EASTON — Those against certain changes in Talbot County’s draft comprehensive plan continued their argument Monday night, Dec. 14, at a public hearing in the Talbot County Free Library in Easton.
A majority of the complaints about the draft comprehensive plan, which the county council has been working on for the better part of a year, have to do with the Route 33 corridor and the Bay Hundred community.
Many of the complaints also came from people who live in that area of the county. They expressed concern about possible quality of life issues, many saying that the county council is not appropriately designating growth areas in the county.
Concern was also expressed that if more development is directed to the Route 33 corridor and Bay Hundred area, the already congested traffic on Route 33, or St. Michaels Road, has to be addressed as it is the only way in and out of the communities there.
The council is proposing to increase density in areas of villages like Royal Oak to allow for placement of affordable and workforce housing. Meanwhile, it’s extending sewer lines to villages on the Route 33 corridor that are on failing septic systems as an effort to allow more flexibility when homeowners want to improve their housing.
People spoke about not wanting the character of their rural home to change.
Former Talbot County Council member and president Tom Duncan said that any development in the county should be structured in a way that is conducive to providing future generations with “the kind of county that we want” and that past councils have worked to provide.
“There’s a reason why people come here, a reason why people want to be here and that reason is the fact that it’s a quality of life we have,” Duncan said. “Make no mistake about it, we can lose that quality in a heartbeat if we’re not really attentive to what’s going on in this community. All we have to do is look at Kent Island, what’s going on up there. It’s a total disgrace. Is this what we want? I suggest not.”
Duncan said Talbot County is “an oasis in a desert of development.” He pointed to surrounding counties with what he called a lack of proper procedure, zoning and comprehensive plans as examples, and praised past councils for establishing the Eastern Shore’s first zoning in Talbot.
Some of the comments Monday night urged the council to be more specific in the comprehensive plan, rather than generalize initiatives.
Bill Kennedy, of Sherwood, who said he has more than 30 years in management of a major wastewater facility in Maryland, said the draft plan needs more clarification.
Kennedy spoke about the sewer service extension section, saying there are no definitions for terms like “failing or polluted septic system” or “moderate planned growth and development.”
“By adding new language such as the above you open a Pandora’s box, which will allow a host of different interpretations from future councils,” Kennedy said.
Erik Fisher, a planning expert with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the Talbot County community would be better served with a plan that is more clear and specific about growth.
“It leaves some very important questions for later and in my experience, later can be a problem,” Fisher said. “The fundamental issue here is that when you designate a community for growth ... the folks who live there have a right to understand what that means. They have a right to understand what that looks like for their roads, for their waterways, and those questions are not answered by this plan.”
Rollin Browne, an Oxford resident, said Monday that the council’s goals in extending sewer are “not without merit,” but that the changes to increasing housing density and overall village sizes directly contradict the existing comprehensive plan. The existing plan’s primary goal is to preserve the quality of life and rural character of the county, while protecting the health, safety and well-being of its citizens.
“Many people would like to build here, make Talbot County their homes because of its opens paces, uncluttered roads and open landscapes,” Browne said. “Lifting constraints will encourage and invite development, which will ultimately contradict the very reason people com here in the first place, which is to get away from development, traffic and overcrowding.”
However, not everyone was so unhappy about the plan. One couple requested that Talbot County extend sewer service to their property, as they’ve been trying to improve their home but haven’t gotten far with their septic system and current regulations that hamper property improvements with properties on septic.
One Newcomb resident, Bonnie Somers, said “most of this village stuff has been about stopping development and restricting land uses.”
“For those of you concerned about Route 33, that has been one way in and one way out since I was a child ... but if you look around, looking at this room, you’re all old like I am. We need to have things in this county for young people,” Somers said. “We don’t need any more old people like us. I don’t want to live in a retirement community. I want a thriving, vibrant community and that’s where the emphasis should be.”