Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Rural tier residents want developers out

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If he had to make a choice, Robert ‘‘Yates” Clagett would prefer to work his farm for a living. But farming is not profitable enough to sustain his family, he said. And conserving the land, the other option, is equally unprofitable, Clagett said.

At a Park and Planning session June 27, planners redesigning the sub-region 6 master plan listened to the concerns of Clagett and several other residents who want the rural tier, where they live, to remain rural.

‘‘The best preservation [of the rural tier] is a profitable farm,” said Clagett, a resident of Baden who has chosen to work for the county’s Soil Conservation District rather than run a farm.

Some residents at the meeting said they wanted more rural land to be preserved or used as livestock farms.

Sub-region 6, in southeastern Prince George’s, is bordered by Central Avenue to the north and Branch Avenue to the West. It comprises 31 percent of the county’s land and most of the rural tier, an area prioritized for land preservation.

Residents said they feared any redesign of the sub-region’s master plan could give developers, who are already encroaching from all sides, more authority to build.

‘‘We are not interested in the beltway or the suburban sprawl,” said Lita Paylere, a member of the Mattaponi Basin Citizens Association, referring to the large amount of new construction that has occurred in those areas.

Last year, Paylere and other residents fought against a County Council bill that would have increased the acreage required to build a house in the county’s rural tier from five to 25 acres. Residents argued the bill would have made it difficult to subdivide small farms into inheritance for their families. The council had intended to use this measure as a way to preserve land in the rural tier. At the meeting on June 27, chief community planner Ivy Lewis said that proposal had been dropped.

Residents also complained that adequate infrastructure has not been built simultaneously with the several new housing projects under construction. Improved roads and additional fire and police outposts are needed to accommodate the growing population, they said.

‘‘We’ve had fire chiefs come out to these [planning board] hearings to say we don’t have enough water supplies to fight fires down here,” said Joanne Flynn, a member of the Greater Baden-Aquasco Citizens Association.

Clagett, who is a volunteer firefighter, said there is also a lack of water resources in the area that could lead to tragedy. ‘‘If one of those McMansions catches fire, I don’t care how quick we get there, it’s going up,” Clagett said.

Baden Fire Chief Bobby Breen said volunteer assistance has dropped off, and he needs 12 additional career firefighters to get to full staff strength. Baden currently employs four career firefighters.

Despite the shortage, Flynn said new subdivisions keep opening up.

‘‘We feel that this is supposed to be the rural tier and with them approving all the subdivisions down here we don’t think they are following it,” said Virginia Stallings, vice president of the Greater Baden-Aquasco Citizens Association. ‘‘If they don’t keep us rural, [our roads will become more] heavily traveled.”

E-mail Andrea Noble at anoble@gazette.net.