Listening two weeks ago to the Spy interview with Talbot County Councilperson Pete Lesher, I found the content troubling and confusing.
Lesher went into extensive detail, struggling at some points, to explain that the Lakeside at Trappe development was a dead issue. The county council would not rescind its faulty decision to approve an outsized project that could bring a harvest of 2,500 residential units.
Lesher, a highly intelligent and deliberative public official, pointed to the decision in early November 2022 by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to grant sewage usage for 400 homes. MDE would have to approve all other hookups for additional phases of a subdivision injurious to the rural character of the Trappe area.
Councilperson Lesher said he made his decision after speaking with the county attorney, members of the Talbot Integrity Project (TIP) and “others.” Normally I would grant Lesher the benefit of the doubt and accept his reasoning. As an Easton town councilperson for eight years and county representative for four years, “Pete” typically approaches decisions sensibly and cautiously.
In this instance, I disagree with what was obviously a painful decision. I do so after reading a thoughtful letter to the editor of the Talbot Spy by Mike McConnel, a Royal Oak resident and retired Philadelphia attorney comfortable with land use issues and legal interpretation. I respect his sound judgment.
If this non-lawyer understood McConnel’s letter, which drew several favorable comments, the county council is legally empowered to decide whether the Lakeside community should proceed—regardless of MDE’s decision to approve sewage capacity for 400 homes. McConnel’s legal premise is not his; it was the result of due diligence conducted by a Baltimore law firm.
In answer as to whether the county council can rescind Resolution 281 authorizing Lakeside and approve Resolution 381to execute the recission, Gallagher, Evelius & Jones said the council “unquestionably is authorized to rescind Resolution 281…Particularly in a case where new facts have come to light or a resolution was based on material assertions of fact that have turned out to be inaccurate or incomplete, the Council not only has the authority to rescind the resolution, but a responsibility to do so.”
Were I betting on the legal expertise of the county attorney versus a law firm familiar with land use and administrative law, I would opt for the latter. The reasoning is logical, not political. The decision to forgo rescission is legally unsustainable.
Throughout this tortuous process, the county attorney wrongly advised that the council could not rescind a planning commission resolution, which was based on faulty information. That assertion by the county attorney is flawed. Lesher and his council colleagues proceeded to move forward with an inappropriately large development based on incorrect guidance.
According to the law firm’s opinion and McConnel’s endorsement, the county council should not consider MDE’s actions as absolute. Further, the decision whether the developer’s rights are “vested” is one made by a court, not a political or administrative body. Based on Maryland Code, the council, should it rescind an amendment due to “changed circumstances or other local factors, the Code’s requirement that MDE approve or deny the amendment does not and will not stand in the way of the county’s control over development.”
While Lesher’s comments during the Spy interview seem to spell the end of the Lakeside contretemps, they also epitomize how sloppily the former and current county councils have managed a shameful disruption to Talbot County’s rural character—and inattentiveness to unexercised legal rights.
Dead issue? Probably. Regretfully.
TIP, led by Dan Watson, achieved a major victory despite the council’s acceptance of its own misguided reality: it galvanized residents to be aware of land use decisions and shine the public spotlight on the process. To avoid additional Lakesides, vigilant citizens must hold the county council accountable.
Political decision-making is often ugly, sometimes devoid of common sense to trusting constituents. That would be the case with this consequential matter.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.
Letters to Editor
dan watson says
“Reset Lakeside” refers to the POLITICAL initiative organized by TIP to restore honesty and integrity to the County’s land use approval process, most particularly by electing a Council that wouldl recognize the Planning Commission’s legitimate decision that that enormous project is inconsistent with our Comp Plan, and call it back. That was the most appropriate way for our community to fix the problem…the fastest and least expensive as well.
The voters indeed elected three “Reset Lakeside” supporters, or so it was thought. That the Reset legislation then was not even brought up for a vote–the litmus test of accountability–seems the ultimate betrayal. It was not Lesher’s remarks on legal issues that killed off “Reset;” those remain as flawed as ever. The political effort was torpedoed politically, by a later speaker.
TIP was in court over Lakeside’s approval before the “Reset” political effort was a gleam in the eye. Lakeside is not a dead issue yet.
The Talbot Integrity Project,
David Lloyd says
Again, the County Council has got to re-visit and re-do (or Reset) any approval of the Lakeside at Trappe. Failure to do so will have unpleasant and permanent negatives for Talbot County residents.
Glenn C Baker says
I think it is unfortunate that Mr. Freedlander only mentioned Mr. Lesher among all the Council members.
It’s the other members of the Council that will not join Mr. Lesher in correcting the mistake made by the earlier Council.
They are Chuck Callahan, Keasha Haythe, Lynn Mielke and Dave Stepp. Ask them to do the right thing for our County and our
Rebecca Gaffney says
I’m in full agreement with the views previously shared by your readers. The analysis by McConnel’s law group should give all of us Reset Lakesiders renewed hope.
Jay Corvan says
Good point. I also have applauded Mr Lesher and his careful approach to growth. It is typically a bit TOO careful , and in this case It would be good to remind him that many voted for him in the last election because he had constantly railed against the lakeside development. People cannot allow him to back away now having reversed his election stance. That is unprofessional and unethical. And we have thrown our intended votes to the wind. Frustrating! This would be certain death for any active politician.
What many may do not realize is the county only gets one shot at approving the consistency with the county comprehensive plan bd this is it. We may have no recourse for the rest of the Development once allowed to proceed.
In this case the developers lawyers misrepresented and cheated the county. It’s clear Dan Watson discovered this , understood this and was incensed by it. Me too! This is not the way a county should do business. Out foxed by a developer ! Really!
Now is the time to make amends for this county massive
Bumble. It would be time to admit their current zoning policy has failed completely and it’s time to try a better more defensive approach.
I will be approaching the council with such a plan in March , and I’m hoping for a receptive ear. There’s obvious proof their system has failed the test. We need to try a better method that has worked in other places. County must be willing to Listen and learn from its mistakes.
I agree with Dan Watson , this is not a dead issue if it is still pending action in court. The developer was warned about vesting his interests and he has proceeded as his own risk. This may be a colossal crack up if court decides that permission was not given by the county. The issue is who is paying the defense bills and clearly the county does not want to pay costs to defend. We should insist they should.
Ann Farrell says
If all else fails, would class action suit help if not already in the courts? Sounds clear cut legally, and public rebuttals unsuccessful.
The developers – and their legislative buddies – are rich and powerful respectively, and crafty (at times shady with so much money at stake).
It’s clear it will take more than public outcry to stop this, but worth all efforts given potentially harmful (dire?) consequences presented.
Eva M. Smorzaniuk MD says
Thank you Howard for this concise review of the issues surrounding Lakeside, particularly the disappointing response of our newly elected Council. I’m optimistic that this is not a dead issue because of all the community outrage in response to this gross mishandling on the part of the Council. We can also hope that MDE will be better funded under the new administration and begin to act on behalf of the environment instead of against it.
Helen Chappell says
I agree with Howard. The County Council’s spineless decision, and Pete’s scrambling for a reason are both not just disappointing but express the zeitgiest of our time when elected officals no longer represent the voters, but seem more intent to appease oiliogarchs from somewhere else witthbig checkbooks.
Just very sad and so I’ll conceived
Trish Reynolds says
Howard is spot on – so disappointed in the Council’s approach – has anyone driven into Lakeside? – looks just like “Levittown” – cookie cutter houses – certainly not appropriate to our county.
Willard T Engelskirchen says
I am disappointed in the County Council. Pete and all the other members know that the majority of the population wants the Lakeside development to be curtailed. We all fear the predicted failure of the sewage treatment system and many of us think that various bodies and individuals failed to safeguard our long term interests.
It is time to be more selective in who we vote for in upcoming elections. I also fault the county GOP. Why is it that the stopper to this kind of thing always must be a Dem? Do the GOP council members always get off because we expect them to vote for development?