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Southern Maryland County Considers Opening 150,000 Acres to Development

DevelopmentCHESAPEAKEBAYPROGRAMA major decision is at hand: whether to pave or protect large parts of southern Maryland’s farmlands and forests.

At 7 p.m. tonight (Oct. 29), the Charles County government is holding a public hearing at the county government building, at 200 Baltimore Street in La Plata. The topic of discussion will be a revision to the county’s long-term land-use plan proposed by developers and their allies that would strip protections from 150,000 acres of forests and farms and open the land to development.

UPDATE ON Nov. 1:  "Opponents of Charles County’s draft comprehensive plan update outnumbered supporters 3-to-1 Tuesday evening during a marathon, five-hour public hearing that left at least one county commissioner open to compromise," the Maryland Independent newspaper reported. 

Commissioner Ken Robinsin told the newspaper: "I was incredibly impressed by the turnout and by how particularly articulate and organized the opposition to the comp plan was... I honestly cannot predict what my colleagues will do. I hope they realize since they have slept on it since Tuesday that the citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to this plan."

The proposed county comprehensive plan would potentially allow 339 major subdivisions to be built in ecologically sensitive natural areas. This would create a large amount of additional runoff pollution into Mattawoman Creek, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay, just at the time when Maryland and the other Bay region states are trying to step up their efforts to reduce pollution.

Here’s the inside story about why this is happening right now in Charles County, which you can read more about on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) website.

Three years ago CBF and a coalition of partner groups, citizens, and business owners stopped a potentially disastrous road project in Charles County called the Cross County Connector, which would have fuelled sprawling development in rural areas. The victory inspired hope that out-dated land-use policies of the past were just that and that the county would chart a new, more environmentally sustainable course.

Instead, the decision sparked a backlash from developers and landowners, which formed a lobbying group called the “Balanced Growth Initiative.”    They put forward a new county land-use plan that would resurrect the Cross County Connector and allow sprawling growth across much of the county.

A slim majority of the County's Planning Commission voted to send this plan to the County Commissioners—against the recommendations of its own professional planning staff and contrary to several options developed by citizens during an extensive public input process.

In response, Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration, among many others, criticized the sprawl-friendly new plan as “unsustainable” and likely to increase pollution and jeopardize state funding to the county for infrastructure.  

In an unusual move, the heads of 13 state agencies — who make up the O'Malley administration's Smart Growth "subcabinet" — recently wrote the Charles County government urging it not to adopt the destructive land-use plan.

To learn more, click here.

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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