A Public Role in Land Use Planning? Maybe not

Chapter 1 – In our Democracy, most decisions are made in a political arena – partly because elected officials recognize that unpopular decisions could have repercussions at the ballot box. In the case of Charles County’s Planning Commission (PC), its members enjoy isolation from direct accountability to the public because they are appointed by our Board of Commissioners, not elected, into office.

In a perfect world, the citizens of our county would be afforded the opportunity to participate in the land use planning process. In fact, there are such opportunities, some mandated by law, and others based on a sincere desire by the PC and/or County staff to look at the issues from a broad public perspective.

Workgroup

During the ongoing update to our 2006 Comprehensive Plan, Charles County’s government has demonstrated both the best and absolute worst examples of giving the public a say in the process.

In 2011, County staff and a consultant organized several public outreach opportunities as a means of developing alternative growth scenarios for consideration. These initiatives were conducted in advance of the Planning Commission actually deliberating on the Comprehensive Plan update.

Droves of people attended these meetings. Many of the citizens expressed their disappointment in the way Charles County is growing and demanded a new vision. When the smoke cleared, County staff and the consultant had forged a compromise called the Merged Scenario. While it included some positive steps, it fell short of the more conservative smart growth philosophies that were favored by most of our citizens.

The Planning Commission essentially shredded, torched and buried every shred of the Merged Scenario and all of the public’s input. By a majority vote, the PC decided to keep the 2006 Plan in place and ignore any other possibilities. Just when it looked like public involvement had reached rock bottom, it plummeted to new lows.

Next week – a vision for the County’s future even more destructive than the 2006 Plan.

Read more from our ongoing series, “Charles County’s Comprehensive Plan fiasco.”