Letter to Editor: Beware of Unintended Consequences of Talbot County Comp Plan Amendment

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I write as a concerned citizen who is in favor of extending sewer lines to Neavitt and Bozman (and other Western villages), but who is very worried about the unintended consequences for development and future subdivision, particularly because of the way Bill 1378 is drafted.

My perspective is that of a retired real estate developer with 40 years of experience in Maryland and other jurisdictions. For over 100 years, sewer lines have been installed in most every jurisdiction in America for the primary purpose of extending and encouraging development and subdivision. The conventional wisdom is right—sewer lines spur new building.

Every developer, broker, and promoter looks to properties newly served—or about to be served—by sewer to find the new opportunities to build. And they typically hire sophisticated land-use lawyers to parse every clause of every relevant regulation, build arguments based on implications and inferences, identify every constraint that was omitted even inadvertently—all to the end of finding ways to build. This includes convincing sometimes-pliable politicians to subsequently modify zoning or other regulations—since, after all, the land now is sewered and development ought not be constrained. This of course is why so many citizens are rightly concerned about Bill 1378 and Resolution 250.

Amending the Comp Plan to permit exceptions for sewer hookups in Tier IV lands will, to some extent, trigger just such a phenomenon even here in rural Talbot County (maybe especially here in Talbot County, given our desirable waterfront property). Tier IV was held out to the public as “Resource Protection Areas…identified for preservation.” The whole schema of Tier Maps is a smart growth program, and I assure you the public believes—and was led to believe– that Tier IV lands would not be sewered, notwithstanding that the words of the Comp Plan are not so explicit.

I do understand that State law presently requires that certain properties be afforded the right to hookup to passing sewer lines in certain circumstances, and therefore, that running a sewer line to Neavitt mandates a change to the Comp Plan.

First, I believe the County would be well served if it took additional time (1) to improve Bill 1378 as described in the next paragraph; (2) to determine how much sewer capacity will be committed to undeveloped building lots already platted along the sewer line, plus those that can be subdivided under existing regulation (many of which cannot be built upon today because they do not perc); and (3) to gather similar information concerning lines likely to be run to villages other than Neavitt and Bozman. Those other lines are only notional at this point and have not been carefully studied as regards impact on Tier IV properties–yet a Comp Plan Amendment enacted now will authorize connections on those Tier IV lots as well, no take-backs

As regards the language of the Comp Plan Amendment, I believe it is essential to add Recitals to Bill 1378 which stress with unmistakable emphasis that extending sewer lines to the villages is not intended to trump or subordinate the primary goals of the Comp Plan—to provide “a high quality of life and rural conservation.” It must be unambiguous that neither the Amendment nor Resolution 250 are to be interpreted in any manner to encourage or permit development or subdivision beyond that otherwise permitted as of the date of enactment.

(Councilwoman Price’s very brief amendment #3 to Resolution 250 along these same lines is spot on—except that, in its brevity it is completely lost among the drafters’ lengthy recitals of the many benefits of sewer. And the point is even more important to be made in Bill 1378 itself, and not just as part of Resolution 250.)

Dan Watson
Easton

Letters to Editor

  1. Elizabeth Fisher says:

    My thanks to Mr. Watson for pointing out the flaws in the Comprehensive Plan Amendment. I am quite concerned about the unintended (or are they?) consequences discussed in his letter.

  2. David Lloyd says:

    Agree 100% with comments here. We need to protect the nature of our rural lands from unnecessary development.

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