Tree Conservation Draft Very Different From State Law

November 06, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

A county environmental committee has designed a local forest conservation ordinance draft that deviates substantially from Maryland law and might create a double-edged sword for developers.

The Environmental Affairs Advisory Board expects to complete its preliminary effort to halt the loss of Carroll forests to development by the end of the month.

The draft will be sent to the county commissioners and agencies for comment and eventually debated at public hearing.

The draft ordinance emphasizes retaining existing forestlands, eliminating language in the state law that requires developers to plant trees ("afforest") on tracts that previously had been barren.

"Afforestation is possibly what would put developers over the brink," said subcommittee leader Neil Ridgely, county landscape plan reviewer. "That was one area we saw that could be cut out, as long as we balance it on the retention side."

Several county developers applauded that action, saying afforestation is impractical and expensive. Developers should not be expected to make up for years of forest removal that wasn't their responsibility or to artificially create forest out of longtime agricultural lands, they said.

Committee member Harry W. Staley, a professional forester and private consultant, agreed that creating woodlands through plantings often is unsuccessful.

Members say they are uncertain whether leaving out afforestation will be acceptable to the state. State officials have been unable to offer answers without reviewing the draft, Ridgely said.

Noreen Cullen, vice chairwoman of Carroll Earth Care, an environmental coalition, said the compromise isacceptable if it makes the ordinance more "palatable and workable."

The county must submit a Forest Conservation Program at least as stringent as the law passed by the General Assembly this year to the state Department of Natural Resources for approval by April 30. If thecounty does not have a state-approved ordinance in place by the end of next year, the state law will be administered in Carroll beginningin 1993.

Trees not only enhance the environment aesthetically andprovide shade but also help purify the air, control erosion and reduce the amount of pollution reaching waterways.

Sprawling development replaced about 70,000 acres of forest in Maryland between 1985 and1990, says the state Office of Planning. The office projected that without the law Carroll would lose about half of its 52,890 acres of forest to development by 2020.

With 19 percent of its land considered forest, Carroll is one of the least forested counties in the state.

Partly to compensate for eliminating afforestation, the committee proposed increasing the payment for non-compliance -- either through avoidance or because the developer was unable to "reasonably accomplish" reforestation on-site or off-site -- from 10 cents to $1 per square foot.

That translates to $43,560 per acre of forest cleared. The county would use the money to create forest.

The lofty increase is intended as a deterrent, panel members say. If the fine was only10 cents, they say, developers could purposely avoid complying, instead choosing to pay into the fund.

"It's not intended to take a cent from anybody but to make it restrictive enough so people take a second look at how they go about developing in a woodland," Staley said. "With a fine that extreme, it will force creative thought."

If the fine weren't increased, the state likely would reject the ordinance because it would appear "watered down," Ridgely added.

Developers flatly call the proposal "excessive."

"When you're physically unable to comply, that's taking advantage of a situation that's beyond the control of the developer," said Martin K. P. Hill, president of Masonry Contractors Inc. of Manchester.

However, Staley said he couldn't imagine a scenario in which a developer absolutely could not conserve trees or replace forest land removed at a 1-to-1 ratio, even when building in woodlands.

"The key is for developers to hire professional people to look at alternatives," he said.

Ridgely said the ordinance likely would prompt changes in the way both developers and the county do business. Developers would have to learn new methods,rather than relying on the old standby practice of mass grading, he said.

Likewise, the county might have to modify requirements, suchas road widths, that make preserving trees difficult for developers.Also, it might have to re-evaluate zoning to allow clustering of homes and higher densities.

The ordinance could conflict with the county's zoning plan, which aims to preserve farmland, in effect encouraging development in more wooded areas, he said.

The proposed dramatic fine increase is based on good intentions but is unnecessary, said Donald Donovan, owner of Donovan Construction Co. Inc. of Westminster. County developers and residents already have embraced the value of conservation, he said.

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