Cecil County Commish Talk Tough on “Tiers” Land Rules; Defiance Could Let State Shut Down Growth
Cecil County Commissioners adopted a get-tough stance Tuesday against a state-mandated â€śtiersâ€ť land preservation map–which local farmers fear would strip them of property rightsâ€”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 â€śDraft 4â€ť 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 worksessionâ€”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)â€”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.
â€śWe should fight,â€ť said Dunn. â€śI say to hell with the maps.â€ť
However, Dunn votedâ€”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 â€śDraft 4â€ť 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 â€śDraft 4â€ť map as more restrictive than the countyâ€™s Comprehensive Plan that specifies growth and preservation priorities.
Ever since the hearing, Broomell has been trying to backpedal, claiming she really didnâ€™t support the â€śDraft 4â€ť mapâ€”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.
â€śIâ€™m amazed,â€ť she said Tuesday, at the â€śmisinformationâ€ť and â€śbrazen misrepresentationâ€ť of her positions. Broomell claimed that she really didnâ€™t support â€śDraft 4â€ť despite her vote and said her true position was to modify that map based upon citizen objections. However, at one point during Tuesdayâ€™s meetings, Broomell said, â€śI have consistently said I support Draft Map 4.â€ť
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 â€śmisinformationâ€ť and â€śI donâ€™t appreciate the attack.â€ť
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 legislationâ€”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 â€śDraft 4â€ť map to public hearing, challenged Broomell, saying her claims were false and he was tired of Broomell â€ścontinuing every week to make accusations, innuendoâ€ť 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 â€śtiersâ€ť 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 subdivisionsâ€”even so-called â€śminorâ€ť subdivisions of five homes per land mass regardless of its acreageâ€”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-foundedâ€”the Cecil Land Use Allianceâ€” could hide. If the new defianceâ€”which some farmers and property rights activists have advocatedâ€”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 Tuesdayâ€™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 â€śDraft 4â€ť 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 countyâ€™s comprehensive plan. The two newest renditions, unveiled Tuesday, are variations of the comprehensive plan version.