CENTREVILLE Queen Anne's County's Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the State of Maryland to secure grant funding for construction of the Cross County Connector Trail at their meeting Tuesday. The commissioners also decided to keep the record open on the proposed Grasonville Community Plan.
At the commissioners' March 8 meeting, with President Steven Arentz absent, they chose to delay acting upon the MOU until the March 22 meeting. Four citizens, three representing organizations, spoke in favor of moving the project forward at the March 8 meeting.
The Cross Island Trail currently extends six miles from the Chesapeake Bay at Terrapin Park in Stevensville across Kent Island High School to Old Love Point Park and along Route 50 east to Kent Narrows north, including a spur to the Chesapeake Exploration Center and Ferry Point Park. The connector trail would link Long Point Park to Kent Narrows north.
Mareen Waterman, president of Business Queen Anne's, sent a letter dated March 15 to the commissioners opposing the trail extension. In his letter, Waterman wrote:
"Although the funds are from P.O.S. (Project Open Space), they still are taxpayer dollars, and should be reserved for vital projects. Grasonville residents for the most part would have to drive to the start of the trail at the park, then commence walking. Driving a short distance further would allow them access to the trail on Kent Island.
"The suggestion has been made that this would provide work for current county employees. Keep in mind it would also require county maintenance in the future repairs, policing, trash pickup all at county expense. P.O.S. does not fund maintenance in the future."
Business Queen Anne's also opposes plans to extend the trail to Queenstown and eventually to Tuckahoe State Park.
"We believe a minimum number of our citizens would utilize these trails, and those out of county residents walking or riding the trails add significantly to the maintenance costs, but contribute little to the local economy. With our county's major financial problems we must pinch every penny."
The state has agreed to pay half the cost of the $2.64 million trail connector project if the county matches that cost with capital funding and in-kind services. If the commissioners approve the project, the county, which is facing a large budget deficit, can use half of the state funding ($533,350) to pay county employees working on construction of the trail.
The trail connector project has been included in an approved county bond sale, but the commissioners can reallocate that funding if necessary.
At the March 8 meeting, County Administrator Gregg Todd said a series of public hearings will be scheduled before construction begins and that signing the MOU was not binding.
At the March 22 meeting, Arentz made a motion that the board members sign the MOU.
"This commission is on record as saying we're not going to do anymore capital expenditures," said Arentz. "I have gotten a lot of conversation on this trail, why and why not, and I think we need to let this process go through and run its course. The proponents of this trail might want to consider how we're going to raise the $533,000 and see if there's any vehicles to do that. … If it's that important, maybe we can find the money elsewhere."
Citizens spoke mostly in favor of the proposed Grasonville Community Plan at a public hearing during the March 22 meeting; however, Waterman pointed out what he believes are discrepancies in the plan, and the commissioners agreed they need more time to consider its contents.
Commissioner Phil Dumenil made a motion to send the plan back to the county planning commission to include "the original growth area which was deleted." Arentz seconded it and asked for discussion.
Commissioner David Dunmyer said expansion to the east of the Emergency Center and to north of Route 18 "is a critical area, and I think we're probably going to have some problems with the planning commission moving forward with that. … We have an opportunity here to move forward with a very good plan, one that was put through the ringer, and well presented."
Arentz said because of the new medical facilities in the area, he wanted to "look at some other areas that are in the Grasonville plan for possible rezoning to support the medical environment."
Dunmyer said if the board does send the plan back to the planning commission, they should include clear direction as to how to move the plan forward.
Commissioner Bob Simmons said he had not had time to understand the plan since taking office because so much time has been taken dealing with the county's budget problems. After further discussion, Dumenil amended his motion to keep the public comment period open until the next commissioners' meeting, April 12, which was unanimously approved.