Charles County’s Comprehensive Plan – What is it and why should you care?

Citizens stormed a 2013 public hearing to voice their opposition to the Comprehensive Plan.

Citizens packed a 2013 public hearing to voice their opposition to the Comprehensive Plan.

Introduction – Think of the Comprehensive Plan as a road map for how the County will grow. Without at least a vision for where land use is taking us, any plan will do, but we may not like where we end up.

If you find yourself trapped in gridlock on Rt. 301 and your kids attend school in trailers, you have to wonder how we ended up with too many cars and not enough schools.

You can blame past Comprehensive Plans – road maps without vision. But with an estimated 75,000 additional residents and 32,000 new housing units set to flood Charles County over the next 25 years, business as usual won’t cut it.

Nearly autonomous authority for local planning decisions is assigned to the local Planning Commission (PC). While the State sets broad-ranging policy goals for land use, implementation is almost always attempted via a voluntary “stick and carrot” approach with rare enforcement provisions and only mild indirect penalties for non-compliance.

The vehicle for setting local land use policies is the Comprehensive Plan and all subsequent relevant decisions and policies must be consistent with the Plan of record.

At the local level, even the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has less direct authority over land use decisions than does the Planning Commission. While the BOCC gets to either accept or reject (with recommendations) the Comprehensive Plan, the PC is under no mandate to even consider the recommendations and the BOCC, by law, is currently prohibited from making changes to the plan on their own. The PC rules the land use empire.

Over the next several weeks, we plan to offer a “Comprehensive Plan 101” short course on the flawed land use planning policies of the past, why Charles County’s proposed plan update currently under review is inadequate, and how the public can help clarify a much better vision.

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