Three prominent local attorneys engaged a respected law firm to examine the advice recently given the County Council, that the Council’s “hands are tied,” and there is really nothing it can do about Lakeside at this point. In a forceful opinion distributed last Thursday, the firm established the opposite: the Talbot County Council “unquestionably” has the power and authority to rescind the greenlight given to Lakeside last year, and if they do so, the approval of last year’s Council action by the Maryland Department of Environment (“MDE”) is of no effect.
The Council can indeed act, if it chooses to do so. Mr. Lesher’s Resolution to rescind R281, “the green light,” comes up in Public Hearing at the Council’s October 12th meeting, and its adoption would suspend Lakeside at least for an extended time while many recent questions are investigated and resolved. These include the condition of La Trappe Creek (you remember those photos, right?); the operation and discharge limits at the existing Trappe sewerage plant; the number of Lakeside homes to be connected there; after-the-fact changes to the proposed new plant; and, recently discovered drafting errors and mapping mistakes or major proportions made by the developer and Town of Trappe. Over three-hundred citizens have written the Council in support of a Petition to stop Lakeside while these problems are addressed. (Just send your own email to that effect to email@example.com.)
The gentlemen who have done our community such a service in obtaining an independent legal opinion are themselves distinguished attorneys: Mike McConnel, John Briggs, and J.T. Smith. Two of them are retired and none lives anywhere near Trappe. They hired Gallagher, Evelius and Jones of Baltimore who researched the matter fully; the attached opinion includes citations of case law that demonstrate that the Council—and the Planning Commission—do have the ability to protect Talbot County citizens, as common sense suggests. The matter is so clear that there was none of the usual lawyerly equivocation in the firm’s conclusions:
“The County Council is authorized to rescind Resolution 281 and would do so by enacting Resolution 308 [Lesher’s legislation].
The Planning Commission has authority to reverse or rescind its certification of Resolution 281.
Resolution 308 would rescind Resolution 281’s amendments and would restore the status quo as it existed before the adoption of Resolution 281 and its approval by MDE.”
(The developer and the Town of Trappe—who are jointly the “Applicant” trying to get Lakeside underway–could perhaps avoid the impact of a rescission, but only if they are able to show that they were in fact acting in good faith when they went forward. The issue would not be how much dirt they had moved, but the facts surrounding the reasons for rescission and the Applicant’s decision to proceed. The County Council has no role whatsoever in evaluating that question, should it even arise.)
In other news related to Lakeside, the Planning Commission has received and is reviewing important new information from various parties that was not in its possession in June 2020 when it found, on a 3-2 vote, that the plans for Lakeside were consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan. It is likely to decide on Wednesday, after a public hearing, what action it might wish to take in view of the new information. ShoreRivers presented data from recent water samples below the Trappe plant, for example, that show extremely high levels of nitrogen are in the little tributary feeding La Trappe Creek, as well as E coli. (Again, those photos. Oy!)
No doubt more information will be made public prior to the October 12th Public Hearing in front of the County Council. Put it on your calendar!
Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years.
Opinion Letter by Gallagher, Evelius and Jones