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Opinion - Calvert's leaders putting county in peril

To the Editor
On June 14, 2016, at a public hearing on the Armory Square development, [Calvert County] Commissioner [Tom] Hejl stated, “That there are circumstances that the citizens don’t know about.”  I have been searching for what he meant ever since. Here are just some of my findings.

(1) At that same public hearing on 6/14/16 for the Zoning Text Amendments, leaders of two business groups gave misleading statements. Despite the fact citizens sent 1,001 letters in opposition to the text amendments, the commissioners passed the amendments. Chamber of Commerce’s then-president, Bill Chambers, spoke on behalf of the unregistered lobbyist group, stating that he represented over 400 businesses and 16,000 employees. However, members of his group were never polled. Therefore he gave preferential treatment to those members who were in support of the text amendments, national and local developers and anyone else who will profit from the Armory Square project. The other leader, Anthony Williams, insisted he ‘didn’t have a dog in the race” and went on to testify why the big box text amendments should be passed. He and some members of his group have fought for the development of Dares Beach Road for years. They’re quoted in many articles as being in favor of extensive county development and threw a huge 2014 campaign party for pro-business candidates. Shortly thereafter he testified in favor of firing Planning Commission members Lusby and Phipps at their hearing. He may not own the dog, but he certainly has been walking and feeding it!

(2) These same two groups have been meeting privately on a regular basis, with county employees and a commissioner, to push their pro-growth agenda. I was recently told by county staff that “Because this group is not a public body there are no requirements to post minutes or meetings.” Meetings that are regularly attended by county employees and a county commissioner regarding county business should remain public and subject to the public record. These meetings are allowing shadow government to exist where citizens are not welcome to the meetings as they don’t even know they are taking place, let alone being invited. Commissioners have exhibited an utter disregard for citizen input as they have already been present and a part of private meetings regarding vital changes to our county.

(3) The contact list for one group, in part, represent members of various organizations and businesses of the Calvert County developers and pro-growth business owners. Many do not represent a voice of a regular citizen. This group is known as the Small Business Interest Group, which has pushed numerous excessive growth patterns harmful to the future of the county.

For years Calvert County citizens’ input has kept the rural character of the county through the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinances. Sign regulations are a part of limiting excessive growth. They limited how and where signs were to be used, made sure that they were limited in size and were not electronic (didn’t distract drivers and keep our roads safer). They made sure that the county’s people (not national chains) determined how the county looked. The proposed sign regulations will take away all these citizens’ rights and will change the way our county looks forever. Part of Calvert County’s appeal is its rural charm. If Calvert citizens wanted to overdevelop we could have done that years ago. We don’t want to look like Waldorf!

Lusby and Phipps were fired by our County Commissioners when they pushed back against over-development of this county. They held their respective positions on the commission for decades through bi-partisan BOCCs and were highly respected by all who worked with them. This current BOCC has, by firing Lusby and Phipps, undermined the significance of citizen volunteers who add value to our community and offer legitimate viewpoints that protect our way of life. 

One new member of the Planning Commission, a replacement for Lusby and Phipps, is—surprise surprise—a member of this secret Small Business Interest Group. She and the group have previously both written to the Calvert County Government offering sign guideline changes portrayed in the new regulations. This person should be forced to recuse herself from any vote on the issue or more honestly should be removed from the commission entirely. Another replacement for Lusby and Phipps was none other than the campaign manager for Commissioner Hejl and Commissioner Slaughenhoupt’s treasurer also serves as a member.

Without citizen input, this Planning Commission is approving dramatic changes being made to the Comprehensive Plan land use map. These changes will allow farm and agricultural land owned by some members of the Small Business Interest Group to become huge chunks of commercial land in the Town Centers. These are newly created land designations never discussed at public workshops that have occurred over the past year.

This BOCC and its biased Planning Commission exhibit a total and utter disregard for the will of the citizens. This BOCC: has met in private meetings out of the reach of public input, has fired members of the Planning Commission who have expressed opposing opinions, has appointed minions to do their bidding on the Planning Commission rendering the commission no more than a rubber stamping body, has disregarded years of citizen input and review of the  comprehensive planning process by allowing for new land designations NEVER mentioned at public meetings; and have worst of all gone against the will of Calvert’s Citizens who overwhelmingly want to Keep Calvert Country. It’s time to take back our county!

How can you help?
1. Your presence is crucial at the Public Hearing on Aug. 22, 7 p.m. at the Calvert Pines Senior Center.
2. Write letters to the BOCC or sign and submit the letter found on the Calvert Coalition for Smart Growth website to demand that the Commissioners address the concerns of citizens over the developers who are set on ruining our quality of life. Follow the CCSG and Keep Calvert Country on Facebook for updates.
3. Vote for candidates that listen to citizen input.
4. Email my detectives at cleanupcalvert@gmail.com with any information or concerns you have and we will do our best to expose them to the public.

Stay tuned… more to follow!

Susan Dzurec, Huntingtown, MD

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