The WCD curtails sprawl development while conserving Mattawoman Creek, the Port Tobacco River. It will stem increasing property taxes and commute times; it will ensure better schools and enough domestic water that otherwise will run out; and it will conserve cherished rural character.
The growth industry testified it could build 17,000 housing units in the WCD "without bonus densities" that would double this amount, or more!
This 2.5 min video explains the WCD and some of the adverse impacts of so many housing units.
Some have asked for a provision allowing the creation of lots for children. This is a reasonable request if guards against abuse can be incorporated.
The new plan for Charles County's future, adopted in July of 2016, calls for zoning to curtail the sprawl development that is harming Mattawoman Creek and the headwaters of the Port Tobacco River. The Watershed Conservation District implements this zoning. With less new sprawl, this district will do much to sustain the quality of life and rural character cherished by residents.
But the development industry is clamoring to thwart the rezoning, saying it wants to build over 17,000 new housing units1 in the district! To further its ends, the development lobby is spreading misinformation to rouse opposition. This is a comprehensive zoning action, a well established means of directing growth and the prerogative of local government.
The Watershed Conservation District:
The figure above is based on the comprehensive plan land-use map. The orange boundary marks the Watershed Conservation District (WCD), excluding stream valley to the east.2 Within the WCD, red shows developed areas based on a land-use map by the Maryland Department of Planning. The amount of red helps explain why Mattawoman Creek is at the "tipping point" for irreversible degradation caused by polluted stormwater running off "impervious surface" like parking lots, roofs and roads.3 The development lobby would like to turn the whole WCD red!
The zoning in the Watershed Conservation District is required by the Comprehensive Plan to be 1 unit per 20 acres. This zoning is implemented by an ordinance and a map, which are the subjects of the January 9th hearing. The development lobby has sowed confusion over the effects of the Watershed Conservation District. Here are some answers. (Charles County also has answered some Frequently Asked Questions.)
I live in a subdivision. How will this affect me?
Beneficially. With fewer housing units being tossed up, home values will be stabilized by less competition. Plus, the assurance of green space tends to raise property values, studies show.
In addition, without the new zoning, there would be the huge reservoir of housing units (more than 17,000, according to testimony by a CEO in the real-estate industry) that would add to clogged commuter routes and overcrowded schools.
The Planning Commission needs to hear from homeowners and commuters by March 13th!
I own a parcel of less than twenty acres. Can I build a house?
Yes! The draft Zoning Ordinance assures that you can build a house. Do not believe the scare tactics of the developers' lobby.
Have other counties reduced densities like this?
Yes. Many counties have explicit or effective zoning as low or lower than the Watershed Conservation District. Land values have not declined as a result.4 Those with explicit zoning over larger areas include:
Baltimore County...... 1 unit per 50 acres
Kent County............. 1 unit per 30 acres
Montgomery County.. 1 unit per 25 acres
Calvert County......... 1 unit per 20 acres
(over 100,000 acres are so zoned in Calvert)
What does reduced density in the WCD do to the value of undeveloped land?
"Contrary to popular perception, downzoning ordinances enacted as part of a comprehensive planning process have demonstrated that they have supported or stabilized land values..." 4
Plus, landowners in the Watershed Conservation district will now be eligible to receive funds by transferring development rights through the county's "TDR" program. Moreover, much of the area is slated in the new comprehensive plan to be a Priority Preservation Area, which can open grants for agricultural easements.How much land are we talking about?
Much less than the overall size of the district. The WCD represents about 12% of the county area. Once state and county preserved land and easements are accounted for, and land already developed is excluded (red in the map above), less than half the WCD is undeveloped. So less than 20,000 acres are available for development in the WCD. For comparison, Calvert county has over 100,000 acres zoned 1 unit in 20 acres, the same zoning density as the WCD.
What are the benefits of the Watershed Conservation District?
See the list at the beginning of this article.
In addition, Mattawoman Creek has gone from "near to ideal conditions" to the "tipping point" for irreparable decline in the 26 years since most of its watershed was declared an unreasonably large development district (bigger than Baltimore).
By catching the watershed before it "tips over," the Watershed Conservation district:
"Based on our observations, Mattawoman Creek supports one of the steadiest and busiest recreational fishing destinations in Maryland. There is ample access for both shore-based and boat recreational anglers in Mattawoman Creek. Shore access is particularly important for low-income anglers and is limited in Maryland."3
How does this affect the naval base at Indian Head?
The WCD prevents encroachment! The Naval Support Facility, including Stump Neck, can have its mission impaired by encroaching subdivisions. The Watershed Conservation District alleviates encroachment with reduced densities.
-The Joint Land Use Study maps where noise from detonations at Stump Neck is likely to
cause complaints.5 The WCD lowers densities in this zone, thus reducing
potential opposition to the mission by new residents with no affinity for the
base. Prior to the WCD, much of this area was proposed for major subdivisions.
on Rte 210 are a problem for the transport of energetic materials and
for access to
D.C. by the Marine Corps' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force,
which is charged with responding to an attack on the nation's capital. A
encroachment study raised concerns about the huge "reservoir" for growth
in areas that became the "development district" because new
population would clog 210. The WCD reduces the potential to generate new
the state ended the proposed Chapman's Landing development, it was
acknowledged that this proposal for 4600 housing units was an
encroachment threat. The WCD prevents similar huge developments, like Guilford.
The WCD improves prospects for revitalizing the town of Indian Head It is widely acknowledged that a run-down town is not helpful to the base's image. The WCD helps reduce
competition for investment in the town of Indian Head.
1. Testimony by the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors at a Nov. 28, 2016 hearing on the WCD.
2. A county map of the Watershed Conservation district is here.
3. See the Interagency Task Force Report The Case for Protection of the Watershed Resources of Mattawoman Creek: Recommendations and Management Initiatives to Protect the Mattawoman Ecosystem.
4. A study that included a comparison of Charles County to Calvert County, which had already zoned for lower density.
5. See Figure 30 of the Joint Land-Use Study for a map of noise contours.
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