Collins, though, defended the draft plan's legality and contended it's being misread by state officials and local critics. He insisted some kind of highway connector is needed, but said the new plan isn't significantly different than the current growth blueprint, under which 75 percent of development occurs in already developed areas. He also disputed warnings that Mattawoman Creek would not be adequately protected.

"It's not my intent and will never by my intent to just allow out-of-control growth," particularly in rural areas, Collins said.

In a split 3-2 decision that typifies the commissioners' division, they voted earlier this month to have a private land-use lawyer pen a rebuttal to the O'Malley administration, which challenged many of its criticisms and called them "unhelpful."

Another commissioner, Debra M. Davis, was more blunt. At a recent meeting, she said she wanted to tell state officials to "mind your business." She said local land use was a local prerogative and it was "disrespectful" of state officials to try to tell them how to handle it.

Saying he hoped to work things out with Charles officials, Hall acknowledged that local officials have the prerogative to map out their communities' growth plans.

"There's not like a button we can press when there's stuff in there that we don't like," he said.

But last year, Gov. Martin O'Malley said his administration would not subsidize what he called "stupid decisions."

"Certainly the state has discretion on funding," Hall said.

As president of the homeowner association for his South Hampton community, Davis said he sees trash and pollution washing into another Potomac River tributary from his neighborhood's overmatched storm-water ponds. He moved to Charles in 1995 to get away from burgeoning development in Prince George's County.

"I just hope that commissioners understand what they're about to do," he said.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com