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Commissioners to vote on Pinch Valley Road closure, but are impacted residents aware?

Commissioners will decide fate of Pinch Valley Road this week amid cries for more public participation

Location of planned Pinch Valley Road closure

In open session on January 12, 2023, the County Commissioners were briefed on a Department of Public Works (DPW) request to schedule a public hearing regarding the closing of a portion of Pinch Valley Road.  A move that staff say is necessary in order to move forward with the Airport Safety Enhancements Project.  

During the public comment portion of open session, a citizen asked the commissioners to consider holding a town hall so that residents living on Pinch Valley Road and two adjoining roads could receive details about the project and its localized effect on daily commutes.  The citizen cited concerns about increased traffic along Hughes Shop Road and Pleasant Valley Road, including some intersections they said are already dangerous.  

One commissioner commented that plenty of notice had been provided as the project, including the road closure, has been in the county’s master plan for over a decade. A fact that taxpayers might not be aware of unless they work for the county government or regularly review the master plan. 

The board voted to send the matter to a public hearing, which has been scheduled for this Thursday, March 2, 2023 at 10:00am along with a staff recommended motion to approve the closure of the portion of Pinch Valley Road.

According to an official at DPW, since the meeting in January, the county has done only what is required of them under state COMAR standards to inform residents of the upcoming public hearing.  The requirements by the state of Maryland include putting information on the county’s website and publishing notices in a local newspaper.  

Residents from the area have reported that in addition to the town hall request being ignored, no physical signs were posted on Pinch Valley Road and no letters were mailed to homeowners in the vicinity informing them about the upcoming public hearing.  It seems that any action by the county to encourage public participation outside of the state standards is left up to the commissioners’ discretion.  One only has to look at the marketing efforts for the recent town halls for the proposed Freedom District storage facility, proposed car washes and other land development projects to notice a difference in strategies.  

A response from a top-level county official explained that public hearing strategies are decided at the discretion of the commissioners based on how ‘contentious’ an issue appears. Logically though, how can the commissioner’s be expected to make that determination before the public has been notified of the opportunity to comment?

It could be argued that the lack of consistency in gathering public input is just the latest example of the need for procedures and/or bylaws to guide how the commissioners govern and operate. They would be doing a great service to their taxpayer constituency by establishing clear rules that encourage transparency in all board operations as well as expectations of county staff, similar to those adopted by the Board of Education and the Board of License Commissioners. 

As for Pinch Valley Road, unfortunately it might never be clear whether more residents have concerns over the closure and if more public participation would have warranted solutions that could have mitigated some of the inconveniences due to an airport expansion project that has been in the works for over 15 years.

January 12, 2023 Board of County Commissioners open session regarding closure of Pinch Valley Road
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