Ignoring warnings from the president of a statewide homebuilders' group, the Harford County Council last night unanimously approved tough new zoning rules governing rubble landfills.
The bill is viewed as a thinly veiled effort to block the controversial Gravel Hill rubble landfill project near Havre de Grace, although it was written to avoid specific mention of the proposed facility.
Shortly before the council voted, George Shehan, a Harford builder and president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, warned that the measure was so stringent as to invite legal action.
"You have, in effect, eliminated any possibility for a rubblefill in this county," Shehan told the council.
Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, said that although the zoning rules in the bill are strict, variances could be sought.
Shehan responded, "I think if this council is going to rely on variances rather than a reasonable set of regulations, you will find yourself embroiled in litigation."
Other builders in the county have said the bill would force them to pay higher costs to haul waste out of the county.
The bill requires rubble landfills, which bury demolition waste from building projects, to be at least 100 acres. The proposed Gravel Hill project would be on a 55-acre site.
The measure also details various operating rules and would require buffers between residential areas and flood plains.
The council already is in court over the Gravel Hill project, which is proposed by Maryland Reclamation Associates. The company won the right in Harford Circuit Court to seek a state permit for the project. The council has appealed that ruling to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Richard Schafer, Maryland Reclamation's president, has declined to say whether he would fight the new zoning regulations in court.
Residents near the proposed Gravel Hill site claim that the project would cause their wells to go dry and lower their property values.
The bill was amended extensively last night to conform with suggestions by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who feared that its original language would subject the county to an even greater risk of a costly legal challenge.