Blue Ribbon Panel Makes Second Round of Recommendations

The members of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Smart Growth and Rural Development have made a second set of preliminary recommendations stemming from their two most recent meetings on August 22 and September 4. The recommendations will be forwarded to the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners.

“We want the public to know we are slowly working through each and every issue presented to us during this process and we are making great progress,” said County Commission President Gene Ransom.

Ransom co-chairs the panel with Planning Commission chairman Frank Frohn. County Commissioner Paul Gunther is also a member of the panel, along with representatives of the farm, environmental and business communities and local municipalities.

The Blue Ribbon Panel was formed in January in response to proposed county ordinance 08-25, The Rural Preservation and Development Act, introduced by County Commissioner Eric Wargotz, M.D.

Over the past few months panel members studied various preservation programs and methods and heard presentations concerning growth management practices from representatives across the region and the state. The panel also received input from real estate appraisers and attorneys, bankers, county staff, farmers, realtors, developers and conservation groups.

In June the panel began an in depth Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis of land use proposals and enlisted the services of Robert Mueller from the Community Mediation Upper Shore. Mueller volunteers as a mediator for the center and has been managing the SWOTs analysis and subsequent negotiations.

“Bob’s ability to keep us focused and his understanding of the tools of negotiation, mediation and compromise have been extremely beneficial during this process,” said Ransom.

The panel’s first set of recommendations was made at their August 7 meeting when members worked through an analysis of 19 proposals. On August 22, panel members began their detailed analysis of the three remaining categories of SWOTs; Zoning Changes, Transfer of Development Rights and Barriers to Development. On September 4, panel members heard an in depth presentation about subdivisions and subdivision techniques from Steve Cohoon, chief of Land Use, Growth Management and Environment and continued the analysis of the SWOTs.

Under zoning changes the panel voted unanimously to make the following recommendation:

 The zoning densities in Countryside Zoning be made consistent with the current Agriculture cluster density. Downzone from 1:5 to 1:8 for cluster subdivision techniques.

Under transfer of development rights, or TDRs, the panel voted unanimously to make the following recommendations:

 In municipalities and growth areas in the county, all newly up-zoned properties will be required to purchase TDRs for the benefit they are receiving from the county.

 The Council of Governments and the Public Works Advisory Board will review the use of TDRs offsets for public infrastructure costs for the purchase of sewer, water and roads. The COG will focus on issues related to growth in the towns and the PWAB will focus on growth areas in the county.

 The Planning Commission will study the possibility of using TDRs for other building upgrades or incentives like height, floor area and lot coverage.

 The panel supports the recommendation of the Comprehensive Plan Citizen Advisory Committee members that incorporated municipalities benefit from the reception of TDRs.

 Any new or existing TDRs program will have a requirement that soil and woodland criteria for sending parcels are the same as those specified in by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.

 The panel supports the principle that any county development rights program will allow for the rights to be lifted separate from the development proposal, allowing for true severability, fungibility, banking or retirement of the right.

 The panel does not support the elimination of the TDRs program but if TDRs are eliminated, the value and marketability of existing TDRs must be protected in the form of a grandfathering clause.

 Two county-wide referendums will be placed on the ballot; the first to recommend a tax increase to pay for an enhanced Purchase of Development Rights program and the second to recommend bond funds to pay for an enhanced Purchase of Development Rights program. If either of these is passed, the enhanced PDR program would take the place of the current Non-Continguous Development program.

Under barriers to new development, the panel voted 9 to 2 to make the following recommendations:

 If requested by the town, the county will permit connection of Queenstown and Centreville to the county sewer system.

At their next meeting, panel members will continue their discussion of zoning changes and hear a presentation about the validity of shared septic systems. The meeting is scheduled for Friday, October 16 beginning at 8 a.m. at the Department of Land Use, Growth Management and Environment on Coursevall Drive in Centreville. The meeting is open to the public.