Leave Property Owners Be

I am writing in response to the Charles County Planning Commission's proposal for mandatory rural cluster developments.

It has been said that you can improve the future by looking at the past. That being said, let's go back 50 years. You could walk into the courthouse and within an hour, and for less than $100, you could walk out with a building permit, go home and build a house wherever you wanted to on your property. Crime was very low; traffic jams were unheard of. Then zoning came along.

Now if you want to build a house it will take months, and maybe even a year, to obtain a building permit due to all of the stringent regulations and fees, which will cost you approximately $15,000 to $20,000. You would then realize that all you have is a handful of papers for all of your time and money. These papers will tell you exactly where you have to build your house on your property, the size, shape, elevations, driveway/parking and so forth. You will probably need a builder or some other professional to do this for you. If you decide to change the location or move your driveway, this could cost you several thousand dollars more and several months more in time. . . .

I think this new attack on property owners is uncalled for, especially since we have just experienced the highest property tax increase in history. This in itself makes it extremely difficult for many young people who may be interested in owning a home.

I think it is time that our government finds a new whipping boy. May I suggest fighting crime, repairing our roads, and educating and training prisoners so that when they are released from prison they can be more productive citizens -- as well as taxpayers, not tax users. If you can't think of anything else, just go fishing, but leave the property owners alone!

George C. Bowman


Affordable Housing Is Key

Charles County faces a sad dilemma concerning the lack of affordable housing. The need for all types of affordable housing has been clearly documented (i.e., detached homes, apartments, duplexes, etc.). However, whenever affordable housing is proposed, it gets nixed because of the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) syndrome. It's clear that we all will become more of a class-based society if the lack of housing affordability isn't taken seriously immediately.

According to the Maryland Association of Realtors, the average price of a home in Charles County jumped dramatically over the last two years. In addition, the Maryland Center for Community Development says the average monthly rent cost in 2004 of a two-bedroom apartment in our county was $1,187 -- well beyond the affordable range of much of the county's work force. Charles County's rental units are only 22 percent of the total housing stock, compared with 32 percent in the state of Maryland as a whole. Clearly, we need more affordable apartments as well.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that the 2004 median household income in Charles County was $85,400. We are not a poor county overall, but we have been building almost exclusively for upper-income families, at great cost to many hardworking citizens -- retail salespeople and some managers, food service people, custodians, office clerks, teachers, police officers. I have family and friends making $30,000 to $40,000 a year, and I'm sure you do, too. However, they are having trouble finding anything that they can afford. It seems un-American and contrary to our egalitarian principles that we don't build adequate shelter for citizens of all income levels of our country.

There are several successful existing models of affordable housing, and the recently adopted county Community Development Housing Plan has many good ideas. Having been an affordable housing advocate for 25 years in this county, the evidence of lack of affordable housing has been clear long before this most recent bubble in the housing market. Although it is a complex problem, there are solutions. These solutions will not be accomplished without county government support and solid involvement of our citizens.

If we continue to ignore the need for affordable housing, the problem will become more intractable. If left to the vagaries of the marketplace, we will continue our slide into a class society in which the American dream of owning a home or just having a decent, safe place to live will become unobtainable except for those with extremely high incomes. I still remain guardedly optimistic that Charles countians will not accept this harsh reality.

Robert A. Sondheimer

Bryans Road

You Can Sightsee Later

After reading a response [Extra, Sept. 18] to my initial letter, I felt compelled to provide more clarification of my views. It was not my intention to insult the intelligence of those using the Thomas Johnson Bridge, but rather to "educate" (as in make them aware/informed). On the other hand, it doesn't require a master's degree to understand the dynamics of traffic flow: One vehicle stopping or driving at a very slow speed has a freight train effect on traffic behind it. In other words, for the uninitiated (unaware), while one vehicle may be moving (albeit at a snail's pace), the traffic behind it, at some point, is at a complete standstill -- Physics 101 (traveled the Wilson Bridge lately?).

With a posted speed limit of 45 mph, it is not uncommon to encounter vehicles traveling less than 20 mph. That's pretty tough on a loaded 18-wheeler trying to climb the steep grade.

For starters, let's begin with the purpose of a bridge. Again, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a bridge is used to span a gap or depression so that one may gain access to the other side without drowning or breaking a leg in the process. Any other purpose would be superfluous -- taking in scenic views, fishing, avoiding Billy Goat Gruff, etc. To do this shows a total disregard for others who unfortunately are behind you. To do this during peak usage hours is just rubbing salt into the wound! What next -- taking pictures? Picnics? Ever hear of road rage? On some highways, there are convenient pull-offs at designated intervals that allow travelers to view, rest and take photographs of the landscape -- but please, not on a bridge. . . . I am not advocating that drivers speed across the bridge -- I am asking that we drive smarter and with some consideration for others. And if you must pause to take in the scenery, please, please do so at some time other than rush hour. Thank you very much.

Gerald Watson


Thanks for Donations

On Sept. 9 and 10, the Port Tobacco Players' Encore Kids performed "It's Saturday!" followed by the Encore Teens' production of "Rock 'n' Roll is Here to Stay!" which was interspersed with reflections on the historical contributions to the world of music by many from the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Between ticket sales and donations (which are still coming in), the Kids and Teens raised more than $1,800 for Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

We would like to extend our thanks to Pam Pennington, executive director of Charles County Habitat for Humanity, who spoke at both performances, enlightening all in attendance about the ways in which International Habitat for Humanity would be helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast. We would also like to extend thanks to all who helped publicize the fundraising weekend of shows, all who attended the shows and all who donated so generously to Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild the Gulf Coast.

This was an empowering way for kids, teens and adults to make a positive difference in the lives of those faced with tragedy and devastating losses. Thank you all for your contributions.

Therese Thiedeman

Port Tobacco Players

La Plata