Seeing the forest

November 16, 1992

Carroll County Commissioners Donald I. Dell, Julia W. Gouge and Elmer C. Lippy deserve praise for resisting relentless pressure from developers in adopting the county's forest conservation bill. They opted for legislation that takes into consideration the special conditions of Carroll County rather than adopting a state-designed ordinance that special interests favored.

By selecting the county forest preservation ordinance, the commissioners affirmed a process they initiated in July 1991, when they appointed a sub-committee of the county's Environmental Affairs Advisory Board to draft the county ordinance. The drafting process was long and tortuous, but every side had its say at meetings and public hearings. The result represented hundreds of hours of thought, work and compromise.

The final ordinance fairly considered everyone's interests. The bill's basic premise is that Carroll must preserve its woodlands and that development should be planned to minimize destruction of those woodlands. The bill requires developers who are going to disturb 25,000 square feet of land to submit tree conservation plans. Trees that are cut must be replaced. There are also provisions for the planting of trees in areas that were cleared in the last century. Moreover, the cost of administration to the county will be minimal.

In its final form, the forest conservation bill can be held up as an excellent example of how a responsive democracy is supposed to function. None of the interest groups got all they wanted, but none of them was unfairly burdened. Farmers were protected from unnecessary regulations. The rules for home builders, who are most affected by the measure, are straight-forward and sensible.

Much to their credit, the commissioners rebuffed developer Martin K. P. Hill's attempts to derail the process. They recognized that he had his say during the drafting process. They did not succumb to his blandishments and refused to give him and his fellow developers special consideration.

The citizens who volunteered their time in drafting this bill also deserve praise. They have provided a good lesson in meaningful citizen participation in public policy.

We only hope that all the parties involved remember the lessons of this civic exercise.

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