Home Builders Hope Tree Bill Doesn't Grow On Council

Pierno Plan Criticized

Developers Advocate Changes In Zoning Instead

April 28, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Some Harford home builders say changes in county zoning and other development regulations would help save more trees than a county tree preservation proposal now under discussion.

About a dozen developers and home builders expressed that sentiment Monday night at the first of two public workshops on a tree preservation proposal by council member Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C. About 200 people, most of them connected to the home building industry, attended the 2 1/2-hour discussion with the council.

A second workshop will be tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. in the County Council chambers in the lower level of the County Courthouse in Bel Air.

Some representatives of the building industry said Pierno's bill won't address storm water management requirements or road regulationsthat result in the cutting down of trees.

"In my opinion we're wasting a lot of land building roads at the expense of tree buffers which everyone wants," said Craig Ward, a civil engineer with Frederick Ward Associates in Bel Air. Ward is leading a group of industry representatives who are drafting proposed changes to the county zoning andpublic works codes as an alternative approach to Pierno's tree bill.

"The trend is to attack each issue separately -- land use protection, landscaping regulations, the tree bill," said Craig. "It would be better to take a broader-based approach and modify regulations so builders don't just see it as another added cost."

Pierno's proposal, which has not yet been submitted as a bill for council consideration, would be more strict than a state tree preservation law awaiting Gov. William Donald Schaefer's signature.

"My bottom line is that we've made our points and fought our battles in Annapolis and accepted the state bill," said Bob Ward, president of the Harford County Home Builders Association.

"It's premature to meddle with the outcomeof those negotiations and compromises. The bill I saw (Monday) nightgoes way beyond the state bill, and I'm not sure it's necessary."

Some of the differences between Pierno's proposal and the state law that would take effect in December 1992 include:

* The Pierno proposal would require reforestation at a rate of a half-acre of trees planted for every acre cut down. The state law will require a quarter-acre for every acre cut.

* The Pierno proposal would require reforestation to be completed within one or two growing seasons after treeson a site were cut or cleared. The state law would require reforestation to be completed within one to two years after project development is complete.

S. Brooks Grady, vice president of Michael T. Rose Cos., a Laurel, Md.-based residential development company, said he, too, favored a broad-based approach.

"If you're serious about saving trees, you need to go back and look at what ordinances you have. There's a way to do it without adding to the cost of a house," said Grady, who spoke at the workshop.

He said his company's effort to build an environmentally sensitive development on Solomon's Island, in Calvert County, cost the company about $8,200 more per home.

To save trees from bulldozers in the development, called Solomon's Landing,a forester working for Michael T. Rose Cos. flagged trees that wouldbe saved on the property and roped off wide areas of trees for preservation, Grady said.

The company also had to work with local planning authorities to obtain permission to build the town houses closer to trees than local laws allowed so they could avoid cutting down trees, he said.

"The average cost of a home in Solomon's Landing is $245,000; (tree preservation) is not for affordable housing. That's why I suggested they look at zoning ordinances to see why people are building the way they are."

But Pierno said she believes a county tree preservation bill is still necessary, even if zoning and public works changes are later considered.

"I think we need a local bill because in the timetable set up in the state bill, it would be January 1993 before it took effect," said Pierno. "If we can enact something by December 1991, we can start saving trees by 1992 instead of 1993."

The state Office of Planning has estimated Harford could lose 16,556 acres of forested land and 16,388 acres of farmland to development by 2020. Figures provided by the state planning office show that ofHarford's 280,816 acres, about 101,290 acres were forested in 1990. In 1985, Harford had 105,673 acres of forested land.

Donald R. Stephen, president of H. Carl Stephen Inc., a Bel Air-based home builder, said he's opposed to a county tree bill. He contends it would reinforce the notion that developers should be the only ones to share thefinancial responsibility for reforestation.

For example, he noted, Pierno's proposal would require a developer to plant trees on land where no trees existed before the developer sought building permits for the property.

"We need to stop this business of us vs. them. It's not home builders or developers out there by themselves. We wouldn't be building one home in Harford County if there weren't people to buy them," said Stephen.

He also said he feared further legislation would drive up the price of a home in Harford County beyond the reach of the average home buyer.

"Mr. Grady said it cost about $8,200per unit to save existing trees. Mrs. (County Executive Eileen M.) Rehrmann is talking about $4,000 to $6,000 for water and sewer hookup fees, an adequate public facilities law . . . and a roads bill," saidStephen.

"Eventually, you can't pass all those costs on to the homeowner because most buyers can't afford it. It's very exasperating."

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