Eight months after the passage of Anne Arundel's landmark tree preservation law, builders are busy mapping out ways to save trees and forests.
However, citizens will not see visible effects of the new law for at least another year, planners say.
Building projects now under way, as well as others still on the drawing boards, were started before the tree law went into effect last May and are exempt from it, said Rodney Banks, a legislative planner with the county Department of Planning and Zoning.
"The ordinance is really geared to the future," said Banks, who drafted the tree law for its sponsor, former Councilwoman Carole B. Baker, D-Severna Park. "It takes one to one and a half years to get through the subdivision process. There's a lot of development in the pipeline now that's going to be exempt from the ordinance. You're not really going to see the results of the tree bill for another year down the road."
Anne Arundel's tree law is among the strictest in the state, requiring builders either to preserve trees on-site, reforest on-site or reforest off-site. Where reforestation or preservation is not possible, builders may pay the county a fee.
Since May, applications for 18 major subdivisions subject to the ordinance have come through the planning department, as well as 69 minor subdivisions and 285 grading permits, Banks said.
Already, he said, these builders have started signing agreements specifying how they intend to comply with the tree law. "Most of them are looking to replant" either on- or off-site, he said.
The ordinance requires that builders preserve trees on-site or reforest on-site whenever possible. Builders are allowed to pay fees in lieu of saving trees only as a last resort, Banks said.
"The county wants the trees. We don't want their money," he said.
Although hailed as a major achievement by environmentalists, the law drew some criticism because it contained "grandfather" clauses exempting builders whose projects were already in the pipeline. The new regulations did not apply to some 6,800 housing units approved before the ordinance was introduced to the County Council.
"To make those people subject to the ordinance at that point was just ludicrous," Banks said.
The county has been encouraging exempted builders to save as many trees as they can, requiring wooded buffers along highways and between subdivisions, he said.
For builders who fall under the ordinance, there will be no exceptions, Banks said. "Only the standard exemptions have been made," he said. "No one has been let off the hook."