Charles County’s Department of Planning and Growth Management has formally introduced a proposal to amend the county’s land-use guidelines to allow land around the Maryland Airport to be rezoned for commercial uses, a change that proponents say will encourage economic development and critics argue could harm the Mattawoman watershed.
The proposal, which was presented to the Charles County Planning Commission during their virtual session on Monday, Nov. 2, requires amending the county’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan to change the zoning of several properties adjacent to the airport from their current designation as part of the Watershed Conservation District to an as-yet-undefined new category that would be compatible with general aviation airport activities.
Planning Commission chair Wayne Magoon, who expressed his support for the proposed amendments, pointed out that the proposed rezoning of the airport parcels would in effect be restoring them to the land-use categories that they had prior to their conversion to WCD zoning.
“Basically the area that we proposed to to change the zoning to to some sort of an airport zone or some sort of an employment [or] industrial airport zone are actually properties that were at one time zoned either ‘industrial’ or ‘business park,'” county planner Amy Blessinger explained. “So we’re basically just taking the footprint of that old zoning … and [rezoning] those [properties] to a new zone that supports airport use.”
As TLR previously reported, in September the Board of Charles County Commissioners voted unanimously to allow the planning and growth management department to hold a series of public hearings on the proposal. The process of amending the comprehensive plan involves public hearings before both the Charles County Planning Commission and the Board of Charles County Commissioners, and a review by state agencies and adjoining jurisdictions.
If the changes to the comp plan are approved, the planning department would then have to bring an actual zoning text amendment for the properties before the planning commission for their recommendation and then to the county commissioners for a vote.
The effort to rezone approximately 600 acres around the airport, which is located at the intersection of Livingston Road (Route 224) and Pomfret Road (Route 227) east of Indian Head, has proceeded in fits and starts as a result of personnel turnover in both the planning department and the county administration.
In June 2017, then-District 1 Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) proposed applying an “overlay zone” on those parcels that would allow limited commercial and industrial activity while still largely adhering to the requirements of the underlying WCD zoning. However, Robinson’s proposal was subsumed under the planning department’s larger goal of overhauling the county’s entire zoning ordinance and then eventually stalled following the departure of the department director and his deputy, which was followed by departmental staff shortages and the election of a new Board of County Commissioners.
Further complicating the issue, the airport’s operator declared bankruptcy in October 2018 when the lien-holder foreclosed on two airport properties. The following February, the lien-holder, PSM Holdings, LLC, of Potomac, Md., purchased the Maryland Airport for $2.5 million, well below its listed price of $4.84 million.
The land immediately surrounding the airport runway and operations buildings is currently zoned for light industrial applications, with two small adjacent parcels zoned for business parks. In 2016, the then-board of county commissioners approved the rezoning of the surrounding parcels, which were part of the estate of the airport’s founder, to become part of the WCD.
Advocates for increased investment in economic development in western Charles County argued that the zoning change made the airport unattractive to potential buyers. Opponents point out that an increase in impervious surface such as parking lots and roofs could inundate the adjacent Mattawoman Creek watershed with contaminants. They also cite the failure of the adjacent Indian Head Tech Park to attract tenants, which controversially resulted in the county repurchasing the land from the developers for $6.4 million in 2014, as evidence that the area cannot support viable economic development.
A public hearing before the planning commission has been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 16 at 6:00 p.m. Public comments are being accepted through Friday, Nov. 13.
illustration: current (left) and proposed zoning for the Maryland Airport. Source: Charles County Government (maps), design by TLR