State legislation muddles county's tree law efforts Local measure can't be weaker than state's

July 08, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The county's attempt to cut through the brush and bureaucracy of a state forestation law has led to a painstaking process to make sure the county's version won't be more lenient.

The new state law is about as thick as a forest -- 87 pages including the accompanying regulations. It creates several new zoning categories in the process of preserving existing wooded areas as well as developing new ones.

Carroll County officials opted to write their own, as the state allows. However, the county law can't be weaker than the state )) one. Either way, some law will take effect Jan. 1, 1993.

"We're the only county to be as different as we are," said Neil Ridgely, the county's landscape and forestry plans reviewer. Because of the difference, Mr. Ridgely and other officials expected the state to require a lot more information before approving of a county ordinance.

The committee working on the county law wanted one simpler than the state's, and one that was better suited to an agricultural area, said James E. Slater, administrator of the county Office of Environmental Services.

Carroll County did not want to require developers to create forests on land that did not have any before, Mr. Slater said.

The citizen committee finished a draft and submitted it in late April to the state Department of Natural Resources. The department last week sent it back, along with several questions that will have to be addressed by September.

"It doesn't say it is not approved or it is approved -- it just says 'You have to clarify,' " Mr. Ridgely said.

Mr. Ridgely said that, earlier this summer, a representative of the Department of Natural Resources had, in conversation, told him the Carroll ordinance was not stringent enough.

But, the written comments don't say that, Mr. Ridgely said. Instead, they ask for more information and for Carroll to justify how its law might be more stringent in some places even if it is more lenient in others.

For example, while Carroll's draft wouldn't require developers to create forested areas where none existed before, it would require a higher fee from developers who prove they can't replace forested areas.

In other cases, the county and state versions differ so much that there is no simple way of telling which is more stringent.

For example, the state law would apply to anyone who disturbs at least 40,000 square feet of land, whether there are trees on it or not, and require them to create a forest on up to 20 percent of the parcel.

The proposed county ordinance would apply to anyone who disturbs at least 15,000 square feet of land that already is forested, requiring them to preserve most of it.

Mr. Ridgely said that whatever law is created will affect everyone from private property owners to developers to farmers who will want to sell their land for development.

Local attorneys have expressed concern that the state law's requirements for permanent easements on forested land could be difficult to enforce and complicate title insurance and other property issues, Mr. Ridgely and Mr. Slater said.

The county planning office believes the state law would conflict with the county's agricultural preservation rules that say new homes should be built in wooded areas rather than open farmland.

"I am just absolutely swamped with developers, engineers and surveyors who want to know what to do with this," Mr. Ridgely said. A state-sponsored workshop held for them in Baltimore County didn't help, he said.

"They came away from that still shaking their heads," Mr. Ridgely said. "They don't understand the state law."

Mr. Ridgely said he believes the county's attempt at a law is closer to the state's original intent to preserve forests. But because the state law had to be comprehensive and had gone through so many committees, it grew unmanageably.

"I hesitate to say it's badly written -- it doesn't apply to Carroll County," he said. "But as far as virtually incomprehensible, yes, it is."

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