Pierno Alters Tree Bill, Trying To Appease Builders

May 19, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

County Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno last week introduced a bill that would require developers to preserve some trees at building sites as well as replace some trees cut down for development.

The bill, introduced at Tuesday's County Council session, contains several concessions to developers, who had said the legislation would increase the cost of housing.

Compared to a draft proposal unveiled in April, the bill reduces the amount of land that must be reforested and gives developers credits for planting trees in flood plains.

"I think the changes are going to make the bill more acceptable, not only to builders but to other groups and conservationists," said Pierno, D-District C.

"All the changes are focused around retention (of trees)."

The council has scheduled a public hearing on the tree bill for June 11 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers in Bel Air.

Despite the changes, builders and developers said they still have concerns.

"There are some positive changes, and there are some negative changes," said Craig Ward, a civil engineer with Frederick Ward Associates in Bel Air, which does engineering work for development firms."It just takes land away from a developer and adds to his costs."

Ward is leading a group of industry representatives who are drafting changes to the county zoning and public works codes as an alternative to the tree preservation bill.

He hopes the proposal will be ready for the council's June 11hearing on the tree bill.

The major changes include:

* requiring reforestation at a rate of a quarter-acre of trees for every acre cut down, matching the requirement in a new state tree preservation law, which is awaiting Gov. William Donald Schaefer's signature.

Pierno's draft proposal would have required a reforestation rate of a half-acre for every acre cut.

* providing developers with credits for trees planted in flood plains and Natural Resource Districts, landzoned as environmentally sensitive areas. Developers would be able to plant trees in a reforestation area smaller than a quarter-acre, depending on the number of trees they plant in flood plains or resourcedistricts.

The original proposal, as well as the state tree law, do not have provisions for credits to developers, Pierno said.

* requiring reforestation within one or two growing seasons after each phase of a development is completed.

The first proposal would have required reforestation in one or two seasons after trees on a site were cut or cleared. The state law requires reforestation to be complete in one or two years after an entire project is done.

* prohibiting construction or grading in a tree's "dripline" -- the ground between the outermost branches of the tree and its trunk. The first proposal prohibited construction and grading within 15 feet of the dripline, but Pierno said she was concerned that developers would simply cut down trees if they were limited by the distance they could approach driplines.

Ward, the civil engineer, said he sees the change in thebill's reforestation rate as a positive one.

But Ward said he is concerned about the bill's grandfather clause, which frees development projects that have preliminary approval by July 1 from meeting the legislation's requirements.

That clause could force developers whohave projects in the works to rework their plans, further driving upthe cost of the development, Ward said.

"There's no way you can get approval between now and July 1," Ward said.

If the council approves the bill, it would affect anyone -- builders, developers and the county government -- seeking approvals for subdivisions, grading permits or building permits on land at least 40,000 square feet after Jan. 1, 1992.

Exempt from the bill's requirements would be tree cutting and clearing projects for the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, farming, forest harvesting, public utilities and small, single-lot developments.

In addition, variances can be sought from the county Boardof Appeals, which is made up of the seven-member County Council, thebill says.

Builders and developers would have to get approval fora "forest conservation plan" through the county Department of Planning and Zoning, according to the bill.

The bill outlines the amountof forest land that must be preserved, depending on the type of development.

A low-density residential development must retain at least 50 percent of forest land on the property, while a commercial and industrial development must keep at least 15 percent of the forests, the bill says.

Trees, shrubs and plants that are listed as rare, threatened or endangered are to be given the priority for protection, the bill says. Developers also are required to take steps to protect large trees.

If a builder or developer shows that they can't meet the regulations for reforestation, they can contribute 15 cents per square foot of the required planting area to the county, the bill says.The county would use the money for reforestation at the site.

Thecounty must complete the reforestation within three years or return the money to the developer, the bill says.

Violations of the bill would carry fines of up to $1,000. Violators of forest conservation plans would pay fines of 45 cents per square foot of the non-conforming area.

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