After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

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Category Archives: Growth

The 2012 Draft Comprehensive Plan for Charles County: What You Get When the Developers Write Your Plan

Historically, land use decisions have been left up to local governments. While the State has tried to influence these decisions via various policy statements regarding smart growth, local autonomy has rarely been challenged and the laws implementing State policy generally have no “teeth.” Clearly, sprawl development has not been significantly curbed by these policies relying on voluntary compliance and recent legislation has reflected a trend to add at least the threat of a “stick” to the lure of a “carrot.”

SB236, The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, encourages development supported by public sewer systems as opposed to sprawl development on septic systems. On the surface, this looked like a “win-win” piece of legislation that limits where septic systems can be used as a way to promote smart growth with a strong Chesapeake Bay cleanup component. The legislative provisions were implemented via “shall” statements to more forcefully push local government toward smart growth policies that concurrently reduce the associated growth costs born by the taxpayers and threats to the environment. However, some counties have revolted against the State’s threat to their autonomy and decided to test the State’s resolve to use the “stick.” Charles County seems poised to join the ranks of Frederick, Cecil and others who don’t have a problem with new development costs being born by the taxpayers and the water being too dirty for their children to play in.

Normally, there is some give and take between smart-growth advocates and the development community during the comprehensive land-use planning process. However, the 2012 Draft Comprehensive Plan for Charles County (The Plan) was essentially written by the development community to the exclusion of smart-growth policies, and without directives and goals based on serving the broader public’s interest. The process was permeated by the insistence of a majority of the Planning Commission (PC) that zoning density is a property right and downzoning is a “taking” of rights – a conclusion that is not supported by legal precedence, court decisions or the history and application of local zoning ordinances throughout this nation.

Therefore, any attempt to limit development anywhere in the County was automatically opposed with no regard for the obvious and well-documented potential environmental, quality-of-life, and fiscal consequences. Ultimately, this “takings” argument has set the course for a new land-use vision that will burden taxpayers with the cost of sprawl, cause further environmental degradation, and destroy resources that have public-health, ecological and economic value.

This Property-rights hysteria has led to clear violations of State policy as implemented in Maryland statutes. The development forces took complete control of the process via their sympathizers on the PC who willingly ignored and even actively conspired to circumvent State laws. The PC majority blindly embraced a tiers map developed in secret by a pro-development lobby made up of realtors, developers and farmers/speculators. Instead of complying with either the spirit or letter of SB236, the developer map ignored clear policy goals and statute text aimed at limiting septics in sensitive areas. In an attempt to circumvent the text of the Bill, the PC voted to change the zoning of over half the County to remove the word “Conservation” from the zoning classifications. There was no planned comprehensive rezoning and no assertion of a mistake or change in neighborhood as required by the Land Use Article in State Statutes. The majority of the PC just “spot-zoned” all the areas where they wanted to increase development on septics in total disregard for the law.

Apparent loop holes in the text of the Bill were exploited to increase the size of all minor subdivisions on septics from five to seven lots and also allow residue parcels to be treated as new subdivisions so some existing minor subdivisions can be expanded to 12 lots. Adequate Public Facilities mitigation is much less of a burden for minor subdivisions than for major subdivisions. Therefore, minor subdivisions are more of a burden to the taxpayers but better for the builders’ bottom lines.

The apparent corruption of sound growth and development concepts has also infected the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) who didn’t have to endorse the PC’s biased anti-environment agenda. However, recent actions by the BOCC indicate that the development lobby has succeeded in seizing control of at least three of the five Commissioners who are willing to rubber-stamp the irresponsible decisions of the rogue Planning Commission.

Given that the state has established that the public has a right to witness the iterative process of zoning and comprehensive planning, it is critical to note that the public was not privy to details surrounding how this tiers map was developed. It was created by a private company, under the direction of a pro-development faction, and the public did not have access to the decision-making regarding what parameters were used to devise and establish the four tiers.

It remains to be seen if the political will to protect, preserve or conserve anything exists at the BOCC level.  However, it seems clear that the laws have enough “teeth” to hold Charles County accountable for The Plan and the tiers map, under review by various agencies. That the laws have been violated is not debatable; the violations are obvious and only the capability and commitment to enforce them are in question. It seems likely that Charles County will join the ranks of other counties thumbing their noses at state policies and that enforcing these policies and the laws that are being broken will fall to either the State or to coalitions of private organizations with limited legal assets.

It also seems that this type of behavior on the part of the PC majority should qualify for disciplinary action against them. According to The Land Use Article, the BOCC has the authority to remove Planning Commissioners for malfeasance. Most oaths of office include promises to honor laws and uphold the public trust, neither of which has been done in this case. However, the BOCC has not taken such action and the political will to do the right thing may not be strong enough – especially since their majority seems to mirror the same contempt for state law and the majority of Charles County citizens as does the PC. However, it should not be assumed that the residents of Charles County are unwilling to seek judicial remedies against those officials who ignore our laws and abuse the public trust. The PC-approved tiers map and comprehensive plan both fail Charles County, its citizens, and the Chesapeake Bay.











‘We Must Preserve an Economic Asset’

(This ninth installment in our series, What’s It Going to Take?, looks at how the environmental community can regain the initiative and build the political will necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.)

In this exclusive interview with the Bay Action Plan, Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale says that the costs of cleaning the Chesapeake Bay are significant, but manageable.

“No time is a good time when you’re talking about trying to implement very costly pollution control measures,” DiPasquale said. “But when you spread that cost over the life of a project… you find that the cost to individual households is a few dollars a month. Compare it to cellphone or cable costs, it puts things into perspective.”

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Sprawl Poisons the Bay

(Posted by Gerald Winegrad).

The recent deluges leading to massive stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay may cause great damage to an already seriously impaired system. We previously have discussed in this spot the huge flows of Bay-choking nutrients and sediment from farms each time it rains. Now, we will devote discussions to the pollution flowing from developed lands including huge amounts of nutrients, sediment, and toxic chemicals.

The Chesapeake’s watershed before 1607 was 95 percent forested with huge acreage of intact wetlands. These forests and wetlands absorbed and held nutrients and sediment. The flow of these Bay-killing pollutants was greatly accelerated due to enormous changes in land use when we converted forests and wetlands to agriculture and then, more recently, to development. The Bay region has since lost about 50 percent of its forest cover and 72 percent of its wetlands. No change has been more devastating for the Bay.Continue Reading

A Riverkeeper Reflects

(Posted by Jeanne McCann.)
Local photographer David Joyner interviews Riverkeeper Fred Tutman about his rural roots, growing up on a farm, how he came to be the Patuxent Riverkeeper and the specific pollution issues facing the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay, and his life as an environmental activist.

Fred Tutman, Riverkeeper from david joyner on Vimeo.

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“Death by a Thousand Cuts”: Chesapeake Bay’s Disappearing Shoreline

(This is the first in a series of reviews of notable films that we feel should be part of any card-carrying environmental activist’s toolkit. We’ve chosen films that we think have made an important contribution to understanding the challenges facing restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. We kick off with a look back at Michael English’s 2008 gem, “Weary Shoreline.” -Eds.)

(Posted by John D. Wickham.)

Weary ShorelineCoastal Maryland, encompassing the state’s capital, Annapolis, the counties of Anne Arundel, Talbot, and Dorchester, and still other areas, is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the United States, whose rivers and tributaries feed into the nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. Though picturesque, this border area where land and sea meet has been under relentless pressure from human population growth and real estate development in the last three decades. Estimates put Southern Maryland’s loss of forest cover at more than 160,000 acres in the last fifteen years.
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Some Inconvenient Truths About the Chesapeake Bay

(Posted by Jeanne McCann.)
Settle in, grab some popcorn, put your feet up and prepare to be outraged when you hear what former Maryland State Sen. Gerald Winegrad, architect of the 25-step Chesapeake Bay Action Plan, has to say in this excellent public presentation at Quiet Waters Park, Annapolis, Maryland, on May 19, 2011. Continue Reading