The Talbot County Council held a two-hour work session on February 7th to review Lakeside. Only the Council, staff, and attorneys for the developer of Lakeside and the Town of Trappe participated substantively; even Planning Commissioners were just observers. Below is an open message delivered to the Council to provide some feedback on the record. I know that only a few readers who follow this matter very closely will grasp the details, but all should get the gist of the message:
Dear Council Members:
I would like to offer a brief comment on the Council’s February 7th work session, lest a total absence of public reaction be misinterpreted.
Every adult viewer knows that session was designed not as an opportunity to “bring all the parties to the table,” per Mr. Callahan’s introduction, to investigate and air all the issues and hear both sides with broad participation, but as a set up, so that the developer’s and Town’s attorneys could “answer all the questions,” explain the whole story, and put matters to bed.
The attorneys for Rocks Engineering and the Town were put forward as the authoritative source of information, to considerable adulation by the Council President, as video shows. There were no serious challenges offered from any quarter. As Mr. Callahan said, “it went very, very well.”
It is impossible to parse and respond adequately to a two-hour non-stop presentation of one point of view, and no one would care to read such a critique anyway, most particularly folks whose minds were made up long ago. But I believe, and I know many agree, that the presentation was a continuation of the process wherein the many actual facts were blended artfully with some misleading statements, key omissions, and slanted interpretations, swirled about, and served up as complete and accurate Truth.
The saying is true, “Trust, once lost, is hard to recover.”
Just two concrete examples, from the point when the developer’s attorney jumped back in to speak, just as Mr. Callahan was wrapping up the meeting. Not having addressed the disputed issue of the original sewer service classification, Rocks’ attorney dove into the language of the documents to help make his points. What could be more authoritative than that?
The attorney read from the CWSP and said this: “Finally, the text notes that when the land is annexed to the Town of Trappe, the area would be designated…S-1/W-1.” But the specific sentence he was referring to did not the end there; he failed to read the final ten words: “after amending the Talbot County Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan.”
The developer’s presentation implies that the Plan itself actually says Lakeside’s designation of S-1 was to be automatic upon annexation–which is exactly opposite what the Plan expressly states. Please re-read this, both ways. The conclusion–that the developer’s presentation was/is misleading–is both clear and obvious.
That amendment to the Plan is exactly what the Town proposed to the County in Resolution 123 and that is the proposed amendment that the County Council flatly rejected 5-0 in December ’04. Thus, the actual application of that language expressly rejected the very result that Rock’s attorney implies happened automatically under the Plan as written.
A moment later, he addressed the very language of Resolution 123 itself, saying this at 1:54:47 into the session: “When you look back at the history of amendments specifically as related to Lakeside, the Town of Trappe presented an amendment to the County Council in 2004. And the County Council introduced a Resolution. The Resolution doesn’t say it’s amending the service designations of Trappe East from “Unprogrammed” to W1/S1. The County Council at that time understood the map, AND THE RESOLUTION INDICATES IT’S AN AMENDMENT FROM W2/S2 TO W1/S1.” [Emphasis added.]
What listener didn’t get it? Resolution 123 itself said the property had been S-2? Coming in the context of exact quotes from documents, what listener didn’t understand the attorney to be reading from the Resolution and that, like R281, the title, or at least the text, of R123 twenty years ago also said, “FROM S-2 to S-1?” That would certainly seem to put an end to the argument.
Please see Resolution 123 here. How could Resolution 123, the authoritative source document Rock’s attorney was referencing, indicate Lakeside was “S-2″ when the term “S-2” is found nowhere in that document, never mentioned at all? It indicated no such thing.
It is true, by the way, that the Resolution, as requested by the Town, did not say the property was unprogrammed—it said nothing at all on the topic. And, the attorney’s reference that a “finding of fact” document prepared by the County Attorney that did reference the property as S-2….but that is a different story. The artful blending of fact and error is always-misleading, illustrated I believe throughout the Lakeside approval process.
Lastly, many have lost sight of why the S-2 argument has been so belabored. It is relevant in two ways (and important enough for the developer’s attorney to want to interject it into the session even as Mr. Callahan was wrapping it up in such a favorable manner).
First, the S-2 classification in 2002 is critical if one is even to try to make the (fallacious) argument that the passage of time alone transmutes one classification to another. S-2 means “programmed for immediate priority in 3-5 years,” which apparently is the developer’s explanation as to why MDE thought it could issue valid construction permits in 2006. (That is one of the puzzles that only MDE, and not Rocks’ attorney, must answer; it was included in a list of questions delivered to MDE last week.)
That purported S-2 classification also was used as the key device to frame R281 in 2020: in effect, “the County formally designated Lakeside for development within 3-5 years long ago—18 years ago, in fact!–so obviously this needs to approved immediately with few questions asked.” If that misreporting of Lakeside’s S-2 status had not been perpetuated for so many years, that argument would have held no water and the project would have been properly considered in 2020.
But forget S-2, and forget sewer service classifications altogether. The one essential question that neither the developer’s attorney, the Town, staff or anyone else has answered in last week’s work session or at any other time is this: When, prior to its review of R281, did the Talbot County Planning Commission ever find that connecting 2500 homes and a half-million square feet of commercial space on Lakeside’s 865 acres to sewer service was consistent with the Talbot County Comprehensive Plan?
It never did so. Of course, that means the 2006 MDE permits could not have been validly issued—but the significance goes far beyond that. “Everyone” believed that finding must have happened long ago, including the Commission, the Council, and the public. (The MDE permits seemed proof, for one thing.) But it had not—Talbot County skipped a step…a critical step, the one time when all of the issues are evaluated by the entire community—schools, traffic, adequate public services, taxes, the whole nine yards. It was never done, but for the truncated 2020 review of R281 where wastewater was the only issue on the table.
If the Council wants to resolve this conflict by saying Lakeside’s approvals are proper as things stand, then it just needs to tell us the date of that pre-2020 meeting when the Planning Commission found extension of sewer to those 865 acres to be consistent with our Comp Plan. If that cannot be done, is it not an admission that something’s rotten in Denmark?
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.