Residents' voice sought in Cecil Co. land use


ELKTON -- The Cecil County Planning Commission has recommended the formation of a 10- to 15-member citizen group to review and update the county's comprehensive long-term growth plan.

Carl D. Walbeck, chairman of the six-member advisory commission, said there are growing concerns among county citizens "that something is wrong with development in the county that the plan is not able to address."

"We don't have growth where we want to grow, and we don't have development where we want development but in agriculture districts," Walbeck said. "Citizens are concerned, as is the planning commission."

Walbeck told county commissioners at their meeting Tuesday evening that the planning commission would review the citizen group's findings and make final recommendations for revision to the comprehensive plan before the end of the year.

He told the commissioners the planning commission had already identified a number of items that should be considered in the review and offered to pass on the list to the commissioners.

There was no response to his offer.

"My understanding is that the planning commission members could not agree among themselves on the issues and present them to us," Nelson K. Bolender, president of the Board of County Commissioners, said after the meeting.

"They couldn't reach a consensus, a majority. That's why they want to set up this citizens group."

Bolender said he and the other four commissioners would meet again sometime in the next several weeks to discuss Walbeck's proposals.

Although he has not formally received a list of the issues raised by the commission, Bolender said he was aware of some of the items on the list. "Some are nitpicking," he said, "and some are big items that need to be addressed."

"That is why we have to sit down, look at everything and decide what we are going to do. Everyone agrees that the entire comprehensive plan does not need to be redone," Bolender said.

He said he had "a big problem" with a planning commission suggestion to limit the construction of new homes to one house per 20 acres of farmland.

Under current regulations, he said, a house can be built on either a 5-acre tract or an 8-acre tract of farmland, depending upon the farm's location.

"I'm not willing to say I would vote to change density," Bolender said. "A farmer's livelihood is his land, and I'm not going to take their livelihood away. I want to talk to the farmers. If that is what they want, then it will be OK."

Dwight E. Thomey, a lawyer representing the county commissioners, said there is not as much negative talk about the comprehensive plan as there is about implementing the plan.

He said it would be easy to direct residential and commercial development away from rural areas and closer to towns if the towns had adequate public water.

"But a lot of our towns, including Elkton, North East, Charlestown, Port Deposit, Rising Sun, Perryville and Chesapeake City, are maxed out when it comes to public water and sewerage," said Thomey.

"The big challenge," he added, "is to see if the county and the municipalities can work together on a water and sewerage plan that will make everybody happy."

Eric Sennstrom, director of the county's Office of Planning, Zoning, Parks and Recreation, said county law requires a review of the comprehensive plan every six years. He said that only some fine-tuning of the plan is needed to help control development and meet the county's goal of retaining its rural character.

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