Updated: Feb 7, 2019
Calvert County is a great place to live because of the level of citizen participation and engagement over the last 50 years. Unfortunately, the process for citizen participation has changed.
Leading up to the preparation of the 1974 Comprehensive Plan, citizens were invited to participate in the writing of the plan. Long work sessions with citizens were held. The Plan that was adopted recognized that Calvert was starting to attract residential sprawl and that efforts should be taken to protect rural lands and provide adequate infrastructure to accommodate the growth that was to come. Out of that Plan came the first land preservation plan in the state and the County received an award from the National Association of Counties for its citizen participation program. The county’s land preservation program is still regarded as one of the best in the nation.
Likewise, the 1983 Comprehensive Plan was recognized by the American Planning Association for its citizen participation program and was called a “new wave” plan for its town center concept. Every county organization was asked to actively participate. Dozens of meetings were held. A copy of the draft plan was sent to every household with a survey of citizens’ opinions. As a result of the adopted plan, strip commercial development was effectively stopped on MD 4. Without it, Route 4 would have been more like route 5 in Charles County or Route 1 in Prince Georges County. There has been no strip commercial zoning in Calvert since the 1983 Plan.
The 1997 Comprehensive Plan noted that Calvert was the fastest growing county in the state. It highlighted the adverse impacts of such rapid growth and identified steps to slow it down. The plan also was the result of lengthy citizen input and residents received a summary of the plan draft by mail. Actions to implement that plan finally slowed Calvert’s growth rate. It dropped from 1st to 11th of the 23 counties and that's why traffic congestion isn't worse than it is.
The 2018 comprehensive planning process has been entirely different. Prior to the initiation of the Plan, County Commissioners and senior staff met on numerous occasions with the Small Business Interest Group (SBIG), comprised of every major developer in Calvert. SBIG asked for a rapid rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan. A consultant was hired with a mandate to finish both the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance in 2 years, half of the time that it usually takes. The lead consultant has acknowledged that the work schedule is “very aggressive” in order to meet the deadline. By the way, no other county citizen organizations have had the same attention. On average, a dozen county staff meet with SBIG and the county has been taking the minutes.
The 1st draft of the new Plan is not even a complete document. When first presented to the Planning Commission, the consultants were directed to add a "sustainability" element, request comments from County agencies, and add the final (and vitally important) chapter concerning implementation. But despite being given an incomplete draft, citizens will have only one chance to submit comments. No public meetings are scheduled after the 2nd Draft is released until the public hearing sometime in the Spring, and citizens are not permitted to ask questions at those hearings, which is odd in itself.
At the end of the process, will citizens believe that the Plan is by and for the people?