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Charles board delays action on land issue


Elementary science teacher Deanna Wheeler tells the Charles County Commissioners she is "giddy" about the potential expansion of environmental education with a proposal to place an easement on a wooded area targeted for future economic development.

La Plata, MD - Nearly 30 individuals testified Tuesday evening, Sept. 11 during a public hearing conducted by the Charles County Commissioners regarding a request to permanently preserve an over 200-acre parcel in the western part of the county. A previous board purchased the tract for over $6 million with the intent to develop a technology park in proximity to an airport. Now, with no tech park in the pipeline the Conservancy for Charles County Inc. is seeking a conservation easement to spare the chair-shaped parcel, which is buffered by Indian Head Highway and Maryland Airport and in proximity to two public schools. According to an overview of the conservation easement, “the property to be subject to the conservation easement is located in the Bryans Road area in the vicinity of the Maryland Airport but does not include the 50-acre parcel that was originally the subject of the 2005 memorandum of agreement, which can be used for economic development. Environmental features protected include forested areas and other natural habitats for fish, wildlife and native plants.”

Prior to opening the floor for testimony, Commissioner Debra Davis [D-District 2] asked, “is there a sense of urgency?” Davis questioned why the proposal was to convey the parcel to the local conservancy and not to sell it to a state preservation agency. She drew applause from opponents of the proposal when she declared, “you can’t just give the public’s property away without some authority. This is absolutely a gift.”
Leading the opposition to the proposed easement was the Southern Maryland Realtor’s Association (SMAR), which labeled the plan “another effort to stop economic development and growth in Charles County.”

Bud Humbert of Charlotte Hall, a former SMAR president, was the first speaker. Humbert stated that through online research he discovered that members of the conservancy have made several donations to the campaigns of three county commissioners. He added that if the conservancy is given ownership of the land they “will not have to pay a dime in taxes. Do the right thing—vote no!”

Another opponent, Vince Hungerford, chronicled local environmentalists’ failures at stewardship of Chapmans Landing. During the 1990s, local environmentalists won a huge victory by halting the planned development of that area on the Potomac River. Hungerford stated the iconic Mount Aventine mansion that was supposed to be a thriving focal point of the property sits padlocked instead. He added the land adjacent to the airport should remain available for commercial development, adding that Maryland Airport has the potential “to be an economic engine for the county.”

Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin also spoke out against the easement proposal, telling the commissioners, “it’s time to start supporting economic development in Western Charles County.”

According to SMAR member Brian Klaas, the easement proposal was “anti-growth, mean and no friend to economic development. It’s the most fertile ground for economic development.” Klaas added that conveying the property to the conservancy would send a signal “that Charles County is not open for business.”

Proponents, however, seemed to hold sway at the hearing, noting there was no clamor from developers, the land would still be in the control of county residents and touting the proximity to schools with the added potential for an environmental education center.

“I’m giddy about this,” said Deanna Wheeler of Nanjemoy, the elementary science teacher at JC Parks Elementary School, one of the schools located near the land. Wheeler said conserving the tract will help expand environmental education programs. “It’s the right thing for Charles County,” said Wheeler. “Support this proposal for the kids.”

Another proponent, Alex Hunter, drew scattered catcalls when he stated that some of the people complaining about the proposed easement property “have already made a lot of money off it.” Hunter added that “preservation of forests is what you have in wealthy counties.”

Although there didn’t appear to be much middle ground at the hearing, one speaker, Cornell Posey, drew applause when he suggested, “let the new board make the decision.” 

Commissioner Ken Robinson [D-District 1] made the motion to hold the public record open until the close of business Sept. 17. “I think we need more time,” said Davis. Robinson’s motion was approved on a 3-to-2 vote.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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