aligned themselves with a small group of well-connected developers and paid lobbyists who are responsible for a hugely unpopular and sketchy growth plan.
Now, instead of rejecting the developers’ disastrous plan, they’ve pushed off a review to a workgroup that we expect will whitewash or force through at least some unpopular policies in the name of fairness.
It’s time for Rucci, Collins and Davis to stop stalling, show some leadership, and listen to the citizens of the county. This is not the planning vision we want for our county.
LISTEN to former Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who recently spoke with WeMakeItNews.com about Charles County’s epic struggle to move away from sprawl development and towards Smart Growth policies.
The Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County (SGACC) supports a future for our county that promotes a vibrant and healthy outdoors; protects farms, forests and streams, particularly the Mattawoman Creek from unbridled development; where no child attends school in a trailer; where traffic is not an everyday burden; where mass-transit alternatives are available as the heart of Waldorf is revitalized; and where all of our communities are clean, safe and enjoyable places to live, work and play.