On January 12, 2015, the inadequacy of our land-use regulations reached the breaking point when the Planning Commission (PC) balked at rubber stamping a staff recommendation to approve the Guilford Subdivision preliminary plan. One member asked how we could add more cars to an already dangerous Billingsley Road. Another member asked what the impact on Mattawoman Creek would be — better, worse or the same?
Both staff and the applicant choked on the answers. The vote was deferred and Guilford disappeared from view for the better part of four months.
Guilford was back on the PC agenda on May 18, but answers to the hard questions were nowhere to be found. Members of the Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County protested the incomplete agenda and the lack of any relevant attachments. The PC Chairman promised that he would ask the questions at the right time and the Acting County Attorney offered her assurance that the topics would be covered during the meeting. A request for a public hearing was dismissed based on the Attorney’s opinion that a public hearing wasn’t appropriate.
Most of the testimony by Guilford representatives was spent with the same developer presentation on how well the project complies with County rules – not what the PC had asked for. The “staff” report had an additional section written entirely by the applicant. So, the PC asks hard questions and staff lets the applicant make up his own answers that fail to address the questions. The PC voted to approve the preliminary plan anyway.
To make matters worse, the Acting County Attorney’s opinion that a public hearing would not be appropriate is inconsistent with the PC’s rules, which give the Chair the option of soliciting public comment any time he or she wants to.
Under New Business on July 13, the PC is scheduled to discuss a request to reconsider their vote. In order to proceed, a motion by one of the members who voted to approve the preliminary plan is required and it takes a super majority for passage. This will be a defining moment for our Planning Commission – they can either ignore their mistake or get a do-over. It’s their choice.