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Charles County Comprehensive Plan

Good news!!

Mattawoman's future is looking brighter!

On July 12, 2016, Charles County elected officials let it be known that they had heard the thousands urging a land-use plan that would bestow a sustainable future instead unchecked costly growth.

In a visionary move, Commissioners Peter Murphy, Ken Robinson, and Amanda Stewart adopted a new and balanced comprehensive plan. By responsibly directing growth and conserving natural areas, the new plan replaces one that, after decades, had brought Mattawoman Creek to the tipping point for irreversible loss.

Please send a thank you to County Commissioners here.

Among the positive measures in the new land-use plan are:

  • Places much of the Mattawoman Creek watershed in Charles County into a Watershed Conservation District with lower residential density.
  • Designates Bryans Road, located in a Stronghold Watershed, as a mixed use village instead of major new growth center.
  • Converts the failed Cross County Connector into a hiker biker trail.
  • Conserves ecologically rich acres previously slated for industrial development in the "tech park" in Bryans Road and around the airport.
  • Prevents major subdivisions in the Marbury/Rison area and in Marshall Hall.
  • Calls for a Nanjemoy/Mattawoman Rural Legacy area to help landowners obtain conservation easements.
  • Sets up a Nanjemoy/Mattawoman Priority Preservation Area to help conserve farm and forestland.
  • Calls for a ban on future fracking.

Background: a list of problems and their solutions to help Mattawoman Creek and preserve the quality of life in Charles County. Most of these problems have been addressed in the new comprehensive land-use plan adopted by the elected County Commissioners on July 12, 2016.
  • The Comprehensive Plan is a state-required blueprint showing where and how a county will grow. Past Charles County plans have promoted costly sprawl development that has:
    • brought Mattawoman to the "tipping point" for "irreversible deterioration."
    • led to the greatest use of trailers for classrooms in the state
    • caused to the longest commute time in MD 
    • let to the highest property tax rate of any county in MD to service sprawl
    • created the need for costly restoration of impaired watersheds that the county says it can't afford.
  • The new plan had been under revision since 2011. By 2016, a roller coaster of draft scenarios had circled back to essentially the same plan in effect before the revision process began. This plan had brought Mattawoman to the "breaking point" (must see 1 min video), even though a task force of experts said the revision may be the last chance to address Mattawoman's decline, and subsequent state comments that said the plan "will not" protect Mattawoman's fisheries. It also had put Charles County citizens on the bottom rungs of many elements important to quality of life.
  • Then, in June and July of 2016, the County Commissioners took the draft plan and worked to fix it with a series of amendments. The result is historic, as it moves the county toward a brighter future after decades of catering to proponents of sprawl development.

Problems & Smarter-growth solutions to flaws in the draft plan that was forwarded to elected officials in April 2016. Many problems are addressed in the new comprehensive plan adopted on July 12, 2016.

The draft plan essentially follows business-as-usual. It foresees unchecked growth to 150% of today's population in just 25 years. Forest will continue to disappear rapidly, and Mattawoman's fish-community will continue to decline, an unfortunate result for taxpayers, the tourism economy, and the great outdoors.

But by using elements of various scenarios crafted during the revision process, and keeping some positive aspects of the draft plan, the county can grow smarter.

  • Problem: The draft plan keeps the huge "development district stretching from St. Charles to the Potomac River. The rubber-stamp approval of development in this enormous area has caused about 10% of the land draining to Mattawoman (its watershed) to be covered with roofs, roads, parking lots, and other surfaces impervious to rainwater infiltration. This amount of "impervious surface" is the often cited tipping point for irreversible loss. Making matters worse, Mattawoman's watershed is huge compared to the area of the tidal estuary. This means disproportionately more pollution dumps into the valued estuary. For example, the Chesapeake Bay's watershed is 14 times larger than the Bay; Mattawoman's watershed is 33 times larger than its estuary!

It is no wonder that Mattawoman's fish community is declining.

  • Solution: Eliminate the so-called "development district" in favor of lower zoning. The compromise Merged-Scenario eliminated the development district, so it can be done, but it retained dense zoning that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources says "will not" protect the fish.
  • Problem
    : The draft plan does not protect the Mattawoman stream valley (green area in map to right). In 2003, the Army Corps of Engineers strongly recommended protecting the stream valley to the top of slopes as a key step to protecting Mattawoman. The draft plan conflates the stream valley with the Watershed Conservation District (blue outline). The WCD is indeed an important positive step! But it does not include the full stream valley, much of which is located outside the WCD (see map).
  • Solution: Designate a Watershed Conservation District as in the draft plan, and also zone the rest of the stream valley at 1 unit per 20 acres as in the Merged Scenario compromise and as proposed during the June 7 commissioner worksession.
The Watershed Conservation District would replace much of the outmoded "deferred development district." It is a positive step in the draft plan that merits support. But it does not fully protect the Mattawoman stream valley as recommended, so it is important to rezone the rest of the stream valley.  (Caution: the county's planning staff often treats the Watershed Conservation District to be synonymous to the stream valley.)
  • Problem
    : The Marbury/Rison area draining to the tidal Mattawoman is slated for major subdivisions on septic (orange in map to right). Hence the draft plan promotes leap-frog development in an area
    that is notorious for failed septic systems and that directly affects Mattawoman's famous estuary. Much of the area is dominated by agriculture and forest, which led the state to question the current plan for major subdivisions.
The area is also subject to loud noise from detonations at the naval facility at Stump Neck. Complaints from new residents could interfere with operations, and hurt the base's standing in future rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).
  • Solutions: As per a June 7th, 2016 amendment, designate the orange areas for minor subdivisions only like the surrounding green areas in the map ("Tier 4" under the 2012 Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act.)
This could be easily accomplished by retaining the current Rural Conservation zoning, as in the compromise Merged Scenario.

Like the Merged Scenario, overlay a Nanjemoy/Mattawoman Priority Preservation Area, and extend it further to include Marbury.

Also recommend a Mattawoman-Nanjemoy Rural Legacy Area overlay to further attract state and other funds to preserve farms and forest and to leverage matching funds from the navy's Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program (to avoid encroachment). 


  • Problem: Bryans Road is slated for massive growth in environmentally sensitive areas over an area 60% the size of La Plata. 
    • The ultra-dense core is zoned for up to 8000 housing units directly under the flight path of Maryland Airport. 
    • Runs out of water before 2040, according to the draft plan.
    • The ultra-dense core is reliant on the failed and unpermittable Cross County Connector according to the Bryans Road subarea plan.
    • Strenuously opposed by local residents. 
    • Squeezes the route used to transport hazardous materials to and from the naval facility in Indian Head.
    • Competes with revitalizing the town of Indian Head.
    • Increases traffic on Billingsley Rd. One subdivision, Guilford, by itself would increase traffic on Billingsley by 60%
  • Solution: Return Bryans Road to a mixed-used village, similar to the Merged Scenario, but focused north of 210 to promote walkability, spare Billingsley Road, and protect natural resources.

  • Problem: Promotes the failed Tech Park in Bryans Road.
    • Fully forested site is extremely sensitive and important environmentally.
    • Headwaters to a key Mattawoman tributary.
    • Next to two schools.
    • Market study finds area is not competitive as better sites with existing infrastructrue are available.
    • Would compete with revitalization of Indian Head.
  • Solution: Recommend rezoning for conservation by including in the Watershed Conservation District.


    • Forest is extremely sensitive and environmentally important. 
    • Market study finds a poor choice--not an economic engine.
    • Laced with streams; drains to spawning waters for migratory fish
    • Mars the Indian Head Rail Trail.
    • Would compete with revitalization of Indian Head.
    • Would require millions in costly infrastructure: sewer, road widenings.
  • Solution: Recommend conservation zoning; place in Watershed Conservation District as proposed on at the June 7th, 2016 commissioners' worksession. 
Preventing incompatible residential development near the airport does not require industrialization of sensitive areas. Conservation better serves the people of Charles County by reducing infrastructure costs and protecting natural resources.
  • Problem: Current draft plan would spoil the Indian Head Rail Trail by encrusting portions of it with dense development. 
The rail trail attracts local residents and tourists alike to its unique natural setting. Birders hike it to see red-headed woodpeckers and other birds. Yet the current plan continues the idea of a dense "development district" near its western end, and pushes industrial zoning near the trail around the airport (see map around Bryans Road above).
  • Solution: Eliminate the development district, as in the Merged Scenario, but at less zoning density. Eliminate industrial zoning outside the airport fence, currently proposed. Maintain Watershed Conservation Zoning in the Mattawoman/Port Tobacco area. Sensitive headwater streams to the Port Tobacco River, including Page's Swamp, are located here.


What you can do:

-Thank the county commissioners for the much improved comprehensive plan.

-Get on our mailing list for updates.

-Like the Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County Facebook for frequent updates.

-Like the Facebook for the Mattawoman Watershed Society to receive updates.

Learn more:

-Check out the presentation (pdf) explaining how present and past comp plans have put Charles County on the bottom rungs in Maryland for many issues, even as they are destroying our great outdoors.

-See land-use issues under "Our Issues." 


See Video of informed testimony on the comp plan by the Conservation Director of Maryland Bass Nation who knows 1st hand what's at stake

The Comp Plan context, and its role in our quality of life

Beginning in 1990, the massive sprawl-development promoted by Charles County’s Comprehensive Plan—and subsequent updates—have stripped streams of water-filtering forests and led to Mattawoman’s decline, bringing it to a “turning point,” according to a major interagency Task Force that examined Mattawoman’s plight.

These land-use polices have also led to many additional problems for everyone:

  • The highest real-estate tax rate of any county in Maryland
  • Highest use of trailers to school children in Maryland
  • Longest commute times in Maryland
  • Constant school redistricting
  • One of the worst in the state for lost home values. Flat home values from a glutted market
  • Polluted waters and loss of recreational opportunities
  • Absence of a walkable Waldorf serviced by mass transit to the Branch Ave metro.
  • 3rd lowest county in the state for percent of land preserved. 

Many of the problems stem from the fact that residential development costs more to service than taxes bring in (police, fire, roads, road maintenance, new schools, bussing students, ...). Stemming sprawl development would not only help fix problems affecting the quality of life of all, but would help Mattawoman survive.

In other words, what’s good for a watershed is good for all!

There is solution! Contact us! And read more >>here.