Calvert commissioners Tom Hejl and Mike Hart
Left to right, Calvert County Commissioners Tom Hejl and Mike Hart.

Prince Frederick, MD – Calvert County Board of Commissioners and Planning Commission held a joint public hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 25 regarding several lingering issues. The hearing was set to present proposed text amendments to the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance, proposed adoption of the Calvert County Growth Tier Map, proposed text amendments for Dunkirk, Huntingtown, Lusby, Owings, Prince Frederick, Solomons and Calvert County Zoning Ordinance and/or Master Plan Sections, proposed adoption of the updated Calvert County Critical Area Maps, and proposed Broomes Island Flood Mitigation Plan.

Several of the issues continue to remain unresolved after the two-and-a-half hour session at Calvert Pines Senior Center located on W. Dares Beach Road in Prince Frederick.  Among the items currently in limbo were addressing the state mandate to approve a tier growth map and a decision on whether or not to dissolve the seven town centers’ architectural review committees (ARCs).

Those two issues prompted the most discussion during the evening. The Maryland General Assembly passed the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, a measure often referred to as “The Septics Law.”  According to a Department of Community Planning and Building synopsis, “the law authorizes a local jurisdiction to adopt certain growth tier designations and establishes certain mandatory and discretionary provisions relating to the adoption of certain tiers. The law controls the creation of residential subdivisions through the use of a system of growth tiers and what type of sewerage system will serve them. The law prohibits the creation of major subdivisions in certain growth tiers.”

According to Long Rang Planner Jenny Plummer-Welker, 16 Maryland jurisdictions have adopted tier growth maps. About 49 percent of Calvert County’s land area would be in Tier 3, which allows for large lot developments and “rural villages” on septic. As for the other proposed map designations, Tier 1 is area currently served by public sewer, Tier 2 is comprised of future growth areas planned for sewer and Tier 4 is preservation and conservation areas, which allow for no major subdivisions on septic.

Port Republic property owner Douglas Weems told the panels that his family farm, which is 80 years-old, yielded 199 transfer of development rights (TDRs) in 2005. With passage of The Septics Law, the TDR yield is down to seven and “the property value has been greatly diminished,” said Weems, adding that the government should compensate the family for the financial loss. Weems’ family property is located in a Rural Legacy area, which resulted in the Tier 4 designation. 

“I think it stinks,” declared Commissioner Mike Hart (R-Dist. 1), who wondered what options the county had for helping landowners facing a similar dilemma. Another board member, Commissioners’ Vice President Tom Hejl (R-At large), called the legislation “the biggest land-grab in the state’s history.”

Plummer-Welker explained that after the county approves its tier map, it must then adopt the map into its Comprehensive Plan. Not complying with the measure would limit the county’s authority to approve residential subdivisions.

“I’ve been concerned about this state law for a long time,” said Planning Commission Vice Chairman Mike Phipps, who moved to recommend to the county commissioners that it not adopt the proposed tier map, keep the public record open, work with state agencies during the Comprehensive Plan revision process to lessen the impact on landowners.

Department of Community Planning and Building Director Mark Willis told the panels that county government staff was “working with Mr. Weems” and has been “talking to DNR [Department of Natural Resources]” about removing the property from Rural Legacy. Willis acknowledged that asking the state to alter Rural Legacy boundaries “is going to be very difficult.”

The commissioners voted 4-0-1 [Commissioner Pat Nutter (R-Dist. 2) was absent due to illness] in favor of the acceptance of the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

Several Dunkirk citizens spoke on the floor regarding the proposal to abolish town center ARCs. Leonard Nale of the Apple Greene Homeowners’ Association said the subdivision’s members “voted 100 percent opposed.” Nale added that the group wants the county to honor the commitment of having a new commercial center—The Shoppes of Apple Greene—subject to the review of the Dunkirk Architectural Review Committee (DARC).

Another Dunkirk resident, Robert Arscott, opined that “the driving force for this amendment is to assist the builders.” Arscott noted that unlike some of the other ARCs have trouble assembling an adequate number of members to make decisions, DARC “always has a quorum. I don’t feel Dunkirk should suffer.”

An opposing point of view came from Hejl. “What sort of control do you want to have over another person’s life? Hejl asked. The first-term commissioner made a note that many commercial developers have had to persevere through costly consequences, when an ARC found a project plan unacceptable due to some aesthetic technicality. 

While a majority of the Planning Commission favored closing the public record and not approving the measure to abolish ARCs, the commissioners voted to leave the record open for two weeks. Commissioner Steve Weems (R-At large) indicated Nutter’s absence created a need for the board to delay its final decision on the issue.

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