A great egret stands sentinel in Mattawoman Creek, Charles County, Maryland. Photo © Krista Schlyer/iLCP
Charles County Resurrects Ill-Advised,
Unsustainable Comprehensive Plan
"While farming can and is expected to continue in the near future,
the long range land use over time can be replaced by rural residential housing
on large lots as the dominant use."
(draft Charles County Comprehensive Plan, p. 3-13)
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 (CCC). The victory 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, special interests 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. Shockingly, 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, businesses and many others during an extensive public input process.
Thousands of Charles County citizens and two of the five County Commissioners spoke out against this plan at a hearing last fall. In response, a county-appointed task force re-examined the county's "tier map"—a major driver of the county's plan for unchecked growth—and recommended sweeping changes. Thanks to the voices of thousands of county residents, local and regional organizations, and the task force, the remaining County Commissioners relented, voting to adopt a tier map largely consistent with public input and staff recommendations
But the draft comprehensive plan that could decimate Charles' County's farms, forests, and waterways lives on. So does the Cross County Connector, as the County commissioners are considering spending one million dollars on a study to revive the roadway proposal.
Draft Plan Flies in the Face of Responsible Land Use
The draft plan currently before the Commissioners does not reflect the new tier map, the work of the county-appointed task force, county planning staff recommendations or the wishes of thousands of county citizens.
Instead, the plan would:
- Dramatically increase hard, polluting surfaces in sensitive
watersheds like Mattawoman Creek
- Support ill-conceived and damaging road projects like the
Cross County Connector
- Allow the development of major new subdivisions on farms and
forests across the county.
The draft plan sums it up:
"While farming can and is expected to continue in the near future, the
long range land use over time can be replaced by rural residential housing on large
lots as the dominant use." (draft Charles County Comprehensive Plan, p. 3-13)
The plan would allow for the construction of up to 52,000 new
houses, leaving little room for a viable future for farming in
Charles County. This number could include as many as 349 major
subdivisions on septic
systems, generating an additional 215,000 pounds of nitrogen per year to the
county's waterways. By comparison, the La Plata wastewater treatment plant in lower
Charles County is limited to a maximum nitrogen discharge of 18,273 pounds of
nitrogen per year.
Plan Threatens Mattawoman Creek
The additional polluted runoff that would come from such a massive and sprawling development proposal threatens the future of local natural gems like Mattawoman Creek. The Mattawoman is considered one of the most productive fish nursery areas in the Chesapeake and it brings in millions of dollars in economic development from nationally-known bass fishing tournaments. But state biologists say the creek's upstream areas are teetering on the verge of ecological collapse from existing development, and the wide-scale planned additional growth would likely push the vital Mattawoman into dramatic decline. The draft plan would generate twice as much impervious surface when compared to moderate alternatives developed with public input, significantly increasing polluted runoff into waterways.