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Comments to the Queen Anne’s County Commission Hearing on Title 18, October 8, 2002 

Good evening.  My name is Rich Altman.  I reside at 2800 Bennett Point Road in Queenstown.

I make the following statement on my own behalf, as a resident of the County, and on behalf of the members of the Save Our County, a citizens group, of which I am the chairman.

The Commissioners adopted a new comprehensive land use plan for the County on May 11 of this year.  Now you our Commissioners have before you a proposed revision of the County’s land use and development ordinance and several proposed zoning map amendments, intended to bring the ordinance and the zoning map of the county into conformity with the new comprehensive plan. 

Taken together, the comprehensive plan, zoning maps and ordinance make this County deeply vulnerable to runaway residential development.  Together, they open the doors for speeded-up residential development – exactly what the voters rejected so decisively on September 10. They have three principal defects that will lead to the destruction of what we value about this County.  I will briefly identify each of these fatal flaws.

First, under the plan, the proposed ordinance, and map amendments, too much of the County is zoned for high-density residential use.  A simple way of making this point is to say that the five growth areas  (Stevensville, Chester, Grasonville, Queenstown, Centreville) are too large, having been very substantially expanded from 1993 initial boundaries.  A more precise way to state the point is to say that too much new housing inventory is allocated to the growth areas over too short a period of time.

However one puts it, the plan, zoning map and the ordinance invite unchecked growth that will replace the unique, distinct towns and open spaces, between the Bay Bridge and our County Seat, with a continuous strip of intensive residential and commercial development.

The second major defect of the plan and the ordinance is the absence of any effective mechanism for controlling the rate of residential growth, Countywide as well as in the growth areas.  Given the obvious, enormous development pressure on our County, residential growth must be controlled, not simply accommodated.  Yet the plan and the ordinance provide no means for pacing development – for limiting new subdivisions and residential building permits to prevent an explosion of growth far beyond what we have thus far experienced.

The Commissioners  pledged (e.g in the July 19 County Line) to announce a “growth rate control tool” as soon as possible, but so far none has been forthcoming and I’m told none will be.  The comprehensive plan, zoning map, and the new zoning and subdivision ordinance, without such a tool, are a blueprint for the destruction of the rural, small-town character of this County.

The third basic flaw in the plan and the proposed ordinance is that they encourage clusters of sprawl that disfigure our predominantly rural landscape.  If we were really serious about having 85-90% of new residential lots created in the growth areas, as the comprehensive plan projects (Vol. 1, p. 30), then we would require that when someone purchases and transfers development rights from a rural parcel, the rights should be transferred to a parcel in a growth area – not to another rural parcel.  And, of course, the parcel from which the rights are transferred should be one that needs to be preserved from development – not one that doesn’t perk or for other reasons is not developable.

The plan, zoning map and the proposed ordinance thus give us the worst of both worlds – accelerated intensive residential and commercial development in the southern part of the County, and sprawling residential development in the north and along the water’s edge.  With this plan, this zoning map and this ordinance, we will not recognize our County in ten years.

This flawed plan, zoning map and ordinance are the end product of a flawed process, my fourth point. What I have said here this evening, and much more, has been said over and over by knowledgeable, concerned citizens and groups for the past several years. County government has failed to be open, attentive and responsive. Instead of encouraging broad public participation, your administration has overtly impeded it. 

The rising tidal wave of new large-scale development that is now breaking onto our shores was visible long ago.  But those who manage the planning and development process—the planning staff, the planning commission, their lawyers, and the engineers and land planners designing and advocating projects within the County—all these key players failed to listen, and they failed to see. 

Clearly, the development pressure that Queen Anne’s County is experiencing requires and can attract to the eleven unfilled planning department positions well-trained, mature and seasoned, legal and planning professionals capable of providing leadership, providing creative solutions, building broad coalitions, negotiating complex and well-designed projects, and most importantly translating the citizens’ needs and desires into a clear vision for the County’s future. Without an energetic competent staff, even the most responsive planning process will fail.

On September 10, the voters in this County demanded that all this change.  

With a fresh approach to the planning process in our County, the defects in the plan, zoning map and ordinance can be repaired.  

With a fresh approach, and only so, we can save our County from land uses that are inappropriate, costly, and destructive of our Eastern Shore way of life.

I urge you, our Commissioners, to take no action on Title 18 and the Comprehensive Rezoning requests and not further compound these flaws.

I am providing a copy of these remarks and my comments to the Planning Commission on the proposed zoning map amendments for your record.

Thank you.   

Richard S. Altman
2800 Bennett Point Road
Queenstown, MD  21658

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