It is shortsighted to pave the Chesapeake region’s farms and forests for quick cash. But that, tragically, is where the road is heading in Southern Maryland -– to a landscape with more Taco Bells than tobacco barns, and more strip malls than streams full of yellow perch.
Development interests in Charles County formed a cynically-named lobbying group called the “Balanced Growth Initiative” that has gained political influence over a slim majority of the Board of Charles County Commissioners.
On Tuesday, that majority voted 3-2 to approve a planning map that shifts 9,000 acres out of a conservation area and into a classification for future development. The vote defied the opinions of a clear majority of county residents and opens the door for more sprawling development across the County’s forest lands.
“This sends the absolute worst message imaginable,” Commissioner Ken Robinson said, according to a report in the (Southern Maryland) Independent.
Robinson and Board President Candice Quinn Kellyvoted against the bad planning map, while Commissioners Bobby Rucci, Debra Davis and Reuben Collins voted to approve the map. The county was required to create the map by a state law that seeks to limit developments with high-pollution septic systems.
“Once more, the three (Rucci, Davis, and Collins) have demonstrated their contempt for the public by catering to the development lobby, the Balanced Growth Initiative (BGI),” wrote a local conservation group called the Smarter Growth Alliance of Charles County in a Facebook posting. “This tier map will lead to continued high property taxes, unsafe and overcrowded schools, and horrible traffic congestion.”
In voting to allow more sprawl development, the three commissioners gave the green light to more pollution in the Chesapeake Bay at a time when state and local governments across the region are working hard to reduce pollution and meet EPA pollution limits. To learn more about why the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is important, click here.
The commissioners also ignored the opinions of a six member advisory work group that they themselves had appointed. And they ignored the opinions of the general public. A poll conducted by 1000 Friends of Maryland found that nearly two-thirds of Charles County residents believe the county is growing too fast, and that 93 percent of the local people polled believe that protecting local waterways should be a top priority in county planning.
Four years ago, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and coalition of partner groups, citizens, and business owners stopped a potentially disastrous road project in Charles County called the Cross County Connector (CCC). The victory over the “sprawl highway” spurred hope that out-dated land-use policies of the past were just that and that the county would chart a new, more prosperous and environmentally sustainable course through the revision of its comprehensive plan for future growth.
Instead, the development lobby put forth a proposal that would allow sprawling growth and resurrect the Cross County Connector—the very same road that the state and the Army Corps of Engineers refused to permit.
Enough is enough. It is time the leadership of Charles County start listening to their own voters, and focus on protecting the local quality of life, instead of short-term cash.
To learn more, click here.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation