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When it comes to Land Use and the future of Calvert County, the current County Commissioners have bent over backwards to help developers, ignoring established plans and policies as well as the objections of their constituents.
The Commissioners’ most egregious actions are described below. Those marked with a red asterisk (*) indicate they were requested by the Small Business Interest Group (SBIG), a group of local builders, developers and engineers who meet regularly with Commissioners and top-level County staff. SBIG Minutes, which outline their “wish list”, are available here.
In June 2013, a 5-day “Charrette” (described on the County’s website as “a week-long public visioning and design process”) was held to kick off the rewriting of the 1989 Prince Frederick Master Plan. The Charrette was well-attended by local residents and a final report was presented to the Commissioners on August 27, 2013.
The current Commissioners were elected in November 2014 and took office in December 2014, and the PF Master Plan update came to a screeching halt. Instead, the Commissioners immediately began proposing numerous “piece-meal” changes that were inconsistent with established PF Master Plan policies and the Charrette.
*The Commissioners got right to work fulfilling the developers’ wish list in February 2015 by proposing changes to the TDR program that would allow greater development in Town Centers while reducing the number of TDRs required. Final Action: Adopted November 17, 2017 by a unanimous vote. (See Text Amendment 15-02).
*The next egregious action the Commissioners took in March 2015 was to allow chain stores and
restaurants to have taller signs than local businesses. Final Action: Adopted June 9, 2015 by a unanimous vote. (See Text Amendment 15-01).
*The revised sign regulations were introduced in April 2015. One of the major changes proposed was to eliminate the style and design requirements contained in each Town Center Zoning Ordinance. Instead, one uniform “Sign Design Guideline”, which would not be mandatory, was supposed to be developed for signs in all Town Centers (but has yet to be developed). This was the Commissioners’ first step in attempting to eliminate Architectural Review standards, which have helped our Town Centers retain unique characteristics while promoting attractive development.
During the review of the sign regulations, a Supreme Court decision found that jurisdictions could not regulate the content of signs. The Commissioners used this case as a free pass to completely gut the sign regulations, replacing them with provisions that will allow a proliferation of unattractive signs. Final Action: Adopted January 30, 2018 by a unanimous vote. (See Text Amendment 17-01).
*The Commissioners’ next step in attempting to eliminate Architectural Review began in May 2015, when they proposed the elimination of the Architectural Review Committees (ARCs) in all seven Town Centers. After holding a public hearing, the Commissioners decided not to eliminate the ARCs, but took steps to continue to weaken the standards and favor chain stores. Most recent action: On December 6, 2016 Commissioner Hejl made a motion to exempt chain stores and place unreasonable restraints on the ARCs. Action: Hart seconded & endorsed Hejl's motion enthusiastically. Vote: Unanimous
*Also in May 2015, the County Commissioners hijacked the preparation of the Comprehensive Plan so that they could direct the elimination of growth control measures, expand the Town Centers, allow sewer expansions outside the TCs, and make Dunkirk a Major TC. State law requires the Planning Commission to write the Plan, but the Commissioners removed the PC from the process of choosing a consultant and tried to rush the review of the Plan so that they could adopt it before the end of their term, two years ahead of the 10-year review deadline.
*In June 2015, the Commissioners proposed term limitations for County Boards and Commissions and gave themselves the authority to remove members (while also failing to set term limits for themselves). This was the first step in removing the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Planning Commission (Maurice Lusby & Michael Phipps, respectively). Final Action: Term Limits were adopted in November 2016. Vote 3-2, with Slaughenhoupt, Hejl and Weems in Favor. See Resolution here. Photo used with permission from www.somdnews.com/recorder
*In December 2016 the Commissioners held a public hearing to determine whether Mr. Lusby and Mr. Phipps should be removed. They received overwhelming public testimony against their removal. Final Action: Mr. Lusby & Mr. Phipps were removed January 10, 2017. Vote: 3-2, with Slaughenhoupt, Hejl & Hart in Favor. Note: The Commissioners replaced the Chair and Vice-Chair with developer-friendly members with ties to SBIG.
*In July 2015 the Commissioners entered into an agreement with BARGO, a development company owned by SBIG member Randy Barrett and developer John Gott, to develop Armory Square at the former middle school site. This initiated numerous changes to the Prince Frederick Zoning Ordinance. They included: increasing the size of big box stores, increasing the number of dwellings allowed per acre (from 14 to 24), and increasing the height of buildings from five stories to six. (Text Amendment 15-08a). Final Action: After overwhelming public opposition to the changes, the Commissioners adopted them July 26, 2016 by a vote of 3-2 with Hart, Hejl & Slaughenhoupt in favor.
At the same time, the Commissioners proposed and eventually adopted changing requirements in another part of Prince Frederick that allows more residential development. Final Action: Changes adopted by Unanimous Vote. (Text Amendment 15-08b).
For the first time in 31 years, the Commissioners increased both the property tax and income tax in May 2016. Vote: 3-2, Hart and Weems opposed.
In April 2017, the Commissioners made the decision, without consulting any members of the public, to move County offices off Main Street, in violation of the Prince Frederick Master Plan. When introduced by Commissioner Slaughenhoupt, the only justification given at that time was to “provide daytime foot traffic for the Armory Square commercial development” (because they were unsuccessful in convincing any of the chains to locate there). Vote: Unanimous (Nutter stated he would vote in favor of moving it forward in the CIP as long as they weren’t committing to that location.) The Commissioners then proceeded to request and obtain bond authority in an amount close to $50 million to fund the building, needlessly imposing more debt on the tax payers.
Fiscal Years 2015-2018: Failed to include any funds in the budget for improvements in the Town Centers. Unanimous action.
*The most recent change the Commissioners made in an effort to help their developer friends was to propose the increase of school capacity to 110%, which would obviously result in overcrowded schools. Action: In September 2018, the Planning Commission declined to proceed with the amendment.
Through it all, Commissioner Mike Hart voted for the above changes 80% of the time and Commissioner Steve Weems voted for the changes 70% of the time.
On November 6th, you get to decide if the incumbents remain on the Board.
Be sure to VOTE!
 A Transferable Development Right (TDR) is a right farmers sell to developers in exchange for permanently preserving their farms.