Decisions Concerning Talbot County Land Use Planning9/11/22
Development does not necessarily mean more and bigger, but rather growth and change. Change is part of development that should bring about enduring progress for the community, not just immediate gain for some. Revising the Talbot County Comprehensive Plan now is not pitting development against conservation. Nor does it mean progress versus the status quo. We must have progress to continue fulfilling the vision of our Comprehensive Plan.
Choices about progress must include how to appropriately maintain, repair, design and construct the built environment – the components that make up our economic and social infrastructure such as roads, schools, medical facilities, commercial areas, parks, and yes, housing and water and sewerage management. Decisions made to address deterioration of the County’s water, land and air quality and to rectify deficiencies in basic services and access to economic opportunities should benefit the whole community.
Decisions made to impact community development in the context of the Comprehensive Plan are not to favor or enhance any one person or participating group at the expense of the community. Nor is Talbot County in competition with other Eastern Shore counties for either the greatest number of commercial parking spaces and subdivisions, or acres devoted to agriculture or poultry production.
The Talbot Country Comprehensive Plan is a policy document for development created more than forty years ago through the electorate, elected County Council members and appointed staff efforts. It has for the most part avoided short-sighted land-use regulations that threaten both control over, and implementation of, development practices attacking the decidedly preferable rural heritage of the County’s three cities, 22 villages and over 650 miles of coastline.
In keeping and reinforcing the sustaining nature of the Comprehensive Plan, citizens have repeatedly voiced their preferences for rural land values, protection of threatened, fragile waterways, and regenerative use of field and woodland resources. Interpretations of the Comprehensive Plan should not be reduced to pointedly chasing down highly focused private interests.
A case in point, Resolution 175 was introduced to address the County’s septic, sewer and water pollution issues, and was never intended to promote or condone residential and commercial expansion in our villages and towns. A sewer line passing in front of a property is not an open invitation to hook up. Neither a public sewer line nor a paved road is created to foster land use change, speculative development, and commercial gain. They are created for service, environmental management and community maintenance, and their use is codified and monitored.
Permission for suburban sprawl in fields and woodlands should not come about by riding on the “interpretive” coat tails of elected and appointed officials as failing sewer systems are addressed. These improvements are meant to ensure the continuance of objectives and funding based on rectifying damage to water quality and public health issues. Clean water is a priority, and sprawl is not a popular choice for the future of Talbot County.
Today, development of a community includes a broad array of issues, all of which impact economic and social infrastructure one way or another, and each of which must be considered. These issues include access to health care, affordable housing, Bay restoration, business diversity, climate change, economic investment, equitable opportunities, improved education system, living wages, pollution abatement, population increase, (particularly in our case in the 25-34 age group), reforestation, restoration of wildlife habitat, sea level rise, value added agriculture and aquaculture products, and water quality.
Long ago Talbot County created a vision and a legal process to avoid the “tragedy of the commons” where individuals do as they see fit with land and water resources, and the community pays the bill for the consequences. The strengthening of the Comprehensive Plan is our path to development and progress through sustainable growth and change.
Ask for, demand, and be aware of the positions of our candidates and elected and appointed officials concerning our Talbot County Comprehensive Plan, as it is in the process of being updated and carried forward in time.
Stephen Bender is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum and resident of Tilghman, Maryland.