Politics Should Not Drive Land Use Issues
by Karen Lukacs
Our current national partisan divide shows us that politics can have a debilitating effect on governing. Elected leaders, instead of working out compromises using the processes and structures of government, take rigid stances that turn what should be deliberative discussion into a circus of sound bites.
Unfortunately, this ailment is not confined to the national scene. Hence in Wicomico County, we once again find ourselves debating the pros and cons of protecting our rural heritage and lands by directing development to areas with existing or planned infrastructure.
The matter is before us because of SB 236 – the Sustainable Growth and Agriculture Preservation Act of 2012 – which requires each county in Maryland to develop a map that indicates where growth on septics will be allowed. The Wicomico County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended last summer that all the lands currently in the A1 Agricultural-Rural District be mapped as Tier 4. In Tier 4, only minor subdivision of up to 7 lots will be allowed.
The Wicomico County Council rejected the planning commission’s recommendation in order to give landowners in the A1 district the chance to “weigh in.” First, they proposed that landowners should be able to “opt in” to the Tier 4 zone; then, they decided that the landowners should be able to “opt out” instead. Even after several articles in this newspaper described both approaches, only three people called the planning office.
The council next decided to schedule a public hearing on the matter on February 20, and sent out postcard notices to landowners in the A1 District. The council has gone to a lot of trouble to allow a subset of Wicomico County citizens – landowners in the agricultural district – a say in the tier map.
The tier map does not only affect rural landowners, however, but all county residents. Large lot development costs taxpayers more money in infrastructure costs – emergency, schools and roads; fragments our agricultural and natural areas, and is the most polluting kind of sprawl.
The Council is playing politics rather than governing. A gerrymandered Tier 4 goes against all county policies currently in effect, including the zoning code and the comprehensive plan.
The zoning code says the A1 Agricultural District exists “…to preserve areas of the County that are predominantly agricultural and to maintain the land base necessary for sustainable agricultural activity.” The County’s comprehensive plan says the A1 will “…prevent development that requires urban services, and preserve the agricultural base and rural lifestyle of the County.”
It is difficult to imagine what new insight will come out of this Wednesday’s public hearing, but we urge all Wicomico Countians who want to preserve the rural character of the county to stand up for clean water and smart growth.