In December evidence was presented showing that the adoption by Talbot County in 2020 of the sewer classification necessary for Lakeside to proceed (i.e., R281) began with, and was completely shaped by, two falsehoods put forth by the developer and the Town of Trappe, falsehoods rooted in events almost two decades old. Unintentional or not, I cannot know, and at this point I do not much care.
First, way back in 2002 Talbot County had officially classified Lakeside for development “in 3-5 years.” Untrue.
Second, since MDE had issued all needed permits for water and sewer back in 2006, “obviously” Lakeside must have been fully vetted by our community back then–in particular it must have been found by the County Planning Commission as “consistent with our Comprehensive Plan” (since that is legally required for an MDE construction permit). Indeed, the permits had been issued–but they were never valid because the County Planning Commission (and public) had in fact never even reviewed the issues, much less had the Commission found “consistency”… and so that implication of prior vetting was untrue.
People have reacted to these revelations of falsehoods in several ways. Many people “get it” right off the bat and are shocked and disgusted that Lakeside’s approval was simply not on the up-and-up, and what it says of Talbot County if we just let that stand.
Some other people haven’t been able to wrap their heads around the evidence behind my claims of falsehood. After all, it just sounds outrageous and unlikely—illegal MDE permits? Squashed investigations? “Misunderstandings” about something as basic and important as the property’s sewer service classification from 20 years ago? Come on!
Well, it is complicated and goes back quite a while, but the evidence, much of which I presented to the Council on December 13th, is quite solid–in spite of some people’s urgent desire that no one really look, that the facts be further obfuscated and confused, that everyone roll their eyes and agree that Watson’s claims just can’t be so. Some are legitimately confused. And some have good reason not to understand it at any cost. (Indeed, the developer’s attorney in a January 14th letter to the Council stated that “neither I, the Town, nor [the developer] have misrepresented facts, intentionally or unintentionally, to the Planning Commission or County Council.)
But I am confident anyone who invests time to conscientiously review the evidence will recognize that the two central “facts” above were false. (And I am happy to take up the evidence at another time and place with whomever might want to pursue the question further.)
Anyway, The purpose of this FOT piece is not to rehash the evidence, but to address the reaction of a third group of folks: those who, perhaps reluctantly, understand the evidence, recognize that the so-called facts supporting Lakeside’s approval indeed were false and misleading, but who say, “SO WHAT?”
SO WHAT? Instead of saying, “Are you kidding me?” let’s take that phrase seriously, as if it were a real question and not a blunt statement that (a) falsehoods don’t matter in Talbot County, and/or (b) that these particular falsehoods had no influence on Lakeside’s review and approval, and/or that (c) these falsehoods indeed influenced the Lakeside approval process, but none of it will have much impact on Talbot County anyway. I want to discuss these wrong-headed ideas in reverse order.
FALSEHOODS TRIGGERED APPROVAL, BUT THE IMPACT ON TALBOT COUNTY IS NEGLIGIBLE:
This nonsense we need not belabor, as everyone in the State recognizes that Lakeside is the biggest, most disruptive, out-of-the-mold project conceived for Talbot County since an oil refinery was proposed for Wittman in 1953. A small town to sextuple, straddling Route 50 with 2501 homes and a shopping center one-third the size of the Annapolis Mall? Six thousand new residents? This excuse might apply, theoretically, if it pertained to some inconsequential matter, like the ten-square foot utility pad a citizen had to take to the Planning Commission for approval because it went beyond the setback line. But the approval of LAKESIDE based on misrepresentations will be hugely consequential for decades to come, no “So what?” about it.
THESE TWO FALSEHOODS DID NOT INFLUENCE THE REVIEW AND APPROVAL OF R281.
Ha! In fact, the County’s review and approval of R281 was framed by the falsehood that 18 years earlier the County had officially said Lakeside was to start “in three to five years.” AND MDE had issued all the permits back in 2006—ergo, all was in order back then and R281 was just pro forma….came up only because of something about the sewer technology or something.
And here’s the point: Lakeside has been “around” for 20 years, yet very few, other than the developer and the Town, had much grasp of the details of its history. (For example, Planning Commissioners and Councilmembers alike had no idea that Lakeside had been presented to the Council in 2004, and had been flat-out rejected 5-0…much less all the other complex details.) So, when Rocks and the Town represented that it had already been approved long ago, that assured that almost the only thing considered and discussed thereafter were intricate details of the sewerage plant, down to the height of the berm around the storage lagoon.
Again, here’s the point: It’s what was NOT discussed, reviewed, analyzed and weighed. Traffic. Schools. Rural character. Congestion. Adequate public facilities. Impacts on EMT and Sheriff Department’s services. Quality of life. Taxes (oh, very definitely, taxes were ignored). These are the legitimate—indeed, essential–factors that the County Council has a responsibility to discuss when considering the impacts that will inevitably flow from the development authorized by R281. Instead, the Council focused on just a single issue: wastewater. Similarly, the Planning Commission in its deliberations to determine consistency with our Comp Plan focused almost exclusively on wastewater, and importantly never actually heard from citizens on other truly fundamental issues.
Think I am just making that up, mischaracterizing what happened? Well, a friend of mine spent time tabulating information from the “word index” of each transcript of all seven meetings in which Talbot County reviewed R281 (three Planning Commission meetings and four of the County Council, including all the public hearings). Ten words related to wastewater issues at Lakeside were used over 1300 times. Ten words pertaining to other fundamental issues (“traffic, schools, taxes”) fewer than 40 times—in seven meetings over many hours, public included. (This data will be formatted for release in coming days.)
Framing the review of Lakeside in two falsehoods, suggesting it had been approved by both the County and MDE long ago, corrupted the process by influencing the public, the Planning Commission, and the Council to weigh only one of the many important impacts Lakeside will impose on Talbot County, and to ignore other critical matters, many integral to consistency with our Comprehensive Plan. That’s the “So what?” on this score.
FALSEHOODS DON’T MATTER IN TALBOT COUNTY:
The third meaning of “So what?” is that misrepresentations just don’t matter.
Is that just in front of the County Council? What about in front of the Planning Commission—or in another County office, in front of staff? (I guess not in front of the Board of Appeals, as there one is under oath.) Are only unintentional misrepresentations, ok? And remind us how we distinguish those? Does it matter if a falsehood is big, or pretty small (or say small-ish)?
Are falsehoods ok just for big, billion-dollar deals, or for the little guy too? Does that rule apply just to deals where the lawyer or agent is well connected and known to everyone in the County, or also ok with outsiders? And if it’s ok to misrepresent in testimony, how about when filling out forms? And stealing…what about that?
Ok, the point is made. “So what?” is simply not a tolerable answer to the adoption of Resolution 281 based on false pretenses. How can this Council not rescind?
BUT THAT FLY IN THE OINTMENT?
At the last Council meeting, Mr. Pack all but shouted that the County Council CANNOT rescind R281—the County Attorney said so! Well, no matter how loudly it is proclaimed, how often, or with what degree of fist-pounding, no one really believes that is true. Mr. Thomas, the County Attorney (who sat silent and did not moderate that absolutist pronouncement) did not even say back in July that R281 could not be rescinded—he said the Council could do that, but it would be a waste of time and have no effect–a position contradicted by other qualified lawyers with ample documentation.
If Mr. Thomas is not going to speak further, then it’s incumbent on the Council simply to act, and we will all then see how MDE, under the guidance of Maryland law, responds.
Falsehoods do matter.
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.