The county allowed William and David Kaufmann to clear two acres of woods next to their Gambrills seafood restaurant but won't allow themto build there until 1998.
Although the Kaufmanns had a valid grading permit to harvest the trees, the county's 1-year-old tree preservation law bars development of the property for seven years, said John Peacock, the county's chief of environmental enforcement within theDepartment of Permits and Inspections.
The Kaufmanns could bypass the prohibition by paying a $1.20-per-square-foot fee to the county's reforestation fund, but that would almost certainly make construction prohibitive, Peacock said. That would equal about $104,544 over two acres.
The owners, who hope to develop the commercially zoned property, were apparently unaware of the requirements of the tree preservation law.
"I don't know if that'strue or not," David Kaufmann said when told about the tree preservation law. "I wasn't aware of that at all. I think there is a technicaldifference between clearing it (the property) and commercial logging. We just cleared the property. We didn't log it."
No such difference exists, Peacock said.
"He's entitled to commercially log the property, and that's what he's got, a logging permit," Peacock said. "The way we read the ordinance, if he applies to do any kind of grading work on that property within the next seven years he's in violationof that tree preservation ordinance."
The logging operation raised the ire of some nearby residents and environmental activists -- whoopposed the property's commercial rezoning two years ago -- when it began earlier this month. They fear the loss of the trees will further harm the Jabez Branch, a shallow stream whose cool, shaded waters once supported natural brook trout.
A fork of the Jabez, a Severn River tributary, lies within several hundred feet of the logging operation. Scientists believe hot storm water and sediment washing off suburban lawns, open fields and road construction sites decimated the trout population within the last four years. In an experiment, they restocked the Severn River tributary this fall.
"Every disturbance like this is what's destroying the stream," said Lina Vlavianos, a member of the Severn River Commission, an advisory panel to county and city elected officials.
"I personally hold (County Councilman David)Boschert responsible for this," Vlavianos said. "He's the one who pushed for the zoning, and logging is permitted in a commercial zone. Thank you very much, Mr. Boschert. You just put another nail in the coffin for Jabez."
Boschert said he had nothing to do with the logging operation.
"The law is the law," he said. "I really can't elaborate on it further. If they did something wrong the county should issue a stop-work order. If they conform to what the county wants them to do, I have nothing to do about it."
The county issued a stop-work order last week because the Kaufmanns did not request a mandatory pre-work meeting with inspectors to review the logging plan, Peacock said. But a meeting was quickly scheduled and the stop-work order was rescinded.
David Kaufmann said they cleared the adjacent property to make the restaurant more visible from the road.
He said they have not decided how to develop the property.