On January 24, I had the opportunity to attend the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners meeting and provide comments on a petition to change current zoning ordinances to allow for the construction of a 156,000-square foot, four-story high storage facility within the Critical Area on Kent Island. My testimony was among 64 comments provided by community members and environmental organizations opposing this project, and we anxiously await the County Commissioners’ verdict at their upcoming meeting on February 14. Granting this variance request will compromise the County’s vision to “Remain a rural, agricultural, and maritime County that restores, enhances, protects, conserves, and stewards its valuable land, air, and water resources” as stated in its Comprehensive Plan.
This is, without question, the wrong location for a project of this scale and impact. The parcel in question is on the banks of the Chester River—in the sensitive Critical Area—and currently zoned for limited development. The developer purchased this land with full knowledge of the building limitations on this parcel, and now is requesting a variance in order to get around the current restrictions. Purchasing land with the intention of applying for a variance is an unfortunate trend in our Eastern Shore counties that puts unnecessary and irreparable strain on our natural resources—in this case, forest land, wetlands, and our Chester River.
Legal representation for the developers asserted at the hearing that this zoning change is allowed under Critical Area law, which is true. The developer has effectively worked within the system to pursue this business venture. However, the County Commissioners are also under no obligation to grant this variance. I wonder what the Critical Area of Kent Island would look like if every acre of growth allocation was approved? How much wetland habitat and woodland buffer would remain to beautify our shores, attract birds and fish, and protect our shorelines from sea level rise and erosion? A storage facility— four stories high on the banks of the river— is not the best use of our land or our Critical Area.
By the end of 2022 it became clear that nutrient reductions required under the Chesapeake Bay’sTotal Maximum Daily Load requirements would not be met by 2025—a huge disappointment for clean water advocates after a 30-year effort. To reverse this trend in Eastern Shore watersheds, it is not enough for counties to rely on the state’s minimum requirements; they must lean on their own comprehensive plans for guidance.
Last May, Queen Anne’s County adopted PlanQAC2022, an update to its Comprehensive Plan that, in its own words, “strengthens the County’s long-standing guiding principles, growth management, and supports creating sustainable communities consistent with the County’s vision.” Part of that support for sustainable communities included setting goals for infrastructure that will “protect our waterways (and) conserve our natural resources.” Now, less than a year later, the commissioners are facing a test of those very goals.
Statewide, ShoreRivers recommends new development in Critical Areas, such as this, be restricted to construction for government and emergency services only—not for private business like a storage facility. In fact, we recently made this exact recommendation as part of a letter to newly elected Maryland Governor Wes Moore.
ShoreRivers supports planned, thoughtful growth that fits with our rural landscape, small communities, and abundant water resources in our Eastern Shore counties. In this case we ask that the developer be held accountable to the limits of the current zoning of this land, and urge the commissioners to deny this request at their upcoming vote on February 14. I urge you to make your voice heard too: comments can be submitted ahead of the meeting to [email protected]. We hope you’ll join us in standing up for responsible development and healthy waterways in Queen Anne’s County.
Chester Riverkeeper, ShoreRivers
ShoreRivers protects and restores Eastern Shore waterways through science-based advocacy, restoration, and education.