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Cecil County Commish Talk Tough on “Tiers” Land Rules; Defiance Could Let State Shut Down Growth

September 12, 2012
By Nancy Schwerzler

News Analysis

Cecil County Commissioners adopted a get-tough stance Tuesday against a state-mandated “tiers” land preservation map–which local farmers fear would strip them of property rights—and said they would defer any action until a summit meeting with other rural counties and consideration of legal action against the state.

On the surface it might look like a victory for farmers and property rights activists who jammed a recent public hearing to protest the “Draft 4” tier map that a 3-2 majority of the commissioners approved to put out to hearing. [SEE Cecil Times report HERE: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/09/tiers-tears-and-taunts-cecil-county-commish-blasted-on-tier-maps-broomell-bashes-critics-hodge/ ]

But, in fact, this newly found defiant attitude could be just a prelude to an even more restrictive no-growth mandate imposed by the state if no maps are submitted by the county by the end of the year. And that might just be the ultimate goal of some anti-growth activists: no development permitted, but without having their political fingerprints on the maps.

The commissioners agreed Tuesday afternoon to defer any action to review, modify or adopt the planning maps until they meet later this month with a coalition of rural counties in Annapolis, and consider possible legal opposition to the legislative mandates.

After a politically-charged brawl over the issue at a Tuesday morning commissioners worksession—at which Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) asserted that her views had been misrepresented and she lodged inaccurate accusations at fellow Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2)—Broomell and her acolyte, the usually silent Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3), suddenly proposed Tuesday afternoon that no action be taken on the controversial issue until the Annapolis meeting with other rural county leaders later this month.

“We should fight,” said Dunn. “I say to hell with the maps.”

However, Dunn voted—in the usual 3-2 Three Amigos majority of the five-member Board of County Commissioners, along with Broomell and Commissioner James Mullin (R-1– several weeks ago to approve the “Draft 4” map that was overwhelmingly opposed by citizens as putting the majority of county land into a no-development category. The county Planning Commissioner rejected the “Draft 4” map as more restrictive than the county’s Comprehensive Plan that specifies growth and preservation priorities.

Ever since the hearing, Broomell has been trying to backpedal, claiming she really didn’t support the “Draft 4” map—despite the voting record fact that she wanted to put that version out to public hearing. She now asserts that her views are being misrepresented by local groups that opposed the limited growth map.

“I’m amazed,” she said Tuesday, at the “misinformation” and “brazen misrepresentation” of her positions. Broomell claimed that she really didn’t support “Draft 4” despite her vote and said her true position was to modify that map based upon citizen objections. However, at one point during Tuesday’s meetings, Broomell said, “I have consistently said I support Draft Map 4.”

Broomell accused Moore of supporting the controversial state legislation while serving as a board member of the Maryland Association of Counties. Refuting that claim, Moore said it was “misinformation” and “I don’t appreciate the attack.”

Moore, in an interview with Cecil Times, said that charge was untrue and in fact she personally voted against the proposal and even its watered-down version in subcommittee, committee, and board-level discussions. The majority of the MACO board voted to support an amended version of the legislation—which cut out and watered down the more onerous provisions of the initial legislation– as part of its political bargaining strategy in the General Assembly.

Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5), who along with Moore voted against putting out the “Draft 4” map to public hearing, challenged Broomell, saying her claims were false and he was tired of Broomell “continuing every week to make accusations, innuendo” against fellow commissioners.

Despite the she said/she said/he said back and forth, all commissioners agreed to defer action at this time pending consultation with the other rural counties. But Hodge noted the potential state backlash against the county if defiance overtakes the will for any action by the 12/31/12 deadline to submit maps.

The bottom line of the “tiers” map controversy is that if the county does not submit its own map by the end of the year, state planning authorities could impose their own view of where, and how, Cecil County may develop and grow. And that means that any and all subdivisions—even so-called “minor” subdivisions of five homes per land mass regardless of its acreage—could be banned by the state.

The sudden defiance expressed on Tuesday could be just a curtain behind which anti-development forces, such as Broomell and her allies in the group she and Mullin co-founded—the Cecil Land Use Alliance— could hide. If the new defiance—which some farmers and property rights activists have advocated—continues for the next few months, it could mean that state anti-growth mandates would be imposed but without the political fingerprints of individual county commissioners.

For Broomell and her allies that could be a win/win situation. For property rights advocates and farmers, that would ultimately be a lose/lose proposition, despite the short-term pleasure they might feel about Tuesday’s sudden fight-to-the-death rhetoric.

Meanwhile, there are two new draft versions of the tier maps proposals, bringing the total tally of various versions to ten maps. The “Draft 4” version put most of the western part of the county into green no-growth areas, while a Draft 8 proposal based on the comprehensive plan shifted many areas into a yellow limited-growth category based on the county’s comprehensive plan. The two newest renditions, unveiled Tuesday, are variations of the comprehensive plan version.

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2 Responses to Cecil County Commish Talk Tough on “Tiers” Land Rules; Defiance Could Let State Shut Down Growth

  1. Rick O'Shea on September 12, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Mike “The Mannequin” Dunn came to life! He should have remained silent rather than expose his ignorance of the process. Failure to submit a “tiers map” gives state bureaucrats control over Cecil County land use. The submission deadline is 12/31/2012. Dunn should take a close look at Map 10 while alternatives are pursued.

  2. Al Reasin on September 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Draft tier map 10 has Tier 4 as only the presently preserved land and that owned by the different levels of government. IMO that is what needs to be submitted to the state. And something needs to be submitted, or as you correctly state, the state will design the map for us.

    While I agree with the commissioners’ new tactics, I would hope that the three commissioners who in the past have wanted more acreage in Tier 4 are not using this delay and law suit proposal as their tactic to miss the 12/31 deadline for a submittal of a map by the county as you suggest. County staff provided a draft, draft 6, based on the meeting with the State Department of Planning in August and it shows 75 percent of the county in Tier 4. Videos of this meeting and the Commissions meeting where the vote was held can be viewed from links on the Cecil County Patriots and the Cecil County Townhall Facebook pages.

    FYI: For some reason Harford County has a similar map, in percentage of their county in Tier 4, as does our draft 6, which is apparently their proposed submittal map. It can be found at their Planning and Zoning Internet site.

    Fortunately, before the December 31st deadline, we will have charter government which will allow the executive to correct any error on the part of the present Board of Commissioners. At the CCP candidate forum it was not clear to me the position on SB236 held by all of the candidates. With this new position of the Board of Commissioners, we citizens need to know each candidate’s position on this issue; and not submitting a Tier Map is not an option.

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