The Reset Lakeside amendment to rescind Resolution 281 approving the housing development was not considered at the January 24 county council meeting, but with a scaled-down permit, and assurances that any additional permit would require amended content (therefore be subject to public scrutiny and county approval), there may be time to catch our breath.
It may also be an opportune time to review the past 20 years. Trappe voted to extend the town’s boundaries to hundreds of acres across Route 50 in 2003. The town needed tax revenue to improve wastewater treatment and pay down debt on its existing plant, and a development of 2,501 residences was proposed by Rocks Engineering and Rauch, Inc. of Easton.
We’ve since been reassured that growth shouldn’t be a problem, as Trappe’s population of just over 1,000 remained relatively steady as Easton’s population grew “40% larger since 2000.” With a modest occupancy rate of 2.0 per household the town could add 5,002 residents – in 10 years? Talbot County has added 3,731 residents since 2020; and Easton did become 40% larger, but at a growth rate averaging less than 2% annually.
Loss of rural character, environmental issues, the possibility of setting a precedent for rapid growth, and impact upon county services are all concerns, but we are currently focused upon questions concerning the powers of local government and accusations of mismanagement by state and local regulators. For starters, it’s good to be aware that Maryland towns and municipalities have their own comprehensive plans for development. Counties control development only in unincorporated areas, but are responsible for the planning and oversight of all wastewater and sewer systems.
Presented with Trappe’s proposal for annexation in 2004, the county council voted 5-0 to deny an amendment for land purchased by the town of Trappe to be incorporated. Ruling that it did not meet state regulations and wasn’t consistent with the county’s water and sewer comprehensive plan, “Trappe East” would remain under the jurisdiction of the county.
Then on August 11, 2020, having been found by the planning commission to be compliant with the county’s 2016 comprehensive plan, Resolution 281 approving the Lakeside development at Trappe was passed 4-1 by the council.
One year later due to wastewater treatment concerns and issues of compliance brought to his attention, Resolution 308 to rescind Resolution 281 was introduced by Pete Lesher, the council’s vice president, on August 24, 2021.
Having requested an opportunity months earlier, Dan Watson would speak briefly at the October 12, 2021, council meeting. Due to public interest, Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) held a public hearing at the community center on October 28. Having found connecting Lakeside homes to Trappe’s underperforming plant inconsistent with our comprehensive plan, on November 3 the planning commission rescinded its earlier certification of Resolution 281. And finally, having submitted a 15-page report accompanied by supporting documents prior to his presentation at the December 13. 2021 meeting, Dan Watson expressed his hope that the meeting would go smoothly.
Failing to receive a vote in seven months, Resolution 308 to rescind Resolution 281 was withdrawn on March 8, 2022. Resolution 313 requiring state-of-the-art wastewater treatment for Lakeside’s first 120 homes, as required for new development by our comprehensive plan, was also voted down. Pete Lesher reminded fellow council members, “I’ve heard from constituents and been asked to do something about this. They have concerns about the health of La Trappe Creek, as well as broader concerns…People want improvements in water quality in Trappe.”
On May 27, 2022, concerned citizens joined the Talbot Integrity Project (TIP) to file suit regarding the issuance of a permit despite the planning commission’s withdrawal of its required certification of compliance with our comprehensive plan. A hearing is scheduled.
The Reset Lakeside amendment didn’t receive a vote at the January 24, 2023, council meeting. With the advice of legal staff, Maryland Department of the Environment and others; Pete was advised that “because infrastructure has been partially constructed, it seems quite clear that the project has vested interests and can’t be rescinded.”
A ruling of Maryland’s highest court shared since confirmed that “the governing body of a local government has the right to reconsider its actions and ordinances” and “rescind previously adopted actions before the rights of third parties have been vested.” The legal opinion offered also states that such a ruling “must be made by a court, not the County.” And that ‘Resolution 308 would rescind Resolution 281.”
A possibly helpful public comment was offered at the January 24 meeting: The county might consider adopting an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. Our Talbot County Comprehensive Plan describes what is allowed, but a “roadmap for ensuring that proposed or planned growth proceeds in a timely manner that does not unduly strain public facilities” would seem be a good idea. Dozens of Maryland counties and municipalities have them.
There could still be a vote to rescind R281, with legal advice concerning the likelihood of action by third party interests, of course. Or, recognizing the likelihood that some development will take place, appropriate oversight could be exercised moving forward. A plan could save everyone some time.
Carol Voyles is a graphic designer/illustrator who retired to the Eastern Shore and became interested in politics. She serves as communications chair for the Talbot County Democratic Forum and lives in Easton.