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Tensions run high at public hearing in Charles

 

La Plata,MD - Angela Sherrod, the new chairperson for the Charles County Planning Commission, had her hands full trying to maintain order and decorum in the public hearing held Monday, Jan. 9 regarding the county’s proposed Watershed Conservation District (WCD).

As Charles County Planning Director Steve Ball revealed that emails and letters to the county were running 67 percent to 33 percent in favor of the WCD, the commissioners meeting room—which was packed to capacity and then some—exploded in boos and derogatory comments.

When Michael Tompkins of Waldorf refused to give up his seat after his three minutes were up, telling commission members they wanted to make “second-class citizens” of the property owners they will disenfranchise should the WCD go forward, proceedings got tense.

The county officer assigned to the commissioners meeting room tried to coax Tompkins out of the chair and he refused, telling the officer, “Shut your mouth and get the hell out of my face.”

A Charles County Sheriff’s Office deputy—one of two present—interceded and escorted the man out of the room to jeers and catcalls from the audience.

When Austin Daugherty of Nanjemoy spoke in favor of the proposal, he was loudly booed as Sherrod pleaded for civility. “This is a very important issue,” Sherrod said. “You’ve come out to have your voices heard. It does no good to cry out that way. We understand your frustration and ask for a respectful proceeding.”

The matter before the board is twofold, Ball explained. One facet is to amend the zoning ordinance to implement the WCD and the county’s Comprehensive Plan which was approved last July. The second aspect is to amend the county’s zoning map and to protect Mattawoman Creek, the headwaters of the Port Tobacco River, protect forest and limit sprawl and impervious surfaces. The new initiative encompasses more than 36,000 acres in Western Charles County.

What has citizens in that part of the county enraged is the zoning stipulation that goes along with the WCD, where zoning will be limited to one home per 20 acres.

There were more than 135 people signed up to speak, so many in fact, that a second hearing will be held Thursday, Jan. 12.

Those who got the opportunity to speak Monday night had plenty to say.
Tony Dunay of White Plains, who has worked 55 years at Indian Head said he was “outraged” by the proposal. “To fast track through the process without property owner input, this is not how a transparent government works,” he said.

“The proposed WCD is an attack on property rights,” Tom Murray told the board. “Our property will be greatly devalued. We basically have three county commissioners affecting thousands of property owners. Put it to referendum and let the people vote on it,” he suggested.

“This is a taking,” said James Reed of La Plata. “It’s grossly unfair.”

William Mister of White Plains said the WCD, “Would devalue my land by 62-to-80 percent. If you want to devalue it, buy it and pay the taxes.”

Brady McGuire Jr. of Pomfret told the board, “Somebody’s moral compass is broken here. This is wrong and I think ya’ll know it. This is environmental eminent domain.”

Monday’s public hearing had to be held after property owners in the affected areas said they were not notified of the proceedings before the last public hearing in November. Planning Commission members voted at that meeting to have the 9,489 property owners notified for the Jan. 9 meeting and those notices were mailed Dec. 9.

Jeff Humphries of Waldorf, whose property would be affected by the proposal, was not happy he hadn’t been informed before now. “Even if the lack of communication was unintentional, I wasn’t asked,” he said. “Can you hear me now?”

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com

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