The Talbot County Planning Commission is on the way to investigating possible problems surrounding the greenlight given to the Lakeside developer last year. Allegations have been made about inappropriate and dangerous changes to the plans for the new spray irrigation sewage system for the project, the withholding of information about failures in the existing Trappe sewer plant to which the first 120 homes (or more) are to be connected, and a breakdown in the integrity of the County’s land use review process.
It is clear a majority of Planning Commissioners are committed to get to the bottom of things if they can, to try to determine if the allegations are true or not. The first step of that process will take place at a Commission Work Session set for this Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. at the large meeting room of the Talbot County Public Library, which will be open to the public. No conclusions are expected at this session: this meeting will be devoted to compiling and clarifying the questions to which the Commissioners are demanding answers. All of this is in preparation for comments to the Maryland Department of the Environment (“MDE”) in their re-evaluation of the Lakeside discharge permit, as ordered by the Circuit Court of Talbot County.
(The Commission’s work session might be livestreamed and/or viewable afterwards here.
The Planning Commissioner’s review was delayed because on July 2nd–within twenty-four hours of receiving a letter detailing the problems—the Commission was instructed by the Acting County Attorney not to discuss any of it: not the developer’s post-approval changes to plans nor the apparent hiding of information about existing pollution already happening at the Trappe plant to which the first homes at to be connected. The gag order (as it was characterized by one Commissioner) was out within twenty-four hours, after the Acting County Attorney consulted with Councilman Pack and the County Engineer.
Though the Planning Commission was most unhappy with this directive, the County Attorney did not attend their next meeting on July 7th, and indeed a session to respond to the Commissions’ objections to that order could not be scheduled until Friday. At that encounter the Commissioners and the Acting County Attorney spent almost an hour and a half in closed executive session before Commission Chairman Chip Councell announced the upcoming work session.
The Planning Commission is also asking the County Council to provide them with independent legal counsel, so that they can get legal advice from a source other than the Acting County Attorney, who represents and responds to the Council. (Mr. Pack suggested such an arrangement at the Council Meeting on July 13th.)
As regular readers recall, this all began two and a half months ago when I petitioned the County Council to consider rescission of Resolution 281. The Council continues to refuse to permit me to even present the Petition, and I have had to go to the Circuit Court to seek an order to compel them to hear it–as explicitly required by their own Rules of Procedure. Approximately 200 concerned citizens and the Talbot Preservation Alliance have formally joined in supporting Petition 21-01. (Consider adding your name too, simply by sending a brief email to that effect to email@example.com.)
Two and a half months is a long time, and the County could have already completed a review of the matters if they’d wanted to. Instead, the Council and their Acting County Attorney seem to have done all they could to resist and delay any re-examination of the Lakeside approvals, and they may continue to do that. Meanwhile, the developer began pushing dirt last Thursday.
It is comforting to learn that the five Commissioners (experienced unpaid volunteers) are launching an effort to get to the bottom of things. As Chairman Councell told the County Council in a meeting last Tuesday night, “When I look in the mirror, and when I talk to my kids and grandkids in so many years, I want them to know we did everything we did in the correct order and made the best decision possible. It’s that simple.”
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.