In Talbot County, 2022 gave rise to a potent movement of citizens and voters demanding, first, integrity in the County’s land use decisions and, second, fidelity to the Talbot County Comprehensive Plan—including an immediate fix to the damage inflicted by the improper approval of the gigantic Lakeside subdivision by the former Council.
Beneath the banner of “Reset Lakeside,” voters energized by those two key issues helped elect three candidates–a majority of the Council—who, before being endorsed by the Talbot Integrity Project (“TIP”), vowed to do just that.
(Mr. Lesher finished over 700 votes ahead of sitting Council President Callahan, and Ms. Mielke, a newcomer to politics, also achieved a vote count higher than Mr. Callahan’s. The fifth spot on the Council was a close race between two TIP-endorsed candidates, one a Republican and the winner, Ms. Haythe, a Democrat.)
But in the three months since the candidates spoke to voters about land use and about Lakeside, the movement’s underlying rationale may have slipped out of focus a bit, some forgetting what is at stake here.
So as a refresher, here is a high-level restatement of four reasons why the ”Reset Lakeside” resolution should be adopted forthwith.
- DEFENDING THE PLANNING COMMISSION’S AUTHORITY UNDER LAW:
Maryland law is clear that (1) the Planning Commission, not the County Council, has the exclusive and conclusive authority to determine whether or not an amendment to the Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan is or is not consistent with the County Comprehensive Plan (the “Comp Plan”), and (2) that if the Planning Commission certifies that an amendment is not consistent, then the Council does not have the authority to adopt such an amendment.
On November 3, 2021 the Planning Commission determined that Resolution 281 (“R281,” the CWSP amendment that enabled Lakeside to go forward) is NOT consistent with our Comp Plan. The former Council refused to acknowledge the Planning Commission’s authority on that critical question. And they did so even though the Commission’s finding was based on public health and environmental problems in La Trappe Creek associated with the antiquated Trappe wastewater treatment plant to which Phase 1 of Lakeside will direct its sewerage, increasing the flow by over 30%.
- FUNDAMENTAL OMISSIONS IN THE ORIGINAL APPROVAL PROCESS:
When the Lakeside CWSP amendment (R281) was presented in 2020, the Planning Commission, the Council, and the public all were under the misimpression that Lakeside had long ago been okayed by Talbot County, and this was just an update of some sort related to a sewer permit renewal. That misunderstanding seemed plausible because the developer, back in 2005, DID get sewer construction permits from the Maryland Department of Environment (“MDE”) —but they had been issued improperly. On December 21, 2004 the County Council, whose designation of the property for “immediate development was prerequisite, had in fact TURNED DOWN the Lakeside proposal unanimously. They hadn’t even sent it to the Planning Commission at the time, since the idea was dead on arrival at the Council.
The falsehood that Lakeside had been approved long ago meant the 2020 review focused only on details related to sewage, with no discussion of Lakeside’s impact on schools, traffic, taxes, public safety, health care capacity and so forth. How this misunderstanding gave rise to this grossly flawed review in 2020 was presented to the former County Council over two hours and in great detail on December 13, 2021, but the former Council simply ignored the information. Surely the new Council will not.
- THE TALBOT COMPREHENSIVE PLAN:
Distinct from the improprieties of Lakeside’s approval process is that project’s blatant incompatibility with the substance of the Talbot County Comprehensive Plan. The Vision Statement leading off our Comp Plan begins with these words:
“The primary goal of Talbot County’s Comprehensive Plan is to promote a high quality of life, to preserve the rural character of our County, and to protect the health, safety and well-being of its citizens, in a resilient community.”
Who seriously contends that the current plan for that enormous sub-division–quintupling the population of little Trappe, with the town now straddling Ocean Highway, and adding commercial space aggregating one-third the square footage of the Annapolis Mall—contributes to the County’s rural character, or doesn’t degrade our quality of life? Because the review of Lakeside in 2020 began from the false premise that the project had been approved by the County over fifteen years ago, even these fundamental aspects of Lakeside were never discussed in approving R281.
- MDE’S RECENT PERMIT REMOVED THE UNDERPINNING OF THE LAKESIDE APPROVAL:
Adoption of the CWSP amendment that gave Lakeside the green light was predicated on the belief, represented by the developer and Town of Trappe…that a 540,000 gallon-per-day treatment plant was assured…for example, when Mr. Showalter told the Planning Commission on May 20, 2020 “So, if you do nothing, or if the County rejects [R281], the project will go forward with the 540,000-gallon wastewater treatment plant…” MDE’s approval of a plant of that capacity was needed to support the developer’s plan.
But on October 27th, 2022, MDE issued a final permit for only 100,000 gallons per day and stripped away any reference to future growth. There is simply no assurance that the treatment plant will ever be enlarged, yet the developer still holds hundreds of acres of land designated “immediate priority” for development. (The actual permit will support only 400 homes, and no commercial space.)
Had it been known that MDE would issue a discharge permit of only 100,000 gallons per day, it is inconceivable that the County Planning Commission would have certified a CWSP amendment classifying for “immediate priority” a project the scale of Lakeside, one that far, far exceeds any sewerage capacity. MDE’s action itself provides an ideal opportunity for the County to give earnest reconsideration to Lakeside.
- BE ALERT TO FOUR RED HERRINGS:
Here are four ideas that could be thrown out to excuse inaction by the new County Council on the “Reset Lakeside” resolution. None of them hold water.
- Let’s talk just about sewerage, ignoring items above. A diversion that worked before, try it again!
- Affordable housing! Lakeside’s first 120 homes are offered from $379,990 to $554,990. Unlike some communities, the developer was not even required to assure any proportion of their offerings be priced at an “affordable” level.
- The only people who object to Lakeside are rich “come-heres” who live on the water. Any effort to identify a split in our community over Lakeside is demonstrably off-base. The 2021 rescission of R281 had over 400 citizens from all over the County emailing the Council in support. When TIP set out to raise funds for litigation, 75% of contributors came from small donors to a GoFundMe page, most sending $25 to $200. And in the recent political campaign, it was not “rich come-heres” who helped power the election of three TIP-endorsed candidates.
- A “reset” now comes too late, and would be unfair to the developer. Ha! This is the most galling claim of all. The developer knew about the serious effort to rescind R281 in May 2021, two months before any construction commenced…but proponents encountered purposeful delay and obstruction by supporters of Lakeside at every step.
In connection with TIP’s ongoing suit against MDE, Councilman Lesher provided an affidavit confirming that in August, 2021 he met with the developer’s attorney, and “Mr. Showalter stated that, with respect to the work proceeding at Lakeside, his client ‘understood that they were proceeding at their own risk.’”
Clearly, before July, 2021 the developer knew that, because of the faulty premises and misunderstandings behind the County’s approval, Lakeside faced substantial jeopardy if it proceeded in the face of a rescission effort. The developer decided to proceed anyway, no doubt relying on supporters on the former Council thwarting citizens’ efforts to protect Talbot.
Citizens and voters of Talbot County support the “Reset Lakeside” movement just as strongly today as they did in the recent election, precisely because they know Lakeside is fundamentally wrong for Talbot County. It has always been incompatible with our Comprehensive Plan, as the 2004 Council recognized when it voted 5-0 AGAINST. And over the past 18 months everyone has come to learn of the recent procedural improprieties in granting approval—especially the former Council’s disregard of the Planning Commission.
Talbot citizens are looking to the new Council to promptly adopt the proffered resolution in order to restore integrity to the County’s land use approvals and show fidelity to the Talbot County Comprehensive Plan. In other words, with due respect, “Reset Lakeside.”
Talbot Integrity Project