Nibbling Away at Calvert County
by Susan Ellsworth Shaw
As Calvert Countys population continues to grow toward build out, the 1997 Comprehensive Plan must prevail as our guide. Unfortunately, recent actions and inactions are nibbling away at the Plan and thus at the foundation for Calverts future despite the fact that four of the current five county commissioners ran for office on a platform of support for the Plan.
The Plan is like a contract between the commissioners and the people they represent that defines the direction for public policy. That contract is the basis of many financial commitments made by businesses and individuals.
The Town Center concept, one of the foundations of the Plan, calls for infrastructure like sewer, water, fiberoptic lines and roads to be concentrated in the centers, along with businesses and high-density housing like townhouses and apartments. Architectural review committees in each of the town centers regulate appearance standards.
This concept allows the remainder of Calvert County, outside the eight town centers, to maintain rural vistas and open spaces around clustered residential developments, rather than haphazardly stringing businesses along highways and in the middle of residential areas.
Therefore, late last year, when a grocery store attempted to locate at Harrisons Corner in Owings by requesting water and sewer outside a town center, over 300 people turned out for a public hearing to successfully defeat the proposal. However, the very next week, quietly, in an Appeals Board hearing, a Gott Company Fastop convenience store, gas station, car wash and other commercial development was approved for another nearby property at Harrisons corner outside the town center and in violation of the Plan.
Why did this happen?
Since the last election, the current Board of Commissioners comprehensively rezoned the entire county to bring zoning into alignment with the Plan. As part of that comprehensive rezoning, the commissioners allowed some spot zoning, or undeveloped spots of rural commercial zoning outside town centers, to remain despite citizen groups pleas to the contrary. Harrisons Corner is one example of this spot zoning.
Another threat to the Plan is currently underway in the form of the proposed Lusby Town Center Master Plan, which calls for five distinct zoning districts within the Lusby Town Center. These districts would include restrictions on which businesses or housing types could locate within each district of the Lusby Town Center, further limiting the options for businesses trying to locate in Calvert County and attempting to adhere to the Plan.
Calvert County must attract businesses to increase the commercial tax base or face the prospect of relying on ever higher residential property taxes to pay for schools, roads and services. Meanwhile, the 16,000 residents living in close proximity to the Lusby Town Center could benefit from local jobs, services and amenities.
The Gott family has offered 2.9 acres for a village green in the heart of the proposed Lusby Town Center in exchange for the countys approval of the Lusby Town Center Master Plan and limiting competitors access to appropriately zoned land inside the town center. In fliers and ads, they now tout the public planning process, which they successfully avoided at Harrisons Corner, and threaten an ugly Lusby Town Center if they do not get their way, which is to get a lot for giving a little.
Everyone in Calvert County will lose if a significant part of the Lusby Town Center is closed to new enterprises.
Strict adherence to the Comprehensive Plan is critical to achieve the future that Calvert residents voted for in the last election. Following the precepts of the Plan, Calvert Countys beauty and serene spaces can be an affordable legacy for our children.