Stick With Chapman Plan Editor's note: A version of this letter originally was sent to Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

As a resident of Southern Maryland, I have become deeply disturbed by recent actions of the Charles County Board of Commissioners and legislative delegation regarding the Chapman Forest lands (Chapman State Park and Glendening Natural Environment Area) owned by the State of Maryland.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR), after a two-year process involving many citizens, approved a plan to preserve that land as a unique historical and natural resource for all the people of Maryland. But now the elected officials from Charles County have written to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., asking that the DNR plan be set aside so that these officials can decide how the land is to be used.

Although many citizens from all over Maryland have already experienced the biological and aesthetic wonder of the "old growth" forest and the historic Mount Aventine estate at Chapman's, those elected officials want the governor to discard the two years of efforts of four committees made up of numerous citizens, which resulted in a plan reflecting the opinions of the vast majority of the hundreds of people who gave public testimony. The officials disguise their wishes as wanting "broad public access" but in fact their plan would take away the access to the very things that made Chapman Forest worthy of preservation. The integrity of the natural resources and the unspoiled setting for the historic property are now available to all citizens. Truly, they are the basis for turning this site into one of Maryland's top tourist attractions.

In 1997, while the state was negotiating the purchase of Chapman Forest, the Charles County Planning Commission granted final plat approval on the first phase of a mega-development known as Chapman's Landing proposed for the site, even though a required wetlands permit had not been granted. In supporting this action, the commissioners in effect drove up the price that the State of Maryland would have to pay to preserve Chapman Forest as public open space.

When the Chapman Forest land was finally purchased, even though the county did not contribute any funds, the local government got the 50 most developable acres, plus valuable groundwater rights under Chapman Forest, which could serve future development. Now these officials are coming back for more.

The property was saved because of its ecological and historic values. The conservation community paid 10 percent of the purchase price. The purchase was overwhelmingly popular locally and across Southern Maryland and the state. Chapman Forest belongs to the people of Maryland, not to the officials elected from Charles County.

Since overwhelming public comment supports the DNR plan, I urge Gov. Ehrlich to hold fast to this plan for Chapman Forest, and to the commitment to keep this gem of natural and historical resources, easily accessible from the Washington metropolitan area, available to us all with its vital character intact.

Frank L. Fox

Mechanicsville

Calvert's Private Meetings The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday voted to authorize bid openings in the back room instead of continuing with the present time-honored opening of bids that has served taxpaying citizens so well for so many years. Larger bid openings will continue to be opened, on camera, by the commissioners during their weekly open meetings, but smaller bid amount openings will be moved into the backroom.

The bid opening sessions will be open to the public, but it's questionable whether the newspapers and cable TV will attend such a process as they have done while the bid openings were part of the weekly commissioners' meetings that are aired on Comcast's Channel 6 at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evenings.

The effect of Tuesday's decision will certainly reduce the public's oversight of the bid process and is not in the best interest of the citizens of Calvert County. I am very disappointed that the commissioners would be moving in this direction.

This action by the county commissioners was a setback for full public disclosure of how your county government is spending your tax money. I am taking the time to inform you of their vote because the local out-of-county owned newspapers probably won't even report it.

John Douglas Parran

St. Leonard

Youth Need a Hangout Preteens, teens and young adults do not have that many places to socialize in this county, especially when school is out. Some preteens, teens and young adults get into some kind of trouble. Whether jokingly or otherwise, they do not mean to -- they are just bored.

Charles County has three buildings that are just sitting vacant. These buildings need something in them like a year-round indoor pool with membership fees, mini flea market, an all-year learning center for all ages.

Put these buildings to use instead of having them just sit. You say there is no money; there is always money for whatever you want, but what about the citizens of Charles County. You say no contractors. This county is loaded with contractors, and the contractors can volunteer -- yes, volunteer -- as a company with their skills and material. What a write-off. . . .

A fee of some kind should be imposed for the upkeep. Volunteers also would be a good choice. . . .

These ideas are not taking away from anything but just adding. Waldorf is growing with more preteens, teens and young adults.

So Charles County, think about the younger person in this county. Have a town meeting regarding this matter, do a survey and see what you come up with.

Charles County did approve the Club V nightspot in November -- like we really need more drinking and driving. Just think about it.

The buildings I was talking about are Hechingers, Ames, Kmart and Atlantic Cycle. I notice that the Hechingers is going to become Shoppers; that is fine, but Route 301 in Waldorf still will have three buildings. Does Waldorf have a YMCA/YWCA? I have not seen any. Maybe one of the buildings can be a small one. Charles County has a visitors center at 301 north from Virginia but nothing at 301 south, even though Charles County is growing from north to south.

Gloria Y. Daughtry

Waldorf

Take a Stand on Growth Tight budgets. School overcrowding and redistricting. Proposals to loosen development constraints. Hiring freezes. Are you a "gambling person"? Can you read the tea leaves? Is a tax increase just around the corner? I'd say there's a strong probability. So, it's time to pay attention; after all, it's your money!

In December, you were alerted to the fact that Charles County adopted an ordinance establishing a new tax that buyers of new homes will pay to finance school construction. Under this excise tax, buyers of new single-family homes will pay $9,700 over a 10-year period rather than the $5,000 impact fee previously paid by home builders. Buyers of townhouses and multifamily dwellings pay a little less. This approach has the support of the Charles County commissioners and the real estate industry.

A few weeks ago in Annapolis, Calvert Commissioners were seriously entertaining the idea of asking state lawmakers for the "authority" to impose a transfer tax of up to 1 percent on the amount of consideration shown on a deed that is recorded. Consternation over this proposal occurred after questions arose about the initiative not being previously discussed at a public meeting that complied with the Open Meetings Law requirement.

Here in St. Mary's, debate has been swirling around relaxing zoning rules that limit development according to available classroom space at a time of school overcrowding and redistricting. Should our county commissioners protect class sizes and avoid further overcrowding by holding firm to the current adequate public facilities requirements at the risk of stifling growth and inhibiting private property rights? Or, should adjustments to the adequate public facilities ordinance be allowed permitting growth in our designated development centers? Is there a medium between the extremes currently being debated? If so, where? And, how do we get there?

School facilities received a fair shake in capital improvement budgets in recent years. The average age of the public school buildings was 38 years before the last wave of school construction, which began about nine years ago. Following current renovations, the average age will be about 18 years, a significant improvement. Yet, as St. Mary's continues to grow, so must its school facilities.

The last Board of County Commissioners raised most taxes at their peril, including impact fees from $2,000 to $4,500. These fees are used to fund the local cost of school construction, and are essentially an upfront cost. While impact fees more than doubled, few would argue that they cover the proportional cost of school construction, not to mention other public facility needs for which impact fees are earmarked. As previously stated, the new Charles County excise tax approaches $10,000 -- but has the added feature of prorating its application over a 10-year period. Some would argue that this sum more closely approximates the true cost of additional school facilities required per additional dwelling unit. Should St. Mary's County follow Charles's lead? What are some likely scenarios if it doesn't?

Most of us know there's no free lunch, and we recognize our county commissioners don't have the authority to print money and run a deficit, as the federal government is prone to do. We also realize the priority associated with having a quality educational system for our youth. So, who pays?

Should all current households have their income or property taxes increased by another $100 or more to provide truly adequate public schools (not to mention other associated facilities, such as roads and parks) to meet the needs of a growing population? Is that a lot of groaning I'm hearing? Or, should we follow the lead of Charles County, and seek legislative authority from Annapolis to adopt a similar excise tax?

If a similar excise tax is not sought and enacted, what effect will its absence have on St. Mary's County? Will a greater share of overall growth come our way because of our tax policies? And is this what you want?

Let your county commissioners know where you stand. After all, it's your money!

Dennis Jack Hubscher

Hollywood