Charles County’s Rogue Planning Commission — Thumbing its nose at the State

Chapter 2 – The 2012 General Assembly passed a bill restricting septic systems in sensitive areas of Maryland. It was part of the smart growth movement that promotes growing where you already have infrastructure, conserving open space, and reducing Bay pollution. For brevity, we will refer to the Bill by its tracking number – SB236, widely known as the “Septics Bill.”

The Bill established four tiers for development. Tiers I and II lacked controversy since they deal with areas with public sewer or planned for public sewer. Tier III didn’t cause much fuss either since major subdivisions on septic can still be built there. Tier IV became a hornet’s nest of resentment from property owners who would be limited to minor subdivisions (seven building lots) on septic in the relatively sensitive areas designated as Tier IV.

The law was very specific about what types of land belonged in Tier IV. First, if it was planned or zoned for “conservation” it automatically fell into Tier IV and large chunks of the County were zoned either Agricultural “Conservation” or Rural “Conservation.” Second, land dominated by agriculture or forest were automatically in Tier IV regardless of planned use or zoning.

The County staff did a credible job of developing a Tiers map in compliance with the new law and explaining how the current zoning was a driving force for Tier IV designations.

Then, it happened.

The Planning Commission’s (PC) majority rejected all of it – the Tiers designations, the map developed by staff, and even the law itself.

The County staff’s defense based on the first criteria – zoning – fell on deaf ears. Finally, staff advised the PC that the only way they could change the Tiers designations was to change the zoning to eliminate the word “conservation.” For some reason, county staff never played the “dominated by” card and let the PC think they had found a loophole in the law.

Soon, a new map, produced by the developers, appeared with all the old “conservation” areas as Tier III and was immediately endorsed by the PC. Rural residential was the new zoning designation to be implemented via the Plan update and Tier III dominated the landscape.

Yet again, business as usual was victorious in Charles County.

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

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