In 1999, a year in which Calvert remained the state's fastest-growing county, the biggest stories of the year, not surprisingly, had to do with growth--and the battle to contain it.
At the end of the year, the county celebrated achieving a goal set 20 years ago: the preservation of at least 20,000 acres of farmland. Throughout the year, the county commissioners hashed out ways to continue financing and improving the preservation program, which involves granting participants development rights that in turn can be transferred to developers seeking to build in more populated areas.
At the same time, the commissioners worked to find ways to put a cap on growth in the county. In April, the three Republican commissioners on the five-member board approved zoning changes aimed at cutting potential growth by about half. The commissioners increased the minimum buildable lot size, a move projected to limit future growth in the county to no more than 37,000 households.
That measure came one month after 600 residents gathered to listen to the commissioners and members of the Planning Commission discuss ways to preserve the county's rural character while coping with the financial strains caused by development.
School Superintendent James R. Hook told those gathered at that March meeting that the rise in Calvert's enrollment--which has shown the highest rate of increase in the state during the past decade--would force the construction of nine schools in 10 years. "We are courting disaster if we continue at the same pace," he said.
Growth continued at the Community College at Calvert County, where enrollment has jumped by 71 percent during a 10-year period, according to the school's annual report. Growth is expected to continue at the same rate in Calvert, where the community college's new Prince Frederick Campus building--estimated to cost $15.4 million--is scheduled to open in 2003. In July, the college officially will become part of the new College of Southern Maryland, combining the region's three community colleges.
The commissioners also agreed to a $3.5 million expansion of the public library in Prince Frederick.
Community activists who appeared before the commissioners in December said that spiraling development is especially hurting the poor. Joseph P. Danahy, a founder of the Calvert County Affordable Housing Coalition, told commissioners that the need for more low-cost housing in Calvert County has been an issue for 20 years and is worsening.
The coalition has asked for more than $5 million in county funds over the next five years to help create 250 housing units for first-time homeowners and 250 rental units, as well as to rehabilitate 250 existing homes that lack indoor plumbing. The commissioners are considering pledging $2 million toward the effort over the next five years, as well as granting another request from the coalition: designating a public administrator to coordinate the development of affordable housing in the area.
Growth wasn't the only issue that touched Calvert in 1999. The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant continued to push to become the first U.S. nuclear plant to gain relicensing--despite a court fight over the scope of the relicensing review of plant operations.
The elements also played a big role last year. Winds from Hurricane Floyd hurled trees into electrical lines, and 490,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric customers lost power--including 320 Calvert County residents who were still without electricity a week after the storm.
One BGE official apologizing to the county commissioners months later called Floyd, which caused extensive flooding in North Beach, "the most catastrophic event to hit our system in 40 years."
In the summer, farmers were complaining about the lack of water as a far-reaching drought gripped the region.
In Chesapeake Beach, the biggest story involved Mayor Gerald Donovan and his proposal to swap land with the county. Donovan wants town ownership of the county's three-acre Kellam ballfield; he offered a parcel about the same size nearby.
Under the now-withdrawn proposal, the mayor said he wanted to build parking spaces and preserve a portion for what he has called "future improvements." Critics of the plan said it was a ploy to expand the town's water park, which they opposed.
A public hearing in August drew about 300 people to the local fire station to hear more about the plans.
In North Beach, new Mayor Mark R. Frazer pushed forward with his plans to revamp the town. He and the new Town Council created some municipal parking and a beach patrol. Six run-down buildings were condemned and demolished.
In December, Frazer took another step that he said was necessary for him to accomplish his goal of restoring the town: He switched parties, going from Republican to Democrat. A former Calvert County commissioner who helped strengthen the Republican Party there, Frazer decided that he could get more done as a Democrat in a state with a Democrat-controlled General Assembly than if he were a Republican.
County Commissioner John Douglas Parran (At Large) did a party switch of his own, to honor voters who elected him as a Republican, though he pledged he would continue to stay away from party politics.
Nonetheless, politics continued to be in the news. In April, Commissioners President Linda L. Kelley (R-Owings) raised concerns that the other commissioners had violated the state's Open Meetings Law by engaging in policymaking at a dinner at the Dunkirk fire and rescue station.
Then Commissioner Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large) charged that Kelley and the board's two other Republicans, David F. Hale (Owings) and Parran, were doing the same thing Monday nights in the county courthouse. The three said they were simply working there in separate offices.
"The board has had a lot of friction, and I think we need a change," Stinnett said in December after she voted for Hale to become the board's president.
Change would not be on the menu, however. Kelley was reelected by a 3 to 2 vote to a second one-year term as board president.
And the most pressing issue facing the commissioners in the year ahead would not change, either: growth.
CAPTION: North Beach Mayor Mark R. Frazer is implementing plans to revitalize the bayside town.
CAPTION: Miranda Gibson, 6, of North Beach, stands in front of her Annapolis Avenue home amid heavy flooding caused by Hurricane Floyd in September.