New sign regulations are a disaster
LETTER TO THE EDITOR Randi Vogt, Port Republic. The writer is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. August 15, 2017
I just spent two days rereading the proposed sign regulations scheduled for public hearing Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. at Calvert Pines Senior Center.
It takes at least two days to read them, understand them, compare them to all seven town center sign regulations, compare them to the earlier version dated Jan. 25, 2015, and read the history of how they were developed.
I certainly hope all five of our county commissioners and all seven members of our planning commission will spend at least that much time because if they care at all about this county, they must not vote to approve them.
With few exceptions, these proposed regulations are a disaster:
All current sign design regulations are gone. The legal notice is very misleading because it refers to “design guidelines” but there are no design guidelines. All design regulations were purposely removed from the Jan. 25, 2015, draft because a separate set of design “guidelines” were to be prepared, but they never were. The proposed regulations include requirements for architectural review, but that has to be a joke because the committees now will have nothing to base their reviews upon.
All current regulations governing how signs may be illuminated are gone (except south of Lore Street in Solomons and in historic districts). They have been replaced by wording that allows illuminated signs of any type anywhere. Box signs, channel letters, indirectly illuminated signs — all have different visual impacts. Now there isn’t even a requirement for signs on the same building to be illuminated the same way.
All current regulations governing “temporary signs” are gone. The word “temporary” now has a new meaning. It doesn’t mean the sign has to go away at some point. It just means it is not permanently affixed to anything. Balloons, banners, blades and pennants are all temporary signs and do not require permits (although a few restrictions, mercifully, do apply).
All current regulations governing the types of bases permitted for freestanding signs are gone. That means monument signs can no longer be required, to name one example. They can all be “lollipop” signs from now on if applicants wish. Some people refer to them as “litter on a stick.”
Electronic Message Centers — i.e., signs with animation, moving parts, flashing lights and/or changing colors — are not currently permitted in any of our town centers (even though the new car wash in Prince Frederick somehow acquired one).
Now we have four options to choose from, only one of which is “not permitted” anywhere.
The current maximum height for freestanding signs in Prince Frederick along Route 2/4 is 14 feet. That is proposed to change to 22 feet in the Entry District, which extends from the new (much higher than 14 feet) Toyota sign to, roughly, the McDonald’s sign (which ironically used to be a very tall pole sign). FYI: The tall Chevrolet pole sign next to the Toyota sign is from pre-architectural review days.
The argument that these regulations have been in the works for years and have had plenty of public review is extremely misleading.
This draft was prepared largely by an outside consultant and the county attorney and presented to the Board of County Commissioners for the first time in November 2016 — just seven months ago.
The planning commission saw them for the first time in December. Except for one meeting with an “ad hoc” committee (membership unknown), this version has not been presented to the public.
Anyone who participated in drafting or reviewing the Jan. 25, 2015, version will not recognize this version.
These regulations go way beyond the original purpose of simply consolidating all seven town center sign regulations into one document or the purpose of addressing the Supreme Court’s decision governing content.
It's time to take back our county
LETTER TO THE EDITOR Susan Dzurec, Huntingtown - August 15, 2017
Note: This is the unedited version of the LTE. The version published in the Recorder was edited due to space constraints.
Citizens that love and want to preserve Calvert County please take the time to read this. It is the unedited version of my Letter to the Editor printed in the August 16, Recorder. While reading please keep in mind the following:
Section 41-4. Statement of Purpose of the Calvert County Code of Ethics.
The County, recognizing that our system of representative government is dependent in part upon the people having trust and confidence in their Elected Officials, Appointed Officials and Employees, finds and declares that the people have a right to be assured that the impartiality and independent judgment of its Elected Officials, Appointed Officials and Employees will be maintained.
This confidence and trust is eroded when the conduct of County business is subject to improper influence or even the appearance of improper influence.
On June 14, 2016, at a public hearing on the Armory Sq. development, Commissioner Hejl stated, “That there are circumstances that the citizens don’t know about.” I have been searching for what he meant ever since. Here are just some of my findings.
(1) At that same public hearing on 6/14/16 for the Zoning Text Amendments, leaders of two business groups gave misleading statements. Despite the fact citizens sent 1001 letters in opposition to the text amendments, the commissioners passed the amendments. Chamber of Commerce’s former President Bill Chambers, spoke on behalf of the unregistered lobbyist group, stating that he represented over 400 businesses and 16,000 employees. However, members of his group were never polled. Therefore he gave preferential treatment to those members who were in support of the text amendments, national and local developers and anyone else who will profit from the Armory Square project.
The other leader, Anthony Williams, insisted he ‘didn’t have a dog in the race” and went on to testify why the big box text amendments should be passed. He and some members of his group have fought for the development of Dares Beach Rd. for years. They’re quoted in many articles as being in favor of extensive county development and threw a huge 2014 campaign party for pro-business candidates. Shortly thereafter he testified in favor of firing Planning Commission members, Lusby and Phipps at their hearing. He may not own the dog, but he certainly has been walking and feeding it!
(2) These same two groups have been meeting privately on a regular basis, with county employees and a commissioner, to push their pro-growth agenda. I was recently told by county staff that “Because this group is not a public body there are no requirements to post minutes or meetings.” Meetings that are regularly attended by county employees and a county Commissioner regarding county business should remain public and subject to the public record. These meetings are allowing shadow government to exist where citizens are not welcome to the meetings as they don’t even know they are taking place, let alone being invited. Commissioners have exhibited an utter disregard for citizen input as they have already been present and a part of private meetings regarding vital changes to our county.
(3) The contact list for one group, in part, represent members of various organizations and businesses of the Calvert County developers and pro-growth business owners. Many do not represent a voice of a regular citizen. This group is known as the Small Business Interest Group, which has pushed numerous excessive growth patterns harmful to the future of the county.
For years Calvert County citizens’ input has kept the rural character of the county through the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinances. Sign regulations are a part of limiting excessive growth. They limited how and where signs were to be used, made sure that they were limited in size and were not electronic (didn’t distract drivers and keep our roads safer). They made sure that the county’s people (not national chains) determined how the county looked. The proposed sign regulations will take away all these citizens’ rights and will change the way our county looks forever. Part of Calvert County’s appeal is its rural charm. If Calvert citizens wanted to over develop we could have done that years ago. We don’t want to look like Waldorf!
Lusby and Phipps were fired by our County Commissioners when they pushed back against over development of this county. They held their respective positions on the Commission for decades through bi-partisan BOCCs and were highly respected by all who worked with them. This current BOCC has, by firing Lusby & Phipps, undermined the significance of citizen volunteers who add value to our community and offer legitimate viewpoints that protect our way of life.
One new member of the Planning Commission, a replacement for Lusby & Phipps, is, surprise surprise, a member of this secret Small Business Interest Group. She and the group have previously both written to the Calvert County Gov’t offering sign guideline changes portrayed in the new regulations. This person should be forced to recuse herself from any vote on the issue or more honestly should be removed from the Commission entirely. Another replacement for Lusby and Phipps was none other than the campaign manager for Commissioner Hejl and Slaughenhoupt’s treasurer also serves as a member.
Without citizen input, this Planning Commission is approving dramatic changes being made to the Comprehensive Plan land use map. These changes will allow farm and agricultural land owned by some members of the Small Business Interest Group to become huge chunks of commercial land in the Town Centers. These are newly created land designations never discussed at public workshops that have occurred over the past year.
This BOCC and its biased Planning Commission exhibit a total and utter disregard for the will of the citizens. This BOCC: has met in private meetings out of the reach of public input; has fired members of the Planning Commission who have expressed opposing opinions; has appointed minions to do their bidding on the Planning Commission rendering the Commission no more than a rubber stamping body; has disregarded years of citizen input and review of the comprehensive planning process by allowing for new land designations NEVER mentioned at public meetings; and, have worst of all gone against the will of Calvert’s Citizens who overwhelmingly want to Keep Calvert Country. It’s time to take back our county!
How can you help?
Your presence is crucial at the Public Hearing on Aug. 22, 7:00pm at the Calvert Pines Senior Center.
Write letters to the BOCC or sign and submit the letter found on the Calvert Coalition for Smart Growth website at https://goo.gl/ddeMxB to demand that the Commissioners address the concerns of citizens over the developers who are set on ruining our quality of life. Follow the CCSG and Keep Calvert Country on Facebook for updates.
Vote for candidates that listen to citizen input.
Email my detectives at email@example.com with any information or concerns you have and we will do our best to expose them to the public.
Stay tuned… more to follow!
Supporting online documents:
June 14, 2016 Joint Public Hearing of the Calvert County BOCC and the Calvert County Planning Commission, on the video recording “Meetings On Demand” at (29.34 min.),
Response to Evan Slaughenhoupt's response to LTE.
I watched the Tuesday Aug. 22 BOCC meeting online and heard Commissioner Slaughenhoupt read his statement directed at me. I was at the joint public hearing for sign regulations and heard it again. This commissioner stated that “my Letter to the Editor made misleading and in some cases untrue statements about the Comprehensive Plan process and that I had expressed displeasure with the sign regulations in its current draft form.” Taking one line of my letter out of context, he said “among the falsehoods is the notion that the county’s Dept. of Planning and Zoning is making major changes to the Comprehensive Plan land use map without input from citizens.” His statement is not true. In the paragraph previous to the one he refers to, I described how the Planning Commission now comprises BOCC appointees that have political ties creating a conflict of interest. I then went on to state “that without citizen input, this commission is approving dramatic changes to our land use map, allowing agricultural land owned by some members of the Small Business Interest Group to become huge chunks of commercial land.”
Please note that Mr. Sloughenhoupt did not dispute any of the other FACTS presented in my letter.
Below is the text of a petition that was signed by approximately 440 citizens of Calvert County that will explain my comments more thoroughly. This petition HAD ALREADY BEEN FILED with the Planning Commission BEFORE Mr. Sloughenhoupt made his statement attacking my trustworthiness to my fellow citizens. This petition and its content are on the agenda for the next Planning Commission (PC) meeting August 30. Please try to attend as they will also be receiving another update on the Comprehensive Plan.
So let’s examine Mr. Sloughenhoupt’s statement further. During the presentation to the PC of the Comprehensive Plan Land Use Map Draft June 16, 2017, there were two glaring additions that were never discussed at any of the public workshops.
1. The addition of the new Suburban Residential area surrounding major Town Centers;
After the June 28 presentation, I asked the contracted consultant, Jackie Senechal, “how did Suburban Residential come about?” In front of PZ staff and other citizens she stated, “Oh we just thought of that 6 weeks ago.” That would have been after the public workshops ended.
Just so you know, the consultant hired by the County Commissioners to help write the Calvert County Comprehensive Plan has an online resume that includes, Director of Planning, Charles County, and 1985-1994 (9years.) Under her tenure the buildout of Waldorf began.
2. The newly proposed Town Center Boundaries;
The Comprehensive Plan Strategies presented to the PC on June 28th state that the Prince Frederick TC boundary will be based on the outcome of the 2013 PF Charrette. However, the boundaries show additional areas for expansion that include property owned by BARGO, the developers of Armory Square and the beneficiary of the Big Box text amendments. The property contains 91.73 acres, and according to land records, it was purchased for $800,000 ($8,721/acre) on 4/28/2015. This land is presently zoned Rural Community District. This land will become commercial property that could be sold by the square foot rather than by the acre. The change in value is almost unmeasurable by the change in boundaries.
Another feature on the Land Use Map that was never presented to the citizens is a proposed expansion of the Huntingtown TC across Route 2/4 to the east (although it's slated to be down-zoned to a "Village"). One of the parcels slated to be included in the Village is owned by Kelly McConkey. It is zoned Rural Community District and is the site of the former nursery (a permitted use in that zoning category that does not require commercial zoning). With the proposed inclusion in the Huntingtown Village, the value of the land suddenly increases tremendously and a Fastop or just about any other commercial use could be put on that corner. Keep in mind, these land use map changes could just be a coincidence.
Since the time I wrote my Letter to the Editor, I have also discovered that there are additional controversial issues involving industrial expansion and the reduction of farm and forest land in our county. More shall be revealed.
Mr. Sloughenhoupt also stated that I had attended a meeting with members of Planning and Zoning (PZ) the evening before. This is true. I helped organize a meeting of HOA & Citizen Association leaders to allow them time to receive additional information and present the citizens’ concerns to PZ. A representative of the League of Women Voters was in attendance to assure transparency. Twenty-five citizens were present. We tried to contact as many HOA’s as possible but unfortunately the list the county gave us is outdated and most of the information was inaccurate. We are planning additional meetings in the future with your community representatives and members of the county staff. We hope that we will soon be able to open these meetings to the general public once we figure out logistics. In the meantime, please contact your HOA and have them email their contact information to the Calvert Coalition for Smart Growth at firstname.lastname@example.org In doing so, we can contact them/you with meeting minutes and information.
This is the petition submitted to the Calvert County Planning Commission:
129 of the Citizens that signed the petition took the time to write comments. Here are some of those comments:
“I am signing because these changes have not yet been presented to us, the local citizens, who will be directly impacted. Thank you!”
“We need transparency and the residents voices heard. Keep
Huntingtown the way it is, I left LaPlata a long time ago to get out of the madness of Charles County for a reason!”
“I am concerned that our current county officials are not taking public opinion into account when making far reaching and long lasting decisions regarding development and zoning in the county I have called home my entire life.”
“I'm signing because we as a community deserve transparency when it comes to what will be done with our town. This good ol boy system that has been in place for far too long needs to be stopped.”
“The Comprehensive Plan is a very important document. It should NOT be modified without public comment or input for an entire new class of zoning!”
“I live on Cox Road in Huntingtown and one of the reasons we moved here in 1990 was because it wasn't built up. Now a "village"? Wasn't Marley Run enough damage to do to Huntingtown and Cox Road?”
“Needless growth creates a chaotic environment. Do we really want the congestion of Waldorf or Leonardtown?”
Stay tuned, more to follow!
Susan Dzurec, Huntingtown, Md.
Tax Account: 0502001136
Legal Description: 91.73 AC 250 STOAKLEY RD PRINCE FREDERICK
Legal Owner: BARGO LLC
Tax Account: 0502014297
Legal Description: 16117 SF HUNTINGTOWN
Legal Owner: MCCONKEY KELLY MCCONKEY KIMBERLY
Tax Account: 0502003228
Legal Description: 5.26 AC E/S RT 4 HUNTINGTOWN
Legal Owner: MC CONKEY KELLY MC CONKEY KIMBERLY
Calvert County Concerned Citizen’s Petition with signatures available upon request