Updated: Feb 7, 2019
The following Letter to the Editor was submitted to the Recorder as Keep Calvert Country’s Response to the Board of County Commissioners’ (BoCC) “Open Letter” dated December 12, 2017. Scroll down to see our "Point-by-Point" Responses.
First of all, we assume that all parties, including the BOCC, the Planning Commission and our wonderful Planning and Zoning staff, are all working for the betterment of Calvert County. We hope that others will assume our intentions are the same.
Although characterized as such by the BOCC, “Keep Calvert Country” is not a “special interest” group. We are a bi-partisan group of citizens who love Calvert’s Rural Character and want to protect Calvert’s Quality of Life. We believe “Quality of Life” relates directly to a strong economy. We are not anti-growth, but we want Calvert to grow no faster than its infrastructure - in other words, to "Grow Responsibly".
Like all other citizens in the County, we were invited to submit comments on the consultant’s draft plan and did so within the allotted seven week comment period. We felt that more time was needed for citizens to review and discuss a document that will guide development for decades to come and said so. We still feel the same today.
We expressed our deep concern that traffic congestion is virtually dismissed as an issue in the draft plan, despite the fact that the Commissioners themselves are projecting a 72% increase in traffic by 2030. We believe that traffic - especially as it relates to the time it takes commuters to get to and from work and as it relates to public safety - should be a top priority for the Plan. We only have one major north-south highway.
We expressed concern over what appears to be a proposed weakening of our land preservation program. It looks like there will be less need for Transferable Development Rights and that the goal of preserving 40,000 acres is being eliminated. These are legitimate questions, not “scare tactics”.
We also feel it necessary to address the Commissioners' characterization of the Plan as a "visionary document". It is important for citizens to understand that it is much more than that. State law requires that all land use decision be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. The consultant left the "Purpose Statement" out of the draft plan, and we believe it is essential that it be put back in. It gives a clear explanation of how the plan is to be used. You may read the current "Purpose Statement" on page iii of the current Plan here: http://www.co.cal.md.us/DocumentCenter/View/254.
Our other concerns about the Comprehensive Plan, which include more opportunities for strip commercial development, less concern about the appearance of our Town Centers and virtually no attention to our history and heritage can be found on our website at www.KeepCalvertCountry.com. We have also posted a more detailed response to the Commissioners’ Open Letter at this site. We also welcome comments on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/KeepCalvertCountry or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We sincerely believe the Commissioners do not want Calvert to become another “Waldorf” which has come to mean terrible traffic, endless failed intersections, strip commercial development and no architectural identity or features that represent the region’s heritage. We are therefore surprised and disappointed that the Commissioners have chosen to characterize our comments as “misrepresenting
facts”. But we are gratified to read that despite the December 8th deadline for comments on the first daft, the Commissioners have stated that the “public conversation is open and ongoing.” We look forward to it.
Keep Calvert Country
KCC's Point-by-Point Responses:
The above comments aside, we are happy that the Commissioners read our report. Though we disagree with their assessment of our report (see point-by-point responses below), we believe that it is a beginning of the public dialog on the Plan, particularly the traffic issues. We welcome a public dialog, because it can only lead to a better plan.
The KCC Statements and BoCC's Answers below were extracted from the “Open Letter”, which you can view here.
KCC Statement #1 - The plan is missing the section on implementation of its visions.
BoCC Answer: True, but … The implementation items in the draft plan are actually incorporated under each goal and objective throughout the chapters. These bullet points will be gathered into an implementation section once all public input on the first draft is received and they are ranked into short, medium and long-term items. Keep Calvert Country’s Response: The Consultant said that the implementation section was not included and states under Chapter 11: "to be added after November public meetings"! Our observation is based on that statement.
KCC Statement #2 - The county should extend the comment period so the ‘complete’ plan with implementation items is available for public review.
BoCC Answer: Not necessary. The implementation items have been in the draft and available for public review, just not in a separate implementation section. Public review and input is open and ongoing until the BOCC adopts the final version. KCC Response: Not necessary? Shouldn’t the Board of County Commissioners and Planning Commission be interested in the thoughts of its citizens as to the implementation actions in the plan that will affect their lives?
KCC Statement #3 - No traffic studies were conducted for the plan.
BoCC Answer: True, but they are not part of comprehensive plans. Traffic studies are done for specific projects, not for visionary planning documents like the comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan has a long-range outlook. Traffic studies can only predict shorter term impacts. KCC Response: The statement is still accurate and traffic analysis, based on traffic studies, is often a part of comprehensive plans. Even our county master plans have contained traffic studies (see the Prince Frederick Plan). However, there was apparently no traffic planner on the consultant’s staff and the lead consultant told us at the November meeting in Prince Frederick that she was not familiar with the increase in traffic volume on MD 231 or with traffic projections presented to the State Highway Administration by the Commissioners.
KCC Statement #4 - A commissioners’ traffic projection was not included in the plan.
BoCC Answer: False, for a couple of reasons. Neither the BOCC nor county staff has developed traffic projections for the comprehensive plan. The reference may be to a state study conducted for the widening of Route 2-4 in Prince Frederick. Again, traffic studies are for short-term projects, not long-term planning documents like the comprehensive plan.
KCC Response: The statement is still accurate and if a consultant is preparing a comprehensive plan, shouldn’t she know about county projections for traffic, especially if they call for a 70% increase in traffic on MD 4 in just 12 years? The County Commissioners' projection that traffic will increase to 83,600 by 2030 is on page 13 of this Maryland Dept. of Transportation Report.
KCC Statement #5 - New developer-installed sewer systems needed for future growth would be taken over by the county for maintenance, leading to unknown future costs.
BoCC Answer: False. There is no requirement for local government to take over the maintenance of developer-installed water/sewer systems. The Maryland Department of the Environment is the regulatory body overseeing these systems. It performs inspections to ensure they are properly maintained. County government will step in if a system is in danger of failing; this is a basic health and safety issue. If this occurs, users of the system would cover the costs of maintenance or replacement – not county taxpayers. KCC Response: There has been at least one example of when the county had to take over a privately-installed system and we understand that the Maryland Department of the Environment does assume that if a private system fails, the county will get involved. If that is not true, we’d like to hear that from the Maryland Department of the Environment. If the County will not be taking them over, the term "developer-funded public sewer systems" should be changed.
KCC Statement #6 - The Comprehensive Plan draft does not base population growth on infrastructure costs.
BoCC Answer: This is an irrelevant distinction. As visionary documents, comprehensive plans do not address the costs of infrastructure driven by population growth. Controls are built in through excise taxes that fund roads, schools, recreation and solid waste services, along with adequate public facilities regulations that require roads and schools to be adequate before development is allowed. KCC Response: Heavy traffic congestion affects quality of life, including the economic health of an economy. Maryland 4 is Calvert’s lifeline. That is hardly irrelevant.
KCC Statement #7 - The Comprehensive Plan draft weakens land preservation by reducing Transferable Development Rights (TDRs).
BoCC Answer: This is a misleading scare tactic. The TDR program is still intact and the state growth tier structure directs growth to town centers to prevent major development outside of growth areas. There are many factors surrounding decisions on land preservation, including the recent recession. The greater factor is the value of TDRs – not the number per dwelling unit – and the market drives the value. It’s a constant balancing act. KCC Response: First, quote us correctly. We said that “The new Plan weakens existing Land Preservation Programs by reducing the number of Transferable Developments (TDRs) required for development.” Why does the consultant’s draft plan recommend changing the current threshold for using in the town centers and Residential District (see page 4-13) thus reducing the need for Transferable Development Rights? Why does it eliminate the goal of preserving 40,000 acres on page 4-22 (goal 1, objective 1, bullet 4)? If the Commissioners have concerns about weakening the land preservation program, they should raise these concerns with the Planning Commission.
KCC Statement #8 - The plan proposes to expand town centers and villages while eliminating appearance standards.
BoCC Answer: True and false. The draft plan does propose to expand some town centers and proposed villages. Comprehensive plans do not include appearance standards; plans are not regulatory documents. Appearance standards are regulations enacted through zoning ordinances. KCC Response: To quote us accurately, we said: “The new Plan proposes expansion of Town Centers and villages and eliminates the reference to appearance standards.” It is True and True. The previous plan references the need for appearance standards. The new one does not. Please check your facts.
KCC Statement #9 - There are no studies conducted to measure impact of the expansion of town centers and villages.
BoCC Answer: This again misrepresents the nature of comprehensive plans. They are visionary planning documents, not detailed regulatory structures. The plan recommends expansions of some town centers and proposed villages but does not automatically expand the boundaries. That can only be done through zoning amendments which involves a full public process. At that time the BOCC could require studies to assess the impact. KCC Response: First, to quote KCC correctly, we said “No studies have been conducted to measure the impact of these expansions on infrastructure.” That statement is true. And frankly, we ask the public, if the traffic is already projected to grow 70% in Prince Frederick in the next 12 years, and a 2013 State Highway Traffic Study is already projecting 16 failed intersections in the morning and evening without the expansion of the Prince Frederick Town Center, why don’t citizens have a right to know this before the Comprehensive Plan recommends expansion?
KCC Statement #10 - The plan is missing the Heritage and Government sections.
BoCC Answer: True, but … The draft plan is organized based upon elements outlined in state law. The Heritage section is gone but could be added if directed by the Planning Commission. The Government section is gone but many of its elements are included in the Community Facilities chapter. KCC Response: It is true. Just look at the current Plan. And we are asking to put them back in the plan. Is that not something that citizens can do?
KCC Statement #11 - The update process for the Comprehensive Plan is being rushed.
BoCC Answer: False. Public participation in the plan update process started in June 2016 and will continue through the public hearing prior to final adoption. Beyond that, any changes in zoning regulations to meet Comprehensive Plan visions will involve public processes stretching well into 2019. Staff from the county Department of Planning & Zoning is responsive to any and all residents who wish to offer feedback. The plan draft, background information, scheduling and much more are available at www.co.cal.md.us/FutureCalvert. The public conversation is open and ongoing. KCC Response: We leave that one up to the citizens.
Want to join the discussion? Visit our Forum here.
Do you share our concerns? We have a petition on change.org that you can sign and submit comments. We will forward them to the Planning Commission.