The County Council has voted 6-1 to disband a committee it appointed to draft a tree preservation law, deciding it would draft its own proposal by next month.
Some committee members said they had no warning from the council. They said they had made important progress on drafting a bill that developers and preservationists would find workable.
Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, made the motion in Tuesday's meeting to dissolve the 18-member Tree and Forest Preservation Committee.
"It's no secret I objected very strongly when the committee was formulated over the imbalance among the members, and the reports I've had show it doesn't seem to be functioning," she said. "We need to pursue the issue, but not in this format."
Pierno said she expects to have a tree preservation bill ready for consideration in January so the council can begin holding public hearings.
"We do want to make sure everyone has a say, and we will meet with developers, community members and some of the people on the committee," Pierno said. "But we have to have a basis for discussion."
Pierno said she decided to propose dismantling the committee after she attended several committee meetings and reviewed minutes of other meetings.
Pierno said she and Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, had discussed the possibility of killing the committee with all council members two weeks prior to Tuesday's vote.
"During the meetings I attended, they spent too much time nit-picking over every single definition," said Pierno. "It was just a killer committee -- a political thing to do to save face. But the quickest way to kill legislation is to assign it to a committee."
The committee was appointed last summer to study the issue and write a law after then-Councilman Frederick J. Hatem, D-District F, withdrew his controversial tree preservation legislation. Hatem, who ran for council president, was defeated in the Nov. 6 general election.
Hatem's bill, modeled after an Anne Arundel County law, would have limited then number of trees that could be cleared from a site. Developers and builders would have been required to replace any trees they did clear or pay the county a set fee based on the size of the development. The money would be set aside in a fund to be used for planting trees.
The committee -- composed of representatives from the Maryland Association of Homebuilders, the county Farm Bureau and citizens groups and local developers -- met four times between August and October to define the problem. The group was scheduled to meet again in January to begin work on language of a new proposal to meet a February deadline, committee members said.
"I don't know how to take it," said Gene Umbarger, the county Farm Bureau's representative on the committee. "I thought we were progressing quite well."
George Shehan, president of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland and a member of the committee, also said he thought the committee was making progress.
"I really don't know what the motivation is, but I guess it doesn't surprise me," Shehan said.
"My hope is that whatever they come up with, comes out fair. Fair would be, I believe, to view the county from two different perspectives -- the development envelope vs. large stands of trees. If you make it so impossible to develop within the envelope from a cost perspective, well, you know what that leads to."
The development envelope is the area of land designated for development and population growth. Its boundaries extend from Interstate 95 to just north of Bel Air.
Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, voted against the motion to disband the committee. She said she did not have enough information to vote to dissolve it.