More than 280 days ago, Tom Hejl (R) took the helm as president of the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners. As it has in the year before, each meeting under his leadership starts with a solemn request to God.
“I don’t think it hurts to have a thoughtful prayer prior to our meeting,” said Hejl of the invocation from area faith leaders. “A lot of it is for us to make good decisions and for us to keep the community in mind. Those things are good to remember.”
The first-term commissioner admits he is a little more relaxed this year than last year. There were a few times when he got visibly upset with opposition voiced at public meetings and hearings, to include the first overview session to discuss the comprehensive plan update and the zoning ordinance rewrite process, held in July 2016.
Hejl talks development, opposition
By TAMARA WARD
Oct 16, 2017
“I guess I thought about it and it’s a waste of my energy,” explained Hejl, on why he seems more composed this year.
And while he has managed to control how he displays his frustration, he admits he still has a high level of annoyance when the board receives immediate resistance from county advocacy groups about some of the BOCC’s planning and development decisions and actions.
“There’s misinformation and people read it and they believe it,” said Hejl, blaming some of the conjecture and pushback on some of the local media, The Calvert Recorder excluded.
“We all look forward to making this county prosperous for the next generation,” said Hejl, saying that task won’t be accomplished if the county continues on the path it is on now.
To ensure the county’s future viability, Hejl said as a government, the board needs to change some of the ways it does things or it will fail in the end, referring to data that shows Calvert has a large aging population.
“Why are we an aging population? Because we got no place for young people to live. It’s either a ‘McMansion’ or you are living in a very, very low-income area,” asked and answered Hejl.
“We’re working hard as a commission to attract some really nice developments that are affordable for those young people that are just getting out of college,” said Hejl, hoping to also provide housing opportunities for young professionals, deputies and nurses working in Calvert County.
The commissioners’ president is most frustrated with the pushback the board gets from groups about “keeping Calvert rural” and not allowing the “county to become another Waldorf.”
“They don’t know — we can’t not be rural. ... The state saw to that when they passed the 2012 [Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act],” said Hejl, adding there are only a few places left to develop in the county, and Prince Frederick is one of them.
One such group that has been vocal is the Calvert Coalition for Smart Growth. In September of last year the coalition filed a petition in Calvert court to overturn the commissioners’ approval of zoning modifications to the Calvert County and Prince Frederick zoning ordinances that would open the door to big-box retail at Prince Frederick’s Armory Square. The motion was dismissed in March by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. The coalition was not available for comment at press time.
Hejl said with Prince Frederick being a town center and the hub of the county, it should be developed in a “nice, fashionable and clean way.” However, opposition comes in the form of people saying the plans are not what people asked for during the charrette held several years ago to gather public input on development in Prince Frederick. But Hejl says people haven’t even seen what the board is trying to get developers to do.
The commissioner said the other side of the coin is the county may not be able to attract a developer, and therefore won’t be able to attract a younger population to the county. Another consequence is that school enrollment will continue to decline — what Hejl calls a “Catch 22.”
“As soon as you say we are going to do ‘A,’ some group seems to be like ‘we don’t want that,’” said Hejl, referring to no specific group as “naysayers.”
When asked if the county has a contract in place, or a verbal agreement with Peterson Co., to develop Armory Square in Prince Frederick, the board president said there is no done deal.
“We are in talks with them — I can say verbal negotiations, but there is no contract in place,” stressed Hejl. “There’s nothing in writing. There’s nothing etched in stone. It’s all verbal communication.”