A county law that would have allowed money earmarked for planting trees to be used to buy woodlands and replant shoreline grass has been rejected by the state Critical Areas Commission.
The commission lauded the intent of the legislation, proposed by County Councilwoman Diane Evans, R-Arnold, but said the plan violated laws regulating use of critical areas -- lands within 1,000 feet of tidal wetlands or theshoreline. The commission must approve any changes to the law.
"That is really disappointing," Evans said. "I knew we were taking a risk when we passed it, but it was worth the chance. Anne ArundelCounty really needed this."
The Severn River Association proposedthe change in the county's critical areas law. In three years, the county had collected thousands of dollars from developers who build within critical areas, but had yet to plant any trees with the money. Developers must either replant trees or contribute to the fund.
Thecommission's decision said critical areas law requires counties to maintain or increase the amount of trees in critical areas. Because Evans' plan would have used money from trees that had been cut down to buy land already forested, the result would have been fewer trees in the critical areas.
Evans spent several months ushering the bill -- her first as a council member -- through several hearings and amendments before it was approved in September. Because of the attention focused on the replanting program, several communities have come forward and offered land for the county to plant trees.
The county planted an acre of trees in Cape St. Claire in October, and 20 other parcels are awaiting county trees.
"If we were to plant all those sites, we wouldn't have enough money," said Rodney Banks, legislative planner for the commission. "The program has really gone 180 degrees theother way."
The county has collected $946,000 in the fund but waited so long to plant trees because it couldn't find appropriate sites. However, the law has resulted in developers having spent more than $500,000 to replant trees in areas they've cleared.
The commissiondid approve two changes to the county's critical areas law proposed by the county administration. The changes will allow a fixed amount of development on 160 acres of critical areas, including 11 acres in Annapolis.
State critical areas law requires the county to open up a certain amount of such land to more intensive development. The changes will allow 58 acres to be developed at one home per four acres and 102 acres to be developed for industrial, commercial and higher-density residential development.
Property owners may apply to the county Office of Planning and Zoning to develop their land more intensively.
The Annapolis City Council must ask the County Council for its 11 acres. Black leaders want the city to use the 11 acres for a senior housing project and community center at the old Wiley H. Bates High School.
The project's developers want to build 86 town houses on critical areas land to finance asbestos removal at the school, a proposal opposed by environmentalists.