A group of Nanjemoy residents will accept a statewide award tonight in Baltimore for their long-range community vision plan, recognition that signifies the culmination of 16 months of unprecedented work and undeniable dedication.
The grass-roots effort, titled "Nanjemoy Naturally: A Shared Vision," maps out the next 30 years for the sparsely populated western portion of Charles County. It envisions a preserved natural environment where tourists fuel the local economy and concentrated development provides residents with a few more amenities.
But tensions that surfaced at a recent meeting with county leaders and among the diverse groups within Nanjemoy have shown how bureaucratic processes and varying interests can be frustrating hurdles for a community initiative. The group that successfully engineered the vision plan without county directive or funding -- a first in Charles -- now must persuade county commissioners to enact its goals.
"Sprawl is ugly, and sprawl comes about because there wasn't any planning ahead of time," said vision group member Jann Russell. "We're in a unique position because we can think about it ahead of time. [Nanjemoy is] so salvageable for the future."
The purchase of about 1,200 acres along the Potomac shoreline near Nanjemoy by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the state prompted residents last year to consider the area's future. Deciding they wanted to participate in land-use decisions, a group of residents began surveying their neighbors to determine their views of Nanjemoy's future.
Input from more than 250 surveys and about 50 regular participants at meetings formulated the group's four focus areas: natural and heritage resources, economic development, recreational opportunities, and community development and infrastructure.
This broad participation across the community, group members said, enabled them to reach the consensus that elected officials require before they will incorporate such a vision into the county's comprehensive plan.
The vision plan promotes maintaining the rural, wooded character of Nanjemoy through preservation land purchases, as well as restrictions on commercial land uses and clear cutting. It suggests that Charles County bolster its nature tourism with a heritage museum, an emphasis on the area's bird watching and other outdoor opportunities, and more public access to bordering waters.
These improvements would change Nanjemoy very little from its current appearance, said Deanna Wheeler, one of the vision plan's chief designers.
"We want it to remain pretty much the same," she said. "Our idea is to keep the infrastructure in Indian Head, and then people can come down here and visit if they want. Economic sustainability can come through environmental tourism."
But the report also calls for a new Nanjemoy village center at Route 6 and Liverpool Point Road that would include a post office, library, general store, cafe and recreational complex. The plan calls for such development to be kept away from vulnerable natural resources.
Yet this week, when county commissioners brought up rezoning and land-use regulations needed to build such a center, some vision group members balked. Many participants do not want any growth in Nanjemoy's current population of about 3,000, group member Cornell Posey said.
The problem, he said, is that many African American residents and churches believe more amenities are crucial to improving life in Nanjemoy. They want a local gasoline station, a commercial enterprise not specifically mentioned in the plan.
The vision plan isn't the vision of the whole community, Posey said. "We've got to compromise."
County officials pointed out other inconsistencies. Preserving land for recreational use but not giving visitors any place to spend their money wastes the land, they said. Also, the report envisions cluster housing to improve living conditions, but that contradicts the desire of environmentalists for lower density in residential areas.
Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large) said the commissioners need to gain a clearer understanding of whether vision plan leaders are simply looking for more opportunities to give input on county decisions or if they want the county to adopt their report.
County planners and other officials typically have assembled their own vision teams to examine areas such as Bryans Road and Waldorf. In the case of Nanjemoy, commissioners would hold a series of public hearings before adopting the vision to ensure as broad a consensus as possible.
While that process will slow the momentum of the vision group's efforts, members remain optimistic.
"We are alive and well down here," group member Millie Hamman said. "We want to work together . . . to preserve [Nanjemoy] for future generations."
County planners, who nominated the Nanjemoy group for the Maryland Chapter of the American Planning Association's semiannual Community Initiative Award to be presented tonight at Morgan State University, said the vision team's "indispensable" work had positioned Nanjemoy as a more immediate county priority.
"Now," Planning Director Steve Magoon said, "we have something to react to."