There was a man dressed in 18th-century garb describing his face-to-face chat with George Washington. A woman who burst into tears over the dearth of gymnastics studios. And dozens of affordable-housing advocates and angry farmers.
The frissons that punctuated a two-hour public hearing Wednesday about the rewriting of Calvert County's zoning ordinance might have seemed out of place to some. The 200-plus pages of planning documents are filled with charts that are difficult to decipher and with esoteric zoning jargon.
But to many of the 150 people who packed the hearing room at the Calvert Pines Senior Center, nothing less than the future of the county and their livelihoods was at stake.
Most of the speakers focused on two issues: the lack of affordable housing and proposed restrictions on livestock farming.
"We are here to support any and all possible actions, large and small, that will allow more affordable housing units to be built or created," said Roberta Safer, co-founder of Housing for All Calvert, a new coalition of religious and community groups.
Outside the hearing, organizers set up a booth covered in neon pink posters and yellowish fliers that explained the coalition's goal: creating 100 affordable housing units in the county by next year and an additional 1,000 over the next five years.
The Rev. Ken Phelps, the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Sunderland and another co-founder of the coalition, criticized the county for not doing enough to help those who cannot afford the skyrocketing prices of homes. The average sale price of a house in Calvert has jumped from $270,771 in 2003 to $372,905 this year, according to the coalition.
"The time for us to act is now," Phelps said.
During the meeting, several dozen farmers urged the county not to act on proposed rules that would limit livestock farming operations. Greg Bowen, the county's director of planning, said the regulations were designed to prevent the operation of large farms like those common in Ohio and North Carolina, where thousands of hogs and other animals are raised in smelly operations often reviled by neighbors.
Some farmers suggested that the regulations could place restrictions on an operation as small as two hens in a chicken yard.
"It would all but destroy any chance of conducting a livestock farming operation profitably," said farmer Susan D. Hance-Wells.
The proposed ordinance outlines two options for regulating concentrated animal feeding operations, defined as places where livestock or poultry are fed or maintained in a confined area for more than 60 days.
The first would ban the operations in any zoning area. The second would allow the operations only if they are at least 1,000 feet from all property lines and right of ways and the number of animals is limited. No more than 200 dairy cows or 50 horses, for example, would be allowed.
Susan Allen, whose son is involved in the county's 4-H livestock program, said the suggested regulations could further accelerate the decline of agriculture in Calvert County.
"What about the future of our children?" she said. "We shouldn't make it even more difficult for them to farm."
Several church members expressed concern about a proposal to limit the seating capacity of places of worship to 1,500 people. Residents of the Lusby area railed against a zoning change that they feared would allow a trash dump to be built near them.
And one woman burst into tears when she spoke about a potential zoning change that could prevent the opening of a gymnastics complex.
"It breaks your heart," she said. "We should have this in our county for these kids."
Christopher Donley, chairman of the Calvert County Agriculture Commission, showed up in tawny breeches and a frilly white cravat. "I want to tell you a story," he said and then proceeded to recount his meeting with George Washington -- a farmer -- at a cocktail party in the 18th century.
The point of the discursive story, it seemed, was to underscore the importance of preserving the county's agricultural heritage and defeating the proposed regulations to limit livestock farming.
But the opposition to the proposals didn't seem to trouble Bowen. "You can't prepare such an important document without having a few differences of opinion," he said.