Charles County Workgroup Grapples With Septic Tier Map, TDR Reform

A February 21 article provided an update on the ongoing meetings of Charles County workgroup tasked with creating a new septic tier map and comprehensive plan map.  Currently the workgroup is focused on septic tiers and creating a workable transfer of development rights (TDR) program.  The article indicated that the workgroup had much discussion over how to handle development that may exist in areas zoned as agricultural.  Under state law, areas zoned as agricultural must be designated as the most restrictive Tier IV classification in the septic tier map.

The meeting began with a map drawn by the Maryland Department of Planning as a starting point. In accordance with the 2012 state law requiring “tier” maps for counties that want to build future major subdivisions on septic, the state map drew the county’s agricultural and conservation zones into Tier IV, where only minor subdivisions on septic are permitted.

Panel member David Lines, a La Plata farmer, took quick exception to the map, objecting that it included in Tier IV areas that long have been developed.

“Can’t we have a clear map that shows what development is in this county?” he asked. “I think you will find that the county is more highly developed than you think, than you’re representing, anyway.”

Work group member Steve Bunker, chairman of the Charles County Planning Commission, said the law specifies that the tiers be determined by the land’s planned zoning, not its current condition.

“The law says county jurisdiction decides what is going to be drawn in the tier map, not what necessarily the department of planning wants or desires,” Lines said.

MDP Secretary Richard Hall, a member of the panel, said the law is “extremely clear” that agricultural and resource protection zones belong in Tier IV.

“It may make sense to talk about changes to the comp plan that recognize some of these realities on the ground, but right now those are the areas in your current, active plan and your current zoning, which is what the septic law says you have to use for your tier map,” Hall said.

The article also indicated that the workgroup discussed the challenges of creating a TDR program that is fair to farmers.

The group also met Feb. 14, primarily to focus on agricultural issues in the county.  …

[Former Calvert County planning director and workgroup member Greg] Bowen advocated for creating a Tier IV map similar to that of the proposed Priority Preservation Area map, along with a Tier II map review focused on expanding the sewer system to improve water quality. The tier map is a state mandate that requires dividing county land into four categories or tiers based on how much development county sewer and preservation plans are expected to support.

Bowen also suggested using state programs adequately, along with modifying the TDR program and creating a purchasable development rights program, where the county would pay landowners to preserve land. He also suggested bond funding or a county transfer tax that would allow 50 percent of the cash to go toward land preservation in PPAs and 50 percent to infrastructure in the priority funding areas.  …

Lines was the first to voice his support of Bowen’s ideas.

“It makes my farmer’s heart feel good. I see no reason why we couldn’t do all that,” Lines said.  …

“It’s like we have an entire part of the county that differs from the rural vision,” Lines said. “We have this dichotomy, and the builders have a nonlevel playing field with TDRs. Builders get a free pass. There’s this fairness issue of builders who use TDRs and builders who do not.”  …

Member Doug Meeker, a local developer, had a slightly different position.

“Why do we need to force change if it’s already headed in that direction?” Meeker asked the group. “Rather than telling someone what they can and can’t do with their land, I think it’s much more important to incentivize them.”