Wye Mills Area Community Plan Rejected

“The Queen Anne’s County Planning Commission voted 4-2 to reject the draft Wye Mills Area Community Plan. The planning commission voted after Helen Spinelli, chief of community and environmental planning for the county Department of Land Use, Growth Management and Environment, reviewed a summary of comments from citizens, Talbot and Caroline Counties, the Maryland Department of Planning, the Queen Anne’s County Economic Development Commission and other groups. Commission members Jennifer Schmidt and Gene Thomas voted for a motion to give the plan a favorable recommendation. Planning Commission Chairman Frank Frohn and planning commission members Luke Howard, Mary Kerr and Myron Richardson voted against the motion. Planning commission member David Clark recused himself from the vote and left the meeting room before the plan was discussed.

The plan makes recommendations for creating new zoning districts near the intersection of U.S. Route 50 and state Route 213 so the area could be developed for a business park and educational and commercial uses. The plan is intended to seek businesses that would complement Chesapeake College and allow the Wye River Upper School and the Radcliffe Creek School to be located across from the college. The plan recommended three new zoning districts be created in the planning area: Ecological Business Park, Education Center and Wye Mills Village Center.

The problem is that the Wye Mills area is “”so infrastructurally challenged”” that the county wants developers to pay for infrastructure improvements, and those costs are huge, said Frohn. Schmidt said the plan would enhance educational opportunities at Chesapeake College, and the community plan would provide guidelines for doing the improvements. She said Chestertown grew around Washington College, founded in 1782. Kerr said the issue of wastewater treatment for the development had not been adequately addressed. She said the ongoing update of the county’s comprehensive plan is a good time to look at planning for the Wye Mills area. Howard and Frohn said the draft plan was too big.

The 13-member citizens advisory committee that drafted the plan voted 9-2 to recommend approval of the plan. Two planning commission members were non-voting members of the CAC. The two dissenting CAC members, Betsy Gallagher and Carol Bilek, submitted a minority opinion report. Advocates of the plan said more business development is needed in Queen Anne’s County to increase the commercial tax base and to provide jobs for local residents. Roughly 60-percent of Queen Anne’s County workforce commutes outside the county to work. Opponents of the plan were concerned about highway safety and environmental issues and the impact to nearby Wye Mills Village. Opponents also said vacant commercial buildings in other parts of the county are going unfilled.

The Maryland Department of Planning sent a letter to the Queen Anne’s County government criticizing the plan for, among other things, being inconsistent with state planning visions, specifically that growth be concentrated in existing population and business areas. State planners said it might be better for the county to complete its county-wide comprehensive plan first before proceeding with more localized planning efforts.